Innovation is Not Built in a Day

The first thing that came to my mind when I read about 3M was Scotch Tapes and Scotch Brite, things that you can't think about as innovation but they are as genius an invention as a light bulb or AI.

These names make you think, no innovation is small, if it finds the correct market and the right marketing. One more interesting thing is that in 1974, 3M scientist, Art Fry, came up with a thought that if he could apply an adhesive to the back of a piece of paper, he could create the perfect bookmark, one that kept place for his church hymnal. He called it the Post-It Note. Wow!

What makes it more awe inspiring is the fact that the organization was ready to back up such innovations, which could be seen as something new and insignificant, but what you see when you wear the entrepreneur's hat: It's a product that is simple to use, easy to develop, fast to manufacture, and can be a household item.

What you might not know is that Fry came up with the now iconic product during the 15% time, where 3M allows employees to chase the rainbow during working hours and ideate. This 15% time has actually produced many of the company's best-selling products.

Today as we read, 3M is a multinational powerhouse, with more than $20 billion in annual sales across a product line of 50,000 spanning adhesives to optical film. It boasts 22,800 patents, many derived from its program. The key is one BIG idea and for 3M it was masking tape and cellophane tape.

How many ideas do you NOT have to discard to get the right one? Can we think on them rather than killing them nascent? It's one of the things that sets 3M apart as an innovative company, by sticking to that culture of giving every one of its employees flexibility to follow their instincts to take advantage of the opportunities for the company, especially the fact that it's extended to everyone, not just the "innovators".

However, one question that comes to my mind is, how was the program implemented? I can think of many ways in which it can be misused. 15% of the company's OPEX is being used as free time, this is besides the breaks and other training shrinkages. Is this a sustainable model? Of what I researched this 15% time is used to pursue incremental changes to existing processes and wouldnt be possible during BAU. This happens when you let your team wear the entrepreneur's hat.

  • The most important feature of this ecosystem is that we need to nurture entrepreneur ship as a culture that accepts possible failure. Another characteristic is to celebrate the fact that they found something that was innovative and had its place but has no immediate application. Organic growth and new products have to drive the company.
  • But most importantly if there is no market, the organization needs to say OK, file the innovation for the right time and move on. This will keep the right people motivated for the job they are doing and a sense of accountability to produce something saleable.
  • The organization's vision needs to be multidimensional and they should be ready to invest in new technologies This allows people to take an idea from one vertical and apply it to another.
  • A cliche term but one that can't be ignored is COMMUNICATION. It can be formal or informal, irrespective of the medium, people need to network. In today's world being ONE team is an imperative. Share ideas, work on it together, create working groups, etc. to harvest better innovation with faster results.
  • Expectations setting is also a major player, employees need to know what's in it for them, where am I going and am I aligned with the company's vision and goal.
  • Finally the CUSTOMER, innovation no matter how brilliant can't survive without keeping the customers at the heart of it all.

About Author

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Sagar Paul, Head Systems Delivery & BRT

Sagar has been associated with TMBS since 14 years and has taken care of multiple profiles.

In his capacity as a Program Manager, he has lead all phases of diverse BPS technologies and is a Business Strategist to drive process improvements, productivity advantage and bottom-line gains.

He is a certified PRINCE2 practitioner and a post graduate in business management and e-business.

He is a learner at heart and a teacher by choice. Learning, reading, and sharing knowledge come to him naturally. He is also pursuing MPhil in Indian Mythology.