Innovation in practice: Visiting 3M
5 March 2019
Postgraduate students from our one-year MSc in Innovation and Entrepreneurship made a site visit to 3M's UK headquarters in Bracknell to get a first-hand look at innovation in practice.
Since the inception of our one-year MSc in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, we’ve taken our postgrads for a field trip to global science and technology powerhouse 3M at their UK HQ in Bracknell. We wanted our students to see how what we've been doing in the classroom was applied at one of the world’s biggest innovation companies.
We continue to go through a lot of 3M's Post-it® notes at the Centre, but they're just one of 55,000 products from a company operating in over 70 countries with over 90,000 staff. This is a company who take innovation very seriously indeed. Global Innovation Leader Dr Ben Watson gave us some great insights into how they stay innovative at such a huge scale.
Ben described how 3M's culture includes their famous 15% allowance for staff to develop their own ideas, the creation of career paths and forums for staff to develop and connect up across the organisations' diverse technologies, the importance of reward and recognition schemes, and how they mobilise a huge base of knowhow to call upon. They encourage “boundaryless behaviour” and give staff “permission to persevere” in finding innovations.
"I was really impressed to see how 3M have managed to maintain such a strong innovation culture across all their 12 areas of expertise. It was also interesting to see how some innovations are transferred from one area to another and applied for different purposes"
- Leyre Villaizan Herrero, MSc student
Ben highlighted a range of customer-centred and ultimately human-centred research methods that 3M use to discover customer needs and identify potentially innovative products and services to develop. This really echoed our academic focus on human-centred design and user research as the basis of successful innovation and entrepreneurship. He suggested that if “necessity or need is the ‘mother of all invention’ then having the capability to respond to that need must be the ‘father of all invention’”. That matching-up of 3M’s technical ‘capability’ with discovering an authentic customer ‘need’ was a critical element in their process of finding new innovations that aligned with 3Ms vision.
Ben and Edwin Eve, a Continuous Improvement Coach at 3M, also gave us a tour of their Customer Innovation Centre to see just a few of their ground-breaking technologies and hear about how they came about.
For our students, it was great to hear 3M talking about how they engage with their customers to get insights into new products, how they focus on culture and connectivity to drive invention, and the challenges to staying ahead in innovation over a century of work.
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