How to enable innovation in the workplace like the 15 percent 3M culture

Innovation never rests

What if you could use 15 percent of your workday to pursue a passion project? Learn about 3M’s 15 percent culture.

  • Finding time for hobbies and passion projects is a great way to recharge your batteries. It can be a challenge to squeeze hobby time in after a day at work. But what if your company granted you 15 percent of your time to pursue things you are truly inspired by and curious about? What if you could balance your “to-do list” with a “want-to-do” list?

    Whether you’re a scientist or an artist, finding and channeling your inner-passion at work can make the difference between good results and great results.

    While nearly everyone recognizes that science drives innovation (91%), it is common knowledge that not everyone appreciates that the best science combines curiosity and imagination with tenacity, creativity, practical application and analytical thinking.

  • Inventors and creators understand that inspiration can strike at any moment. They also know it’s much more likely to happen when you have freedom to think, to let the creative and analytical juices flow.

  • woman working on a laptop in an office

    Case in point, much of 3M’s success has been driven by a culture that encourages freedom for scientists to do what scientists do best: get into the lab and get creative to solve everyday challenges.

    3M was the first company to introduce 15 percent culture, an unwritten rule that allows researchers to spend 15 percent of their time working on projects of their own choosing. Once the viability of the project is shown, the company even provides seed money to fund further development. Sometimes these 15 percent programs pay off—in fact, one project led to the creation of one of our most iconic products, the Post-It® Note.

    “There are numerous examples of how 15 percent culture comes to life at our company,” said Jayshree Seth, a Corporate Scientist and Chief Science Advocate (CSA) at 3M. “For example, Jim Graham, the Director of R&D for 3M Oral Care, uses his 15 percent time to develop products that appeal to both medical professionals and patients.

  • 3M ventures the venture capital arm of the 3M Company

    It’s easier than you think

    Now, imagine if you were given time each week dedicated to a project that excites you. Even if your company doesn’t have a dedicated program like 3M’s, there are ways you could champion more time and resources for innovation, such as:

    • If your company has a mentorship program, ask to add input to the expectations for mentor/mentee relationships. For instance, how they can guide their mentees to take inspiration from the principles of 15 percent culture.
    • Take note of quarterly industry trends and be proactive with your manager about ways your company can take advantage of them.
    • Are there any R&D projects that have hit a snag? Offer to bring a fresh perspective to the team and help overcome obstacles.

    Beyond 3M, innovation truly never rests because science is an ongoing process of discovery and advancement that’s always happening. For innovators, now is the time to take advantage of what’s available and make a worthwhile stake in the future of the world.

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