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Innovative Organizations - 3m Corporation

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Case 49: Innovating Organizations : The Case of 3M

Chapter 4 introduces us to the metaphor of organizations as brains. Everything we have read thus far progressively builds upon the previous way of thinking to create a total vision for an ideal organization. Chapters 2 invited us to think of organizations as machines which set the foundations for the framework of what an organizations should be. The following chapter built on that, when it described organizations as organisms that need to consider the environment they are in, promoting evolution and adaptation of business practices. As a brain, an organizations is not only an adapting organism, but also a learning one.

The 3M Organization has been wildly successful in its business ventures. This can be attributed to their ability to fulfill each one of the metaphors we have encountered - It has been able to employ a (loose) traditional organizational framework, but still allows its employees and lower management creative freedom, allowing the organization to adapt to its environment and pursue other markets. One thing to note about the organization is its massive product lineup and large number of divisions within the company (the book notes 40). While this many divisions and products may seem like too many to manage, 3M has pulled it off seemingly effortlessly. To illustrate this, the book notes that organizations are information processing systems and uses robots as an example. The robots were "dumb" in the sense that there was no centralized information processing system such as a brain telling