JUNE 11, 2007
INSIDE INNOVATION — IN DEPTH
At 3M, A Struggle Between Efficiency And Creativity
By Brian Hindo
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There has been little formal research on whether the tension between Six Sigma and innovation is inevitable. But the most notable attempt yet, by Wharton School professor Mary Benner and Harvard Business School professor Michael L. Tushman, suggests that Six Sigma will lead to more incremental innovation at the expense of more blue-sky work. The two professors analyzed the types of patents granted to paint and photography companies over a 20-year period, before and after a quality improvement drive. Their work shows that, after the quality push, patents issued based primarily on prior work made up a dramatically larger share of the total, while those not based on prior work dwindled.
Defenders of Six Sigma at 3M claim that a more systematic new-product introduction process allows innovations to get to market faster. But Fry, the Post-it note inventor, disagrees. In fact, he places the blame for 3M’s recent lack of innovative sizzle squarely on Six Sigma’s application in 3M’s research labs. Innovation, he says, is “a numbers game. You have to go through 5,000 to 6,000 raw ideas to find one successful business.” Six Sigma would ask, why not eliminate all that waste and just come up with the right idea the first time? That way of thinking, says Fry, can have serious side effects. “What’s remarkable is how fast a culture can be torn apart,” says Fry, who lives in Maplewood, Minn., just a few minutes south of the corporate campus and pops into the office regularly to help with colleagues’ projects. “[McNerney] didn’t kill it, because he wasn’t here long enough. But if he had been here much longer, I think he could have.”
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Six Sigma to take your PRODUCTION to new levels.
TQM to take your INNOVATION to new level.
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