3M and Google’s product incubation processes

Yesterday, I was attending a presentation by Steve Cadigan about the changing dynamic in employment hiring and retention. During his presentation, he mentioned the 3M model for product innovation. They allow their staff to spent 15% of their time on their own pet projects. There’s a process for asking for seed money to get new products incubated allocated by business unit managers (and not necessarily from your own business unit manager). The product can move to a next stage with a dedicated team and separate budget to get further off the ground and commercialize it.

I found it interesting because it has a close resemblance when people talk about the Google product and engineering processes.

There are three key learnings here:

  1. Give people a sandbox in the form of time and budget to innovate new ideas
  2. Allow for success AND failure
  3. Create a fair (eg. non-political) internal competition for budget and resources

A model which is right for one company does not necessarily be a good fit for another company. But a good model should adhere to these 3 key characteristics to create a safe place to innovate and a way to get ideas and products launched.