Sunday, September 26, 2004

3M's tale of the nanotape

ForbesWolfeThe old Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co., founded in 1902, might still be in business had it continued to scrape for sandpaper customers or stuck only to the tape business. But it might not have become the 3M – the diversified technology company – that we all recognize today.

3M knows, and practices, the almost counterintuitive business proverb that to place all your energies into pleasing your current customers is to potentially miss the revolution around the corner.

Just ask Larry Wendling, staff vice president at 3M's Corporate Research Laboratory, who's been with the company for more than two decades and has watched the firm lose its R&D focus over time, dispersing it among 14 different research centers, then finally in the past year centralizing it once more.

"We went back to the future a little," Wendling says, referring to the company's' 2003 scientist shuffle that gave the company more focus in its R&D – a difficult task for a company that serves markets ranging from tape to teeth. But even 3M knows that if you continue to invest only in the technology that supports your existing business, the future may not need you.

So, how do you plan for markets that do not yet exist?

Well, to find out, you've got to take a look at the September Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Report. The dynamic trio of Josh Wolfe, Peter H├ębert and Robert Paull are smart guys, but apparently hadn't learned their lesson in the August issue and asked me to return to help out with this 3M feature.

Find out how 3M's been small for decades; they just don't send out a Post-it a day bragging about it. Yes, they're hype-free and won't stick to your dental work.

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