1. The science behind big ideas
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  • The science behind big ideas

    By Deirdre Macbean, 3M Storyteller

    Always ask questions

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    • New ideas have the power to change the world.

      For instance, in the last few decades, the internet has changed the way we do everything from ordering our food to investing our money. Less conspicuously, nonwovens (high-tech, engineered fabrics made from fibers) have revolutionized manufacture of every day products like air filters, medical bandages and humble kitchen scrubbers. Applications seem virtually limitless.

      But what’s the secret behind generating the really big ideas? In the words of one 3M Corporate Scientist: “Magic is always at the interfaces. Interfaces between people, job functions and people in different fields. Collisions are where the sparks happen.”

      The challenge for organizations like 3M is creating valuable collisions on a regular basis. Hiring people with the right perspective and building a collaborative, problem-solving culture are key priorities.

    • Wynne Lewis R&D

      Problems shared are problems solved

      Wynne Lewis, R&D Director at 3M UK, gave school children some career advice, when launching 2016 British Science Week in March:

      “Qualifications tell us there is an intelligent brain at work. But we are looking for so much more.

      Attributes such as curiosity – how could that work and could it be done better?

      Problem-solving skills – if you think it can be done better, then how?

      And the ability to collaborate. The ability to share ideas and work constructively as part of a team is key.”

    • Creative collisions

      The most innovative companies encourage “collisions” between people whose different points of view and expertise may spark something magical.

      Michele Whyle, Global Brand Director, describes 3M’s approach to collaboration: “3M learned early on that connecting people of various specializations across the globe is key to generating creative ideas.” She adds that you don’t know when or where the right connection will happen, but “you have to have faith that it will.”

      3M’s Tech Forum, which she chaired for a year, is one place where sparks are often ignited. Organized by chapters based on scientific specialization, it’s an energetic, grass-roots organization of scientists, passionate about sharing ideas, answering tough questions and finding better ways of doing things.

    • Diverse thought drives solutions

      3M Corporate Scientist Mahfuza Ali, an enthusiastic advocate of Tech Forum, sees huge benefit in being able to draw informally on experienced scientists from all kinds of disciplines. “Chemists and engineers think differently. The more people you have in a room, the more solutions you’ll develop.”

      And certainly, for Christian Milker, Business Manager in Electronics Materials Solutions Division, tackling the challenges involved in building more powerful, safer and longer-lasting batteries, requires the broadest collaboration he has ever experienced. “Our team includes experts from an incredibly wide range of 3M technology platforms like “fluoro-materials, polymer processing, coating, separation, purification, and nanotechnology to name just a few,” he explains.

      But it’s not only broad internal collaboration that matters. As Wynne Lewis explained to the children at the UK Science Fair, far from working alone in a lab, many 3M scientists spend a lot of their time with customers “understanding what is keeping them awake at night in their industries – so we can bring that insight back to 3M and set about working on solutions to help them.”

    • Innovation tips

      Want to foster a culture of innovation in your own company? Here are 5 tips from 3M scientists:

      1. Don’t fear failure. Unexpected outcomes are part of the innovation process. Learn from them.
      2. Help broaden perspectives by bringing people together in diverse teams.
      3. Encourage everyone to communicate – make it easy for everyone to have a voice.
      4. Always ask “how can we do it better?” Ask questions about everything.
      5. Spend a lot of time with customers, learning about their needs.