How to run a business like 3M

There is no denying that innovation is one of the most dominant forces in business, and has been for centuries, if not longer. Creativity breeds interest, which subsequently draws profits from consumers. Where many companies fall short in this department is by limiting the access points of innovation and creativity to the research and development teams, and assuming that other job descriptions don’t leave room for interesting thoughts and cutting edge proposals. Who can say that the next world-changing idea won’t come from an intern at an office supply company? That is the beautiful and fascinating component of genius; there is no telling where it might come from.

A certain office supply giant has shaped a company culture and vision around that exact fact over the past century, and 3M has empowered every employee to take a shot at changing the world, because they have seen it happen before. This quiet titan of innovation and design currently holds the patent on more than 20,000 products, many of which came from outside the box thinking from people that aren’t even directly involved in product design. 3M set the bar in terms of innovative time structures in big businesses by instituting 15% Time, which allows every employee to spend 15% of their weekly working hours on their own, independent projects and ideas. They can collaborate, use company resources, and basically veer off in unexpected directions and creative tangents without any supervision. It was this policy that resulted in the Post-It Note, one of the most widely recognized and used office supplies in the world; it wouldn’t have been possible if this company didn’t allow their workers to control their own destiny and time management within the company. Hundreds of other products have stemmed from this same liberating time structure, and not only does this give employees a sense of empowerment and value, but it also results in the overall progress and growth of the company.

There is a time and place for strict regulation of how creative time is spent, but there must also be an allotment of freedom for employees that have ideas and inklings of what the “next big thing” might be. Finding the balance between strict, hierarchical command and a free for all of pure creative license is one that every company must strike, but those that lean towards opening up their workers’ minds to new ideas and free reign over their own imagination tend to succeed in the marketplace.

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Can Akdeniz

Can Akdeniz is the author of seven books and founder of Business Hacker, a popular business blog. His books such as Go Nuts, Cool Boss, Happy Company and MBA 2.0 have changed how people think about business, productivity and work.

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