3m - Innovation at 3m Corporation

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9-699-012 REV: JULY 23, 2002 STEFAN THOMKE Innovation at 3M Corporation (A) On the evening of October 23, 1997, Rita Shor, senior product specialist at 3M, looked across the conference room at her team from the Medical-Surgical Markets Division. She wondered when to draw to close the intense ongoing debate on the nature of the team’s recommendations to the Health Care Unit’s senior management. A hand-picked group of talented individuals, the team had embarked on a new method for understanding customer needs called “Lead User Research.” But this initiative to introduce leading-edge market research methods into 3M’s legendary innovation process had now grown into a revolutionary series of recommendations that threatened to rip apart…show more content…
Follow-up investigations revealed that during shipment from Spain, an ocean storm had caused olive oil to leak into the abrasive material. This insight allowed for fixing the sandpaper problem while also establishing the emphasis on technology and innovativeness at 3M. By 1916, survival assured, the company started paying stock dividends. The firm, now headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota, initially stayed close to abrasives, developing the world’s first waterproof sandpaper in the early 1920s. 3M technicians began bypassing purchasing agents in order to better understand product needs. Often, they walked into factories and workplaces and talked directly to workers, an unheard of practice that yielded unexpected dividends. While visiting an auto-body shop in the 1920s, for instance, Richard Drew, a young lab assistant, heard a torrent of screams and curses. Workers had apparently just ruined a two-tone paint job when paint peeled away as they removed glued newspaper strips used as masking materials. Back in the lab, while working with a new and crinkly backing material for sandpaper, Drew came up with the idea that would provide the world with masking tape. To spend the long hours needed to perfect the new tape, however, he had ignored a direct order from the company head to put all his efforts into improving a preexisting product. Drew’s success helped spawn the legend of the subversive

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