3M sought a strong image for their security glass. They modified a bus shelter and fitted their security glass and filled it with REAL BANKNOTES. Many have tried to gain access with golf clubs and baseball bats but obviously the glass remains intact! This is what you call having faith in your own product...
That's the company I'm talking about!
But what's this blog all about?? Well, I had the privilege of being part of an interactive session with Mr Pang - A Technical Supervisor at 3M's Innovation Center, Singapore.
You know, I've always wondered - what exactly do engineers do? Most of the engineers I know are managers! Well, there may be a few exceptions - but almost all of them, at least in India, are management oriented. And here was a job - which looked out for engineers - not just their 'knowledge' about 'technical stuff'! So I was all the more looking forward to this session - because Mr Pang had joined 3M as an engineer.
The initial presentation was about 3M - well obvious! It was like any other routine marketing startegy, but one thing that really impressed me was the concept of a 'dual career path'. A new one for me. The organization recognizes the managerial potential in most engineers - but not at the expense of engineers who'd rather take on the technical path! The managers have their technical counterparts - equal status, salary, etc.
Well, anyways, the topic for the session was 'organizing for technological innovations.' I got an insight into what this actually means for a normal employee involved in such a situation. Perhaps you read my previous blog on IDEO - Well the point here was to say that "Okay! All the informality and innovation can be managed in a small firm like IDEO; But what happens when it comes to something as big as 3M? How do you innovate and manage it?"
I learnt that in 3M there is structure and organization - evolved in a manner to encourage an innovative culture! There is heirarchy, which is respected and valued - to enhance innovation contrary to popular belief. I learnt how important this is when the organization is so big - What if there are guys in different departments working on the same project? There would be a waste of human and material resource at no extra outcome. In such situations, management becomes very important. At the same time, this should not prove a blockade to innovating teams.
Well that sounds really easy on paper - but is it actually easy? Yes! I learnt that from the way Mr Pang said so casually that "All you need to do is give your guys a call - tell them you'll buy them breakfast - and they'll be there at 8 15 for the meeting!" The relationship at the basic level is still informal and personal. Heirarchy plays a role in deciding what projects the team will work on, who is assigned a task and adhering to deadlines - All in all, a very condusive atmosphere!
All this is quite okay, but we were curious as to how they actually decide the teams? Are they cross-functional teams? How to co-ordinate the work? How to actually innovate?
We played a small game - where 6 of us had to get into groups. Each of us had to say the first word that came into our head and then pass on the buck to any other person in the group. Simple and stupid? Initially I thought so too! But when I looked back at how the game shaped up, it was very insightful! Well, I was sitting with my Indian friends and so when someone said food, I immediately said 'kozhakatai' and someone said 'rajma' and so on - but when we shuffled groups and I said 'Chennai' someone else said 'tamil' someone else 'Leonardo'!
I learnt 2 things from this little game - that your thought process is influenced by your group members - when someone said something about food, the first thing you think of is also most probably food! Another thing being that, when the group is diverse, the thought process also varies and this leads to faster innovation - for example 'tamil' appealed to that person in terms of movies and so he named the first actor that came into his head!
But actually, innovation isn't so simple. Mr Pang said, the toughest step is always defining the problem - so again he asked us what we found bad in Singapore? So one of us said 'food' (I suppose we were all hungry as the class is from 6 to 9 pm!!) And he asked - What will you define as good food? Tasty, we asked? Define tasty he said! Well, fresh, healthy, appealing and spicy! You get the point don't you? Once you have the problem defined, you can innovate in each area of concern. :-D
Another thing we wanted to know about was how much autonomy was given to the induviduals? Well, it seemed a lot! If someone had an idea, it was always listened to - and not just by the immediate supervisor alone. An idea would have to be rejected by a minimum no. of superiors before being directed away! Also, each employee was allowed to do whatever he/she wanted in 15% of their paid time! It could be anything - nothing related to the project or even with the company! Mr Pang, it seems, thought we were worth his 15%!!
Hmm...I suppose here's another of my abrubt endings! But I really enjoyed the simple session which appealed to my little brain and got me thinking about things I've never thought about before!!
Thanks Mr Pang!! And thanks to my lecturer Ms Sarah, for organizing this session!

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