Evolution of 3M’s Innovation Process

Topics: Innovation, Research, Research and development Pages: 9 (3096 words) Published: March 17, 2013
1. Evolution of 3M’s innovation process
1.1Shift in Management’s Goal on Innovations
The innovation process shifted away from innovating incremental products or product line extensions to radical products that are completely new to the market. Emphasizing the importance of this shift, 3M’s top management has set a new objective to generate 30% sales from radical products. 1.2Traditional Market Research

Traditionally, 3M hired market researches to understand the market trends. Other market information came from the 3M product users themselves and also the sales representatives. Whilst it was helpful for 3M to develop more than 30 key technologies, with its new objective to move away from incremental innovation, the traditional market research method was insufficient for a breakthrough product. There was a need for 3M to switch to a better way of gaining market information that can predict what the market needs 5 to 10 years later.

1.3Employee Innovation Process Schemes
On top of engaging the customers to improve the company’s innovation, 3M also engage the employees by introducing new scheme to motivate them to innovate. Previously, the product inventors could spend 15% of their time apart from their responsibilities to get inspirations for product invention. The Post-it Notes were invented through this time scheme. Additionally, as inventors rise up in their career, they had a choice to either stick to inventing or switch to management. This is otherwise known as the “Dual Ladder” (Thomke, 2002, p. 2) career progression in 3M. On top of that, product designing ideas could be borrowed from the other departments of 3M with the help of its internal showcases. In 3M, failure of innovation meant that the product team would move on to join other project instead of having to face sanctions. Process engineers were also involved in the product teams so that products under development would be effectively made. Such methods used in the innovation process ensured that the 3M inventors are not constricted by their area or work as they are exposed to ideas outside of their responsibilities constantly, making them better inventors. Its flexibility helped to retain 3M’s skilled product designers too.

1.4Limitations of Traditional Market Research
Besides the flexible innovation schemes for the 3M inventors, the problem of the traditional innovation lies with the method of market research. The traditional way of market research does not allow for 3M to achieve its objective of having 30% sales in radical innovation. This is because the information collected from the consumers was not proprietary. Focus group was also not effective in helping 3M foresee market trends, and that information was the basis for radical innovation. Even if the customers provided information about the upcoming market trends, they do not have any solutions or ideas for 3M to develop or conceptualize this radical breakthrough product. This problem has led 3M to adopt Lead User Research method

1.5 The Rise of Lead User Research
The Lead User Research was introduced to 3M’s Medical-Surgical Markets Division. 3M’s in-house lecturer Mary Sonnack educated Rita Shor, senior management of the said division that the Lead User Research could be the solution to allow for the innovation of breakthrough products. This is because, as “Lead User” suggests, are consumers that experience needs before a product is invented. Not only that, some of these lead users have already innovated a product to suit such needs. Conducting a Lead User Research would not only enable 3M to identify market trends 5 to 10 years later, it also gives 3M a rough concept of how a product could be invented to solve the need, bringing 3M a step closer to reaching its objective of innovating radical products. 2. 3M’s need to regain its historic closeness with its customers 2.1Reasons for the gap between 3M and its customers

3M started to drift away from the concept of closeness...

Bibliography: SIMO, F. (2007, October 14). Generating Breakthrough Products: the Lead User Methodology. Retrieved from Tech IT Easy : http://techiteasy.org/2007/10/14/connecting-technology-to-market-the-lead-user-methodology/
Thomke, S. (2002). Innovation at 3M Corporation (A). Harvard Business School.
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