Revitalising innovation at 3m case study
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Revitalising innovation at 3m case study mediafiles
Any review of the literature on new product development and innovation management will uncover numerousreferences to 3M. The organisation
is synonymous with innovation and has been described as ‘a smooth runninginnovation machine’ (Mitchell, 1989). Year after year 3M is celebrated in the
500 rankings as the ‘mostrespected company’ and the ‘most innovative company’. Management guru
s from Peter Drucker to Tom Peterscontinually refer to the company as a shining example of an innovative company. This case study takes a look at thecompany behind some of the most famous brands in the marketplace, including Post-it® Notes. It examines the
company’s heritage and shows how it has arrived at this enviable position. Furthermore, the case study attempts to
clarify what it is that makes 3M stand out from other organisations.
Originally known as the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, with its headquarters in St Paul,Minnesota, 3M was established in 1902 to mine abrasive minerals for the production of a single product, sandpaper.From these inauspicious beginnings, the company has grown organically, concentrating on the internal development
of new products in a variety of different industries. The latest review of the company’s position reveals that it
manufactures over 60,000 products, has operations in 61 countries, employs 75,000 people and has achieved anaverage year-on-year growth in sales of 10 per cent (
Figure 16.10). Its products include Scotch adhesive tapes,fibre-optic connectors, abrasives, adhesives, floppy disks, aerosol inhalers, medical diagnostic products and Post-it Notes.
3M gave the world ‘wet or dry’
abrasives, which did so much to reduce the incidence of respiratory disease in the1920s. It invented self-adhesive tape in 1925, light-reflective materials in the 1940s and pioneered magneticrecording and photocopying. This heritage established the technology from which many of its products are still
derived. To reinforce this impressive performance, 3M is consistently ranked among the top 10 of America’s most
admired companies in the US journal
, in its annual review of the top 500 companies in the United States.3M is a large and unusually diverse company.
The 3M approach to innovation
Many writers, academics and business leaders have argued that the key to successful innovation is goodmanagement (Henderson, 1994). Arguably, this is precisely what 3M has mastered. A closer inspection, however,will reveal that the company has combined a variety of management techniques, such as good communications andthe setting of clear objectives with a company culture built on more than 90 years of nurturing ideas and fosteringcreativity. It uses a combination of structured research and individual freedom to explore ideas by allowing researchscientists to spend 15 per cent of their time conducting projects of their own choosing. It is a unique combination of activities that is, by definition, difficult to replicate. They are described in this case study under the followingheadings: