1. How the 3 M innovation process evolved from the time the company was found?
The innovation process at 3M has typically been a focus area for the upper management. The company had taken a getoutoftheway attitude towards the product developers who in turn have worked accordingly towards innovation. Along with technicians each team had a process engineer to ensure that the product was efficiently made. The entire team did not face any risk if the product failed.
The product developers used to visit the factories and workplaces to talk to the workers to get ideas for products.
The developers were not given the share of product royalties as the company believed that innovation was driven by sheer love of it. But the developers were encouraged by various means like rewards for innovation and grants for innovative projects.
There was also a dual ladder approach that provided the senior technical persons with great career opportunities to advance without switching over to management.
In the 1990s as the innovation was stagnating, most of the innovations were extension of existing product lines, management came up with a protocol that 30% of 3M's revenue should come from innovative products that did not exist four years ago.
To meet the challenge the company's work force had to change its approach towards work. Some of the people in the Medical product's department switched over to a process called "Lead user research". After the process brought success to this division it was applied to other divisions successfully.
2. How does the Lead User' research process differ from and complement other traditional market research methods?
The Lead User Research' is the process where we find out the people or organizations that have made radical innovations to suit their needs and which are well ahead of time.
In case of normal market research, information is collected from users who are at the center of the target market. This essentially involves the problem finding and recognition exercise, with the analysis of the research carried out post research to find out the solution. Typically the companies do focus group and analyze sales data and customer complaints and requests. The product developers then apply their own creative thoughts to come up with a new product. In case of lead user research, the company collects information about both the problem and the solutions from the markets that face similar or near-identical problems, not necessarily the target market. The development team tracks down the innovators who have already come up with some kind of solution to the identified problem to add up to their business needs. Instead of copying the idea of the innovator in toto, the developers come up with new product ideas that suit the manufacturer's needs based on ideas of a number of lead users and in-house developers.
The lead user research typically...