3M innovation programme “very robust”, based in customer-inspired, collaborative culture
During an Annual Conference session devoted to innovation and digital transformation trends, 3M EMEA Area Division Manager for Industrial Adhesives & Tapes Lori Cherry explained the American multinational’s drive to innovate from a business standpoint. What is the biggest key to the invention process for 3M’s future? Leveraging both internal and external innovation to be more agile in approaching the marketplace.
“Our previous way of innovating was far more internal-based,” explained Ms. Cherry, who is a member of Afera’s Steering Committee. “From a business model perspective, we shouldn’t try to develop and design everything ourselves anymore.”
3M’s current innovation process is rooted in its increasingly collaborative culture and very much driven by insights from its customers and market. “If we don’t understand our customers’ pain points and how to solve those—and what they need to be successful—it doesn’t matter what we develop,” she said. “We do a lot of process mapping with customers to understand how we can improve their value stream.”
In the tape industry, Ms. Cherry sees a trend toward procuring R&D funding to drive into particular market segments or higher-end technologies. 3M has access to a pool of money as it has been good about putting ~6% of its income back into R&D, meaning a dedicated budget of about $1.9 billion annually.
3M’s 90,000 employees globally and its fundamental strength, its technology, which includes 115,000 patents, more than 50 technical centres around the world, and 46 technology platforms, which can be utilised cross-divisionally, might lead one to wonder about its overall flexibility. 3M’s “robust” innovation project funding allocation process is a relatively fast yearly cycle from business-model proposal, presentation and review to rollout of funding resources every January 1st.
Interestingly, about 70 years ago, 3M instituted an in-house programme in which lab personnel allocate 15% of their time to engage in their own creative activity, such as scoping new raw materials and technologies, in order to generate new ideas. Post-It notes were born out of this inventive process. “We don’t see these creative discoveries as accidents, because they’re something we really drive.” Ms. Cherry estimated that 15-20% of 3M’s inventions originate from the “hoppering process” of developing these ideas.