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3M: Innovation, ideas and solutions for a modern world - What is innovation?

What is innovation?

3M prides itself on being a customer-focused organisation. “We understand our customers’ expectations and make sure that we exceed their expectations…Loyal customers stay with you, are more receptive to new products and recommend you to others.”

The customer-focused organisation is an important part of continuous improvement and Total Quality Management (TQM). A TQM organisation consists of a number of interdependent internal stakeholders or customers. These individuals, groups, departments and units supply to, and rely on, another individual, group, department or unit within that same organisation. These internal customers combine to improve quality throughout all processes and create better quality output for the end-users; the external customers. This philosophy of 3M applies equally to internal customers, demonstrated through the interdependence of its 45 technology platforms and diverse global operations; as well as to external customers.

Each of the three broad categories of innovation applies to 3M.

1. Innovation in goods and services occurs when new and improved goods and services are developed or where new uses are found for existing goods or services. 2. Innovation in operational processes occurs when organisations implement significant positive change in their methods of production of goods and/or services. 3M describes the four fundamental reasons driving innovation as; personal satisfaction, competitiveness, growth and survival. New products are the lifeblood of 3M and the company builds innovation into all of its operations. 3M’s innovation is the deliberate product, “…of a complex set of principles and practices which support and encourage the coupling of technology and creativity to satisfy customer needs.” It is also no accident that 3M, a company driven by cuttingedge technological innovation, believes that successful innovation is in reality accomplished by its people. 3M’s senior management empowers employees to work with determination and imagination to create innovative solutions. Customers are consulted so that they can provide input and feedback to the process of innovation and product development. This commitment to inclusive leadership resulted in 3M ranking No. 1 on Chief Executive magazine’s 2008’s Best Companies for Leaders list. A further strength of 3M’s organisational structure is that 3,000 of their 10,000+ technical employees are located outside the USA. These technical employees work in research-based laboratories in 34 countries or in Customer Technology Centres in 30 countries. The result is a highly-skilled global workforce uniquely positioned to create proactive solutions in response to specific customer needs. This localisation of innovation is demonstrated through 3M’s diverse research and development centres; optical manufacture and testing in Poland, electronics in Japan, water filtration in India and dental products in the UK and other markets. 3M provide locally-based product development resulting in customised solutions that subsequently result in global replication through the entire company.

To support innovation, 3M allocates 6-7 percent of its entire sales revenue ($1.4b in 2008) to research and development. This heavy investment also means that staff can devote 15 percent of their work time to self-directed projects. It is no surprise that the company was ranked World’s 4th Best R&D Company in 2007.


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Associated with:
Learning Area(s):
  • Business Environment | Developing organisational culture
  • Business Environment | Mission and Objectives
  • Business Structure and Organisation | Aligning structure to objectives
  • Business Structure and Organisation | Forms of ownership of large organisations
  • Communication | Effective communication models
  • Communication | Team-based communication
  • Entrepreneurship/Innovation | Fostering innovation within business
  • Entrepreneurship/Innovation | Innovative business
  • Entrepreneurship/Innovation | Product/service innovation
  • Human Resource Management | Employee Motivation
  • Human Resource Management | Performance management
  • Management Skills | Communication
  • Management Skills | Role of leadership
  • Management Styles | Effective styles in management situations
  • Marketing | Product development
  • Operations Management | Quality management approaches
From: Edition 6

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