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Innovation At 3m Corporation Questions: 1.How has 3M innovation process evolved since the foundation of the company? Why does 3M need to regain its historic closeness to the customer?   2.How does the lead user research process differ from and compliment other traditional research methods?   3.Has the medical surgical team applied the led user research process successfully?   4.What should the medical surgical lead user team recommend to Dunlop; the three new products or a new business strategy? What are the risks?     Answers: Innovation At 3M Corporation 1.Initially, the 3M investors did not directly share in product royalties and an innate love for discovery was expected to spur on innovation. In the 1920s, for example, a technician named Richard Drew came up with the idea that later led to the development of masking tape in response to paint peeling away when removing glued newspaper strips used in masking material (Thompke & Nimgade, 2002). He also went on to invent Scotch brand cellophane that helped the company stay afloat during the depression. This he did when he was expected to be making improvements on an existing product, and his success with this helped birth the 3M aphorism ‘it is better to seek forgiveness than to ask for permission. Innovation was encouraged in ways like awards for innovation and grants to technicians to fund innovative projects. The staff was allowed to use 15% of their time in exploration of new ideas and responsibilities, an idea, which birthed things like post-it notes, by inventor Art Fry. Heavy emphasis was placed on research and development, and senior technically inclined employees were allowed to move on from the company without having to go through management. Internal showcases were held to exchange ideas and discoveries across departments, a factor that helped the company retain most of its employees. William Coyne, head of research and development, felt that traditional strategic planning had little room for innovation (Thompke & Nimgade, 2002).   A member of the medical-surgical marketing research admitted that even though they led in their niche with the surgical drapes, which had consistent sales, the numbers were stagnating and if a new product were not created then the division would have to close down. Initially, part of innovation was dependent on marketing research, which did not seem effective considering the disadvantages that normal customers had no innovative ideas. Product developers and marketers were responsible for any innovative ideas or products when customer visits which used to be done by the company were stopped. Marketers thought of a new product and commercialized it without any input from consumers, leading to many 3M inventions laying in laboratories and awaiting markets. Closeness to the market was at the core of 3M before the shortcomings of market research were found out, and it did lead to some innovations and inventions when technicians went to see consumers, such as physicians, make use of the product. Lead user research was adopted, as a means to make a breakthrough product by finding new needs not thought of before. This would involve users, but specific ones who had expertise in an area related to the product, who would have used the product and noticed shortcomings. Rebuilding a relationship with the customers would help technicians to have an idea on what to make improvements on, instead of just making new products with no utility and which the market will not be willing to buy.   2.Market research reports provided abundant data but limited information to form the concept for a breakthrough project. Lead user research was proposed when it was apparent that traditional marketing research was not effective and would not help the division to create a new successful product. While the initial approach took data from sales representatives with contact to physicians and nurses, focus groups with nurses from scattered locations, customer evaluations of current products, site visits by scientists and technologists to observe physicians at work and note foreseeable needs and data on risk factors (Thompke & Nimgade, 2002). This was disadvantageous as market researchers created too many interfaces with the customer and risk factors could be gotten from any medical textbook. Focus groups gave no clue on market needs years down the line. The premise of lead user research shows that some customers experience the need earlier before considering themselves as an asset to innovation. This premise drew from the example of whiteout being invented by a secretary and Gatorade being created with input from athletes. It created a need for personnel to have a great deal of knowledge about infections, the possibility of the patient’s own body being a source of infection, creating a need for good surgical drapes. Extensive research was done by the team members for them to have initial information before they identified the problems their target market faced. In the traditional marketing method, the researchers did not set out while already armed with information, and they therefore did not know what questions to ask and what to watch for. Experts were contacted to give an opinion on improvements to be made to breakthrough products such as how it would adhere to the human body. The team-generated features that would best meet customer needs. The developing world in Asia and South America was identified as a major potential market since infectious diseases were still threats and it was seen that a study of these areas could provide new growth ideas (Thompke & Nimgade, 2002). The Medical surgical Markets division sent product developers rather than marketers to visit potential customers in these developing countries to see how surgeons dealt with infections under the extreme conditions that some of them were forced to work under.   This new approach emphasized collecting qualitative data, which would bring up new concepts and questions to be answered in contrast with the previous approach with collected quantitative data, which could be analyzed in a more organized manner.  The right questions were probed. This process was meant to come up with opportunities for product development, which could not be possibly done by traditional means. Ideally, this is meant to stem from knowledge of emerging consumer needs and better concepts on existing products and services due to reliable data and faster innovation. Major trends related to consumer needs are studied and matched with possible corresponding products, with an emphasis on ideal attributes and features that best meet these needs. Experts among the lead users are interviewed for technical knowledge about concept generation. The managers were involved in implementation of concepts and confirmed the correspondence of the concepts with business interests. 