How to Foster Breakthrough Innovation for 3M Way
Innovation at its Core
3M's innovation culture comes from the times when the five entrepreneurs who created a company to explore a mine of what they thought being corundum, realized that all they had was a low grade anorthosite, which would not meet the requirements of the booming abrasive industry as they initially believed. Quickly they had to adapt and focus on producing sandpaper products. But it was with McKnight, who joined the company in 1907 has a bookkeeper and later would become Chairman for more than 40 years, that 3M really developed a culture towards systematic innovation. Since then, 3M has been characterized by McKnight's principles of supportive management which encourages employee initiative and innovation:
"Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to tell those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs. Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative."
One of the executive's greatest contributions to innovation is to shape the organization's culture in ways that make it more radical innovation a more natural, accepted and valued activity. Dick Drew, one of the most innovative researchers in 3M history, had that impact on 3M, and though many of the employees at 3M are too young to have any personal recollections from him, his influence on 3M's innovation culture remains profound and his principles are cited regularly in breakthroughs.
Innovation as a process
Entrepreneurship and Intrapreneurship has been an essential part of 3M culture. Evolutionary spin-offs have developed a key role in 3M's growth. 3M also fosters innovation by allowing the formation of both formal and informal new venture teams. These teams, which are composed by manufacturing, engineering and marketing full-time volunteers, have the ability to stay together if a product proves to be successful. These may represent the first steps towards a new business unit. New venture teams are ruled by the principle of start small, learn how a business works and then expand "make a little, sell a little".
Each division is managed as an individual company. This decentralization into small and autonomous business units allows them to minimize bureaucracy and concentrate on new ideas and their own customer base. Typically, the creation of a business unit is the result of the consolidation of a new product team. When a 3Mer has an idea for a new product, he or she recruits a team of members from technical areas, manufacturing, marketing and sales. The team designs the product and plans how to manufacture market and sell it. Individuals in parts of 3M now use strategic narratives in their planning processes, not only to clarify the thinking behind their plans hut also to capture the imagination and the excitement of the people in their...