Midwestern Innovation at 3M
One attribute that resonated with me was the collegial and "we're all in this to succeed" cultural model demonstrated time and time again during the presentations. After all, these weren't just any scientists. Several people in the room, including Andy Ouderkirk, Olester Brown and Sumita Mitra are well known innovators and have won numerous awards inside 3M and outside 3M as well. In many organizations these individuals would be "rock stars", yet the CMO of 3M said several times that one of the defining cultural aspects of 3M is that there are no "rock stars". It's hard to validate that statement after one day of meetings, but I came away with the sense that everyone (at least on the technical side of the house) is actively encouraged to innovate, and that aspects of the 3M culture sustain that by lowering barriers and increasing the opportunity to work together.
I titled this post "Midwestern Innovation" because we joked at lunch about whether or not 3M's culture would have developed in the same way if the firm had been located in Manhattan or San Jose. 3M's model is distinctively upper midwestern - built on the concept of working together for the common good of the firm and the employees. The original founders embedded much of this philosophy, which was extended by William McKnight who encouraged his managers to allow employees to experiment, to define the best way to do a job, and to tolerate mistakes. I'm curious how much those early decisions about how to structure work and the collegial atmosphere of the environment has sustained 3M and made it easier for innovation to occur.
Some of the other factors that sustain an innovation culture are also aspects of the midwestern, rural roots. There's a focus on individual initiative, which encourages people to identify opportunities and create solutions, and a "barn raising" mentality which encourages people to help each other with on projects. There's also very little financial gain on the part of the individual for new ideas, but the opportunity for advancement and the opportunity to repeat the success. Finally, the evaluation criteria for most people encourage working together and solving problems across geographies and product lines. These collegial attitudes, low personal aggrandizement and attitudes to sharing insights and information rather than bottling up information in rigid silos creates an internal innovation community spread across geographies and over 40 different core competencies. With a powerful informal network, the conditions are ripe for innovation.
Over the next few posts I'll return to the 3M visit and highlight some of the other learnings, takeaways and challenges for 3M. But to me one of the most important aspects of the innovative culture was the demonstration of the culture that allows innovation to flourish.
You can read other blog posts by other attendees here:
Mike Lippitz: link
Nick Shulz: link
Paul Williams: link
Other attendees included:
Joe Sinfield, Innosight
Lisa Bodell, FutureThink
Mary Tripsas, Harvard Business School