3M's Innovation Challenges
Now, we want to turn in this last post to the remaining issues or challenges. While 3M is an excellent innovator, there is always room to grow and improve. In this spirit, there are a couple of areas where I believe 3M could do more to improve its innovation capabilities. The areas of possible improvement are:
Complacency: Paul Williams pointed out that any firm that has success in any endeavor risks becoming complacent. As Andy Grove of Intel pointed out "Only the paranoid survive". 3M needs to build on a successful foundation and remain hungry for new innovations. Also, 3M should speed up its product development and delivery time frames.
Insular: While 3M is very good at internal discovery and does invite key customers into its innovation efforts, it risks becoming too insular. 3M has yet to fully embrace “open” innovation in all of its incarnations. Clearly other R&D driven organizations like P&G have embraced a combined internal and external model successfully. 3M could start by partnering with Innocentive and grow its trusted networks, then move more gradually to an "Ideastorm" model for consumer products.
Product/Technology focused: The majority of the innovations we discussed were technical discoveries based on research that led to new products. This is very commendable, but leaves out a number of other kinds of innovations, from service innovations to business model innovations. I'd like to see more and hear more about 3M's innovations outside the product sphere, and encourage them to do more innovation outside the technology/product sphere.
Engaging the whole organization: In fairness we only met with the research teams, so we didn't have a chance to meet individuals outside of the research teams who are innovating. I didn't get the sense that the expectation, or the sets of tools and techniques, are nearly as evolved outside the technology organization. It would be interesting to see 3M place as much emphasis on innovation beyond the product as it does on the technology and product.
Customer Driven: 3M is clearly a technology driven innovator, using new discoveries to create new products and services and align those with customer needs. While this approach requires some interaction with customers and consumers, there was less discussion of the discovery of unarticulated needs using ethnography or voice of the customer. Given the capabilities of the research teams, adding more customer insight tools to the mix would make 3M an innovation machine.
3M is clearly a leading innovator and has done a significant amount of work to innovate consistently. While some of the points I raise above may seem a bit narrow, I believe that innovation needs to be extended beyond the product and beyond the bounds of the organization. Business model innovation and customer experience are two of the most sustainable innovations and differentiators, and there's really very little attention paid to these concepts in any organization. With the headstart that 3M has in terms of its existing capabilities, building these other strengths shouldn't be difficult and will erect a differentiation that will be exceptionally challenging to overcome for any of its competitors.