3 Steals for More Creativity from One of the World’s Most Innovative Companies

There once was a salesman that sold sandpaper. While watching workmen paint cars on a break, he observed that the tape they used to protect borders between colors damaged the paint under it, and the workmen had to repaint what they’d already done.

And then he had an idea–what if he could create a less sticky tape for them to use?

Using the paper backing and adhesive used to create the sandpaper he sold, the salesman toiled for months to find the right balance of stickiness. Even when his boss got frustrated and told him he had to stop, he couldn’t let it go. Finally, he perfected it.

Masking tape.

The product quickly became the company’s top seller. A company called Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company–now just 3M, one of the world’s most innovative companies.

Years later, 3M has preserved the spirit of that first innovation, going on to create Scotch tape, post-its, and tons more. How have they held onto that innovative spirit? 3M made it their business to be innovative, building it right into its corporate culture. The best part is, you can steal some of their tactics to make your own life more creative.

Fostering curiosity. Well before Google came along, 3M allowed its employees to use 15 percent of their time at work developing projects of personal interest. The only rule? They must share what they learn with their colleagues. It’s a nice employee perk, sure, but some of 3M’s greatest products have come out of these projects–like the post-it note.

Your steal: We can’t all do it on the clock, but take time for your own creative projects. And don’t do it on your own–practice in public.

Cross-pollination. The mix of ideas–applying the knowledge of one field to another. Like, say, a salesman who applies his knowledge of sandpaper production to the process of painting a car. 3M knows that creativity is fueled by the ability to apply other sets of knowledge to a problem. So they frequently rotate employees between projects and encourage networking among research teams all over the country.

Your steal: Deliberately expose yourself to a wide variety of things. Pursue hobbies and interests to the nth degree. Go to events. Meet people. Ask questions.

Culture-shaping. 3M newbies quickly learn and internalize the great stories of 3M’s history, such as the invention of Scotchguard. These stories internalize the principles of innovation 3M values. And then, when the next batch of fresh blood comes along, those former newbies are ready to pass on the stories again and keep the culture alive.

Your steal: Aha moments may come in a flash, but consistent creativity is no accident. You shape your own world. Be deliberate about what you choose to include in it.


What other tips do you have for a creative lifestyle?


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