311Re: Middle-up-down vs. bottom-up
- May 3, 2002Jonas,
I have not read the book you reference, so I am not sure why they
call 3M a bottom-up organization. But I worked there for 20 years,
ending up as a manager (and product champion) in the new product
development area of the company.
Certainly no one at 3M would think that much good can be
accomplished by a single individual. The way that new products get
invented is that someone with a good idea recruits team members.
Because of institutionalized slack (anyone can spend 15% of their
time on projects of their own choosing), it is quite easy to do
this. The practice is officially known as `bootlegging'.
Let me give you an example. I was trying to build a business around
an ultra-pure plastic fiber about ½ inch in diameter, into which
one injects light. The light comes out at the end or as a glowing
fiber. Colors are injected via a color wheel. We called the
product `Light Fiber' and our team introduced it in Japan in
The team was largely a team of volunteers, some of whom were
officially assigned to the project at their request by their
managers, some of whom were donating their 15% time. We were one of
the few technical teams in the company to successfully involve
Japanese technical people as fully involved team members. We met
every week for 3 years, and although we had very little official
funding, we built two process lines, prototyped a third, and
commercialized the product.
There is no way that a new product can be successfully developed and
put on the market by one person. The only successful product
champions at 3M are those who can inspire a team. For the most
innovative products, the team must often be recruited and is to some
extent a volunteer team. It requires a good idea and strong
leadership to inspire a team of `volunteers', but it is in no
sense working with a group of individualists. The new product
development team is a unit, working together, making mutual
commitments, helping each other, doing whatever is necessary to put
a successful product on the market.
From my personal experience, I must say I would rather lead a team
of scientists who are deeply committed to each other and to the
product, than a team of scientists who are being told what to do.
Not only is it more fun, it is far easier to be successful.
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