Innovation by 3M
Guest Post by John Baker www.theaskingformula.com
I was at 3M's Innovation Lab in St. Paul last year. There should be a sign out front of the building that says. "Forget ye all you've even known about innovation - enter and have your world rocked." I have worked with and worked for companies that claim they want to be innovative. 3M embraces innovation like Napa Valley embraces grapevines.
You enter the Innovation Lab to recorded music and a welcoming introduction. Del greets you at the front desk where you begin the tour. You're seated in a Disney ride to watch innovation throughout 3M's history. You watch a cavalcade of clients discuss how they worked with 3M to solve problems. You tour their museum where you can touch and see stuff you thought you'd have no interest in seeing, but they have to kick you out because it's so darn interesting.
During the tour you hear the most clear and articulate description of innovation as you'll ever witness. You are introduced to the heroes of 3M's culture: not the founder or a litany or past CEOs, but rather people like Dick Drew who invented masking tape. Dick was an inventor. He, and hundreds like him - make up the 3M Hall of Fame.
There are four things needed for innovation: time, talent, money and technology. 3M has all the bases covered. In my experience, most companies have three of four. They forget "time". It's simply too hard to think creatively when the pressure is on to do 10 hours of work a day.
3M's famous for the 15% rule: scientists at 3M spend 15% of their week basically - and I'm sure they'd use different vocabulary - goofing off. Investigating things of interest. Chasing down hunches. Noodling. Conjuring. Tinkering. Throwing things at walls and seeing if they stick.
From this come things like Tagaderm adhesives, a breathable and medicated film that covers and protects skin wounds. Once upon a time, 3M made sand paper. They would apply an adhesive to a paper backing, and embed sand and pebbles to make it abrasive. Then they learned how to just apply the adhesive without the sand: masking tape. Then they made the tape clear: Scotch tape. Then they figured out how to make the adhesive less sticky and re-applicable: Post It Notes. Then they embedded the adhesive with medicine and made the paper permeable: Tagaderm. Of course, this evolution took 7 decades. But step by step, one innovation built on another.
For a company that relies on innovation to spur its future, 3M spends only about 6% of revenue on R&D. A relatively low number. Their secret - and I think this is a whopper -is that they get their clients to partner with them on all new innovation. It isn't innovation for innovation sake - which seems to be the strategy at many companies - but innovation that will solve a client's problem. And, not inconsequentially, make money.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Baker is the creator of a powerful new program and book called The Asking Formula, a method of persuasive communication that teaches people how to ask for what they want in a confident and effective way. He is also veteran Fortune 25 management and leadership consultant.