3.The medical surgical team has managed to successfully apply the Lead User Research process. This is because this approach lays more emphasis on the consumers who are the lead users of the company’s products. In the team selected to help in discussions were a surgeon, a veterinary surgeon, a makeup artist who though he seemed unorthodox had a wealth of knowledge on the application of substances to skin, researchers, and marketers. Surgeons both in developed countries and in the developing world were observed at work and the challenges they face observed. It was noted that developing countries, even though they had some few well-equipped world class hospitals, has a lot of below par medical facilities in which the surgeons worked under very hard conditions and which could not possibly afford the surgical drapes at the price being offered by the company. Therefore, for this reason it was set out to develop cheaper products for this market as a way of also expanding the company’s reach. All the steps followed by the team were geared towards not only finding the user’s needs but also coming up with concepts that would help in the satisfaction of these needs. Information about the division’s major focus in term of products, which was infections which were related to the process of and conditions surrounding the surgery rather than the illness itself, was collected in an intense period of research through medical journals and other sources. After a period of intense research, the team was able to find out that at least 30% of the infections were from the skin of the patient, and this is the information that was most focused on during seminars and meetings. The team had meetings to make sense of the information they had gathered and made calls to users who might have experienced these infections, including the MASH unit whose operations needed portable, flexible, and affordable products but were more focused on issues like transportation and therefore did not form the desired lead users. The fact that the team communicated with such a wide variety of possible lead users can suggest that the ones they managed to keep were going to air genuine concerns, which would be important in concept generation. It is my opinion that the team was successful in applying the lead user research process because when they contacted the lead users they ascertained their interest in accessing products, which would solve the problems that the division aimed to solve too. They had meetings to think through needs and how to not only make them quality but convenient, as was proposed by the veterinary surgeon who proposed the surgical drape which only allowed access to areas of the patients being operated on, and the input of the makeup artist on different materials to help the drapes adhere to skin. They came up with concepts and sufficient explanations for them and as a bonus even had a concept for a product out of the normal range that the division usually delved in and more than they set out to do. They also intended to do research on detection of infections before they happened, and even though this would require a new business strategy, it can also show their own confidence in the success of their research process and their concepts.   The team managed to come up with ideas for new products to solve this problem, complete with surgical drapes made of more affordable materials to reduce the cost and enable affordability by most consumers in developing countries. The surgical drapes also had fastening devices and adhesive to stick it to the body, were made in a size to fit all patients, and allowed focus on the specific body part being operated on. They also had the concept for a skin doctor, a device that would apply layers of an antibacterial fluid to the skin surrounding the operating point, with a suggestion for an accompanying vacuum device to remove any pre-existing moisture on the skin before the layers are applied. The third product they came up with was outside the scope of what the company had attempted before, and was an antibacterial armor line, which was meant to protect tubes and catheters leading inside the body from microbial infection 4.Dunlop as an executive believed in the traditional marketing research method that was used to obtain data with numbers that were much easier to analyze. Nevertheless, considering the fact that the Medical-surgical department had lasted decades with only one successful product showed that customers could not be trusted to recognize their own needs and had no ideas on improvements that needed to be made. Even though they were the leaders in the particular niche of surgical drapes, the sales were stagnating which meant that there was a market that had yet to be tapped or that the product did not cater to specific needs that the consumers had. The Lead User Research team even in initial stages had a hard time convincing him of the feasibility of the project for which he showed open disapproval and termed a ‘tax to the current operating income’ (Thompke & Nimgade, 2002). For this reason, it would be better to sell the idea of a new business strategy to him. The business strategy of 3M is more oriented towards making new products, which will generate about 30% of the revenue. An executive also once said that they would produce anything that makes money. Increasing profits is a major goal of the company, and there is a possibility that while the new products are being introduced into the market, they will not perform as well as expected in their novelty and before consumers are convinced of their usefulness. The team can recommend a new business strategy based on competitiveness, this meaning that there should be an emphasis on differentiating products with any other that a competitor may produce, creating products which are affordable by different classes of customers, and always seeking to diversify on products and services. This business strategy encompasses all the new products developed in that they are all either improvements on current products of the division and include a new product catered toward a different direction. The new products were an economy line whose greatest emphasis was on cost, a skin doctor line, and an antimicrobial armor line. The first two were seen as introduction to already existing product lines, while the last was a foray into new activities, which was expected to open doors to new activities (Thompke & Nimgade, 2002). By describing a business strategy, that allows more freedom for continuous research and continuous contact with consumers, the new products could be seen as a pilot proof of the strategy. The whole research process should be defined by its goals to boost global presence of the division and 3M at large with the resultant creation of new double-digit growth for the division. The lead user research process had when it started a goal to create new concepts and ideas but as was admitted by members of the team, it was not enough to have new products with an old business strategy. It would defeat the final purpose of the team for the strategy to be rejected. The risk is that the whole Medical-Surgical division could be shut down if it seems that they cannot come up with any innovative ideas to keep it afloat. The research to detect microbes before they cause infection, which could be a billion dollar industry in its own right, had a possibility of not being approved   Reference Thompke, S. & Nimgade, A., 2002. Innovation at 3M Corporation (A). Havard Business School Publishing, 9-699-012 Rev, July 23, pp.1-23

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