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Published: May 30, 2011

 
 

3M’s Open Innovation

S+B: Can you discuss a specific product that arose out of 3M’s open innovation process?
PALENSKY: Really, all of them. To take one example, we just introduced an entirely new kind of sandpaper — shaped, fine-grained, self-sharpening, structured abrasives. The mineral technology came from the abrasives division, some of the shape technology came from optical systems, coating technologies came from the tape division, and mathematical modeling and fracture analysis came from the corporate research center. Altogether, the abrasives division used seven different technologies to create the product, only two of which came from the division itself.

S+B: What role does culture play in sustaining open innovation at 3M?
PALENSKY: I think our success is driven much more by culture than it is by structure or organization. We’ve been practicing open innovation at 3M throughout our history. The company started out making sandpaper, and our salesmen sold our products to all kinds of people. When they visited auto-body shops, they watched workers struggle to paint fine lines and borders. So the salesmen went back to the office and talked about the problem. That was the beginning of our masking tape business. That’s the culture that has sustained us ever since.

But we also actively support that culture. All of our technical people at the corporate labs dedicate about 15 percent of their efforts toward programs, interactions, learning, and teaching in areas outside their particular responsibilities. In addition to the various programs we’re developing at the corporate labs, we are working on more than 300 joint programs with various divisions and businesses. So, in addition to their corporate responsibilities, everyone is also a member of a team that is working alongside division members in either technology transfer or new product development projects.

All of this creates a community of collaboration, and it ensures that everybody has some skin in the innovation game. And because our senior leaders have grown up in this culture, they continue to nurture and protect this highly collaborative, enterprising environment. Cultures are unique and extraordinarily difficult to duplicate. And it takes a real effort to sustain them.

Author Profiles:

  • Barry Jaruzelski is a partner with Booz & Company in Florham Park, N.J., and is the global leader of the firm’s innovation practice. He has spent more than 20 years working with high-tech and industrial clients on corporate and product strategy, product development efficiency and effectiveness, and the transformation of core innovation processes.
  • Richard Holman is a principal with Booz & Company based in Florham Park, N.J. He is a leader of the firm’s global innovation practice, specializing in fields with highly engineered products, such as aerospace, industrial, and high tech.
  • Edward Baker, former editor of CIO Insight magazine, is a contributing editor to strategy+business.
  • This interview was originally published as part of “Casting a Wide Net: Building the Capabilities for Open Innovation,” by Jaruzelski and Holman, Ivey Business Journal, March/April 2011.

 

 
 
 
 
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