The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, better known by its moniker 3M, is a company that truly values innovation.
Founded in 1902, the company invented:
• Sandpaper in 1904
• Masking tape in 1925
• Transparent tape in 1930
• Electrical tape in 1945
• Surgical drape in 1950
So when someone at 3M says they invented something new, people there listen. In 1968, 3M research scientist Dr. Spencer Silver invented something new. he was looking for ways to improve the adhesives that 3M used in many of its tapes and in one of his experiments created an adhesive that didn’t really stick to anything, but remained sticky even after it was repeatedly repositioned.
Silver knew that he had invented a highly unusual new gummy substance, but the question was -- what to do with it? A glue that didn’t stick very well might have been considered a mistake or failure at other companies, but at 3M it was something to explore. Yet try as he might, Dr. Silver could not figure out what to do with his funny glue. He spoke with colleagues about the adhesive and they too were stumped; no one at the giant company could find a good use for the stuff, even after Dr. Silver began to host internal seminars about the gummy glue.
But as fate would have it, one of the many employees who had attended one of Silver’s seminars was a development researcher named Art Fry. Although he was intrigued by the non-adhesive adhesive, he too was stumped for a practical use for the glue. That is until the day when Mr. Fry stood in his church singing in the choir and became frustrated that the little pieces of paper he used to mark his place in his hymnal kept falling to the ground.
“If only I had some sort of sticky bookmark,” he thought.
And then it his him, in what a 3M spokesman calls “a moment of pure ‘Eureka.’” Art Fry thought about that glue, that crazy glue that Spencer Silver kept talking about. Fry realized that Silver’s adhesive could make for quite the reliable bookmark.
One of the things that makes 3M unique is its policy of allowing technical employees to spend 15 percent of their time on products and projects of their own choosing (Google employs a similar program). Fry began to use this time to work on his new sticky bookmarks, except that he soon realized it was not bookmarks he was working on. According to Fry, it was after writing a note on one of his gummy bookmarks and attaching it to the report that he “came to the very exciting realization that my sticky bookmark was actually a new way to communicate and organize information.”
The gummy bookmark begat a sticky note.
The result is, as they say, history. In 1981, one year after its introduction, Post-it Notes were named the company’s “outstanding new product.” In 1990, 10 years after their introduction, Post-its were named one of the top consumer products of the decade.
And all because 3M fostered intrapreneurship (internal entrepreneurship) within its ranks.
Here are five ways you can, to:
1. Welcome risk: Did you know that the guys who invented New Coke, instead of being canned, were given raises and promotions, even though the product was a complete flop? Why? Because Coca-Cola executives loved that they were forward-thinking and were willing to take a smart, calculated risk, even if it didn’t pay off.
Rewarding smart risk-taking really fosters intrapreneurship.
2. Offer rewards: Why should employees spend their time making your business more successful? There has to be something in it for them -- more money, time off, a promotion, a piece of the pie, something.
3. Make it doable: 3M gave people free time to work on their own projects. That is a good idea we can copy. Similarly, people will need a little budget money and some teammates if you truly want to foster intrapreneurs within your ranks.
4. Leverage your assets: Consider what resources, brain-power, assets, and intellectual capital you have at your disposal that you can offer to your intrapreneurship team(s). You will not only make their job easier and foster teamwork and creativity in the process, but you will also be helping your business move forward.
5. Don’t punish failure: Entrepreneurship requires some risk-taking. But you will thwart that spark of creativity if you make examples of those who tried, but failed.