3m “Profile of an Innovating Company"

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“Profile of an Innovating Company”

The 3M case traces the history of this Minnesota-based company from its inception in 1902 through 1992. By looking at the tenure of three CEOs, the case examines how 3M worked to maintain a culture of innovation while continuing to grow into an international multibillion dollar organization. While the organization’s values are critical to the success of 3M, internal and external forces also forced 3M to adjust their business model.

William McKnight, the founding CEO, embedded a strong organizational culture into 3M. He instilled the values of entrepreneurship, research and experimentation into every employee. His goal was to create a climate that “stimulates ordinary people to do great things.” As 3M grew into a billion dollar business they continued to maintain their core values of innovation, marketplace responsiveness and entrepreneurship. Employees at 3M were encouraged to work on their own projects with a corporate-wide policy that promoted work on personal projects for up to 15% of a researcher’s time.

Individual persistence was recognized and people were encouraged to pursue their own ideas and to take risks. Management supported “unintentioned failure” and was known to support projects that did not necessarily show market viability. Often times, these projects found future niche markets or applications that were never thought of by the inventor.

3M was a “market-oriented technology based company.” It was built around the idea of adapting current technology platforms to meet the different needs of consumers. 3M looked both externally at niche market needs and internally at ways to apply new market opportunities to existing technology. They capitalized on their technology through informal and formal knowledge sharing processes. They held technology conferences, organized technology boards and promoted sharing through other communities of practice. It was the norm to...
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