Industryweek 2420 Brandsrobert

Innovation Lessons Learned from 3M

June 4, 2012
While many discussions about innovation begin and end with Apple, there's much to learn from the creator of Post-it Notes and Scotch tape.

With $30 billion in sales, and products sold in nearly 200 countries, 3M Co. (IW 500/44) is a global innovation leader that has brought many of the world's most recognizable brands to market.

The root of 3M's success is its business model: to foster organic growth by inventing entirely new, market-changing products. These disruptive technologies have not only led to new products but also to the creation of new industries.

In order to foster this growth, 3M always has emphasized the importance of R&D, to which the company dedicates 6% of its yearly revenue. Although a high percentage in R&D spending does not guarantee success, 3M is doing very well.

Culture of Innovation

St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M takes a long-term approach to the new-product-development process by creating a culture of innovation that encourages risk-taking, tolerates mistakes made along the way, and rewards achievement.

A culture of innovation means that senior management encourages employees to spend a significant portion of their time on products and research that go beyond their usual scope of responsibilities.

This involves hosting ideation sessions in which the innovation champion creates an environment of trust and openness. Only by breaking out of their usual comfort zones can teams create truly disruptive technology.

Disruptive Innovations

As part of the company's holistic innovation strategy, 3M focuses on developing disruptive innovations outside of the current existing portfolio.

In 2008, 3M began strategically investing in startups with long-term benefit to the company, resulting in collaborations and increased technological development.

These 3M New Ventures include 3M GTG digital media solutions for outdoor advertising, and Energy Inc., which monitors residential and commercial energy consumption to reduce costs.

Another way 3M capitalizes on its innovation success is by combining diverse technologies in new and unexpected ways.

3M draws upon innovative technologies from its portfolio of 55,000 products to create new solutions, such as using dental technology applied to car parts. By making these uncommon connections, the company pioneers new ways of innovating.

The strategies developed by 3M are meant for long-term, sustained innovation. They include:

  • Using open innovation.
  • Hosting ideation sessions with members of all departments.
  • Allowing team members to take risks in a protected environment.
  • Rewarding and encouraging creativity.
  • Implementing and nurturing all 10 imperatives in Robert's Rules of Innovation to create and sustain innovation.

Robert Brands is the founder and president of Brands & Co. LLC , and the author of "Robert's Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival." The book offers 10 imperatives that serve as a guide for successfully starting, nurturing and profiting from a culture of sustained innovation in the workplace.

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