3M Innovation Center

CULTURE. At 3M, everyone I met shared in their own words the same sentiment…that 3M’s innovation is “fueled by a culture of freedom to take risks and learn from mistakes.” The right culture is essential for innovation. It facilitates the ideation-to-commercialization process as well as attracts and retains employees.

3M is a $31B Fortune 500 company headquartered in Maplewood, Minnesota. While well-known for the Post-it note, 3M has developed over 55,000 products. Their tagline is “Science. Applied to Life.”  To develop the next industry, healthcare or consumer goods product, they leverage a community of 8,500 scientists, tap 50 innovation centers and utilize 46 core technology platforms.

This corporate innovation center provides collaborative working spaces as well as being a showcase space for experiential learning and presentations for customers and the community. The PDMA-sponsored event I attended included a tour of the World of Innovation Center.  The interactive experience began with a warm welcome from our guide who hosts four groups like ours each day. We were entertained by the stories of the company history and the creativity, resourcefulness and determination of its employees to use science to improve everyday lives as well as solve world challenges. One highlighted product was the 3M™ Enhanced Specular Reflector (3M ESR), of which we were given a sample. It is the most reflective material in the world, reflecting more than 98% of light.  It is now being applied in numerous industries, such as technology, construction and automotive .

The presentation in the auditorium was led by Sheila Stewart. She shared how ideas get transformed into products. In her role as New Horizon Marketing Leader in the Industrial Adhesives & Tapes Division, she begins by researching three areas:  1) mega trends, 2) market-focused industries and 3) customer needs. Formal or informal teams can start the process by sharing and advancing ideas. Another key theme was the collaboration and team work that occurs within 3M. This was attributed to the fact that technology is not owned by any division.

Featured speakers from other areas of the company included:

  • Patrick Hiner, Filtrete™ Smart Air Filter
  • Nick Echeverri, Sr. Design Manager, Home Environment Markets
  • Kris Hansen, PhD, Lab Manager/Product Owner, 3M Connected Roads

Patrick and Nick shared their 18 month+ commercialization journey including best practices, key considerations, positive indications and lessons learned as they formulated, researched, designed, built and sold this smart air filter.

Kris described her area of focus as “lines and signs.” She works on developing and enhancing 3M’s Smart Code Signing System.  As vehicle technology advances, the road signs need to be visible to humans and machines. She shared that there needs to be a trustable system for metadata and verification. The methods they are using to develop this includes four key elements:  partial co-location of the team, partial dedicated team alignment, transparency with work and plans and clear, accessible means of elevating impediments. What surprised her about innovating? She said, “Never underestimate the power of historical experience even when solving next generation challenges.

Innovation centers of many different types are developing all over the world. The 3M center is a classic example of an company-driven center and provides significant branding and customer experience opportunities. To learn about 3M’s new innovation center in Washington D.C., click here. Other local company-specific innovation centers include the Optum Experience Center and Microsoft’s Technology Center.