Friday, June 20, 2008

Innovation Best Practices - 3M Case Study


We have been working with a number of global organizations on innovation practices for New Product Introduction (NPI) and have found in companies like: SAP, Microsoft, Bell Canada, Siemens etc, - that operationalizing innovation from its early creative stages is a stocatto like tango. Balancing creative tension to ensure innovation downstream execution traction requires tremendous leadership navigation and skill.

It is so difficult for multi-nationals to avoid putting pressure too early on the creative design phases in their short-term hunger for ROI results that more often than not new innovation ideas at the conceptual or ideation stages are squashed or so heavily restricted that the creative and expansive energy is so diluted that results are impossible to achieve.

What we do know is the front end creative process at the ideation phase is a thorn in many organization's side as they strive to improve front end effectiveness to ensure ideation to execution is achieved. This requires more leaders to develop skills and competencies in leading innovation effectively to achieve sustainable growth in their organizations.

Less than 25% of organizations in North America are confident on their organization's ability to innovate or have a cleared defined new product or service innovation capability that is robust and adds business value.

Services or NPI Innovation Questions we hear consistently in our client experiences include:

1.) How does my organization innovate more effectively?
2.) How does my organization filter and track what we fund?
3.) How do we avoid filtering ideas out too early or lose track of them?
4.) How much discipline do we ned to drive innovation forward?
5.) How we evaluate more effectively early stage service innovation concepts?
6.) How do we get our leaders more comfortable in dealing with ambiguity, uncertainty, the messiness of creativity?
7.) What decision making practices are role model?
8.) What business processes and systems should we use for tracking service or NPI innovation?

There are many companies that are executing robust innovation programs, practices, and processes. We will target to feature a case study of a new company every week that helps to answer these eight questions to share our knowledge and help move along our capacity to innovate more effectively.

Case Study - 3M

3M is a $16B technology company with reach into health care, electronics, industrial, safety, consumer and office products. Most famously remembered for its' innovation solutiono - post it notes. 3M has more than 40 business units world-wide and offices in more than 60 countries. In 2002, the company celebrated a century of innovation since its founding.

Innovation a Foundational Core Value of 3M

For companies to innovate more effectively, cultural capabilities are critical with leadership effectiveness to engender confidence in employee minds and hearts. Employees need to know they can take risks to be creative, experiment, think outside the box, and be rewarded for demonstrating innovation thinking. They need to believe they are encouraged to be life-long learners, and enabled to continually learn and improve work products or services.

As the retired chairman of 3Com said: "Innovation is the key to our growth as it delights our customers and it's the basis for long lasting customer loyalty."

3M Innovation Best Practices

The five best practices that 3M prides itself in are:

1.) Six Sigma
2.) 3M Acceleration
3.) eProductivity
4.) Sourcing Effectiveness
5.) Indirect Cost Control

What is important to understand about 3M is their KM and Innovation program office which supports the companies 5 business units puts a tremendous amount of focus on culture and guiding principles.

The pillars of 3M's innovation platform are:

1.) Shared World-class Technology
2.) Shared Customers, Channels and Brands
3.) Shared Manufacturing
4.) Shared Global Infrastructure, and
5.) Shared Cultural Innovation Values, Practices, Processes and Toolkits

A best practice for cultural innovation is to use stories for rapid cultural diffusion to celebrate heroes of innovation who passionately and consistently pursue new ideas or find new context to discover new meaning and rapidly share their knowledge creating social energy networks to co-create collaboratively.

They have a freedom rule for inspiring creative imperatives as any person in a lab can spend 15% of his or her time experimenting on any new idea that could add value to 3M. This creative jazz time is not tracked; it is a freedom role to reflect, think, and learn to encourage ideation in its earliest stages of creativity - unencumbered by reporting practices.

3M's success has been predicated on its ability to foster collaboration in both formal and information approaches, and their cultural norms are very mature in supporting knowledge sharing - a core requirement to foster and seed innovation capacity development.

Technology Enablers

The company has a number of technology enablers to support innovation. They use:

- streaming videos to collect learnings and make them available for global access,
- comprehensive lotus notes databases for collaboration and knowledge access, and
- an Idea hopper which captures and helps filter ideas to move from concept to funding phases of implementation, etc.

The library and information services group has as its core mission to help 3M employees worldwide create, share and use knowledge more effectively throughout the organization, so there are strong Electronic Library solutions, virtual help desks to source know-how, etc.

Strengthening People Innovation

3M uses a number of talent management techniques to support innovation such as:

-staff rotational assignments to develop new skills to strengthen innovation talent capabilities,
- reward and recogntion programs for people to share ideas and receive peer recognition,
- connecting its scientists with its customers,
- training talent on problem solving approaches such as 6Sigma, and also
- promoting story telling as a leadership competency to help on cultural diffusion to celebrate innovation successes, and celebrate talent moments of creativity.

The company also leverages communities of practice and learning techniques to support the continual flow of internal knowledge.

What opportunties must 3M pursue for new innovation robustness?

Based on our analysis of 3M's financial reports,innovation patents,and research,3M is like many global companies not as externally integrated with its customers to leverage next generation collaboration and organization of the future practices which are highly web 2.0 and social mediated driven.

There are major opportunities to bring in solutions for social network analysis, collaboration experiences leveraging new collaboration platforms, like Mzinga, providing product managers with collaboration labs with customers using blogs, and wikis, etc....

With the speed of knowledge diffusion and know-how outdated often in less than 12 months -- applying more real-time and on demand ways of developing and sustaining innovation will be critical to 3M's future growth.

What 3M does have to constituate world-class leadership attributes:

- charts the course - or sets the vision
- raises the bar - creates tension to achieve performance excellence
- energizes others - creates passion to motivate others to create and follow
- resourcefully innovates - values creativity but also balances accountability to execute
- lives the 3M values (which go back 100 years and hold true today - satisfy customers with superior quality, value and services, provide investors an attractive return through sustained quality and growth, respect the social and physical environment, and be a company that employees are product to be part of
- and delivers results.

These attributes combined with business accumen, functional expertise and corporate knowledge supports 3M's overall leadership model.


Innovation is a core competency at 3M and is at the heart of the company's culture.

They appreciate the fragility of innovation in its weakest creative design moments, but also reinforces shareholder value which needs to be top of mind to ensure accountability in the culture.

At the same time, 3M allows freedom for ideation 100% unemcumbered from stiffling and controlling business processes which is a rarity in business today.

This Helix Commerce believes is an operating practice which differentiates 3M from the pack and in our collaboration world - enables butterfly wings to beat beautifully without constraints - creating a potential to change the winds forever in the services innovation war that is rapidly unfolding.

1 comment:

preacher said...

Dr. Gordon,

I just completed reading your post about the Innovation Best Practices of 3M. There area couple of things that I would like to say. First, its a breath of fresh air to find someone out there who is not posting criticisms of corporations that really only amount to making mountains out of mole hills. Second, I started reading off and on about 3M Corporation 3 years ago. I was impressed by the company then, and a couple of days ago I sat down and listened to a recorded phone/web conference that took place between the CEO's of 3M and the top management personnel of the different business entities that they now encompass. Once again, I was impressed. From what I heard from the head CEO, whom I believe to be George Buckley, they are headed into 2009 with some uncertainty just like anybody else, but they are confident and are inspiring the same confidence in the next closest level of management. Their innovation practices, their 6Sigma programming, and their close watch and regulatory measures instituted on their finances will see them through.

Thanks again for finding something positive to say about a corporation in a world that is becoming increasingly critical of this very important aspect of our economy.------Howard

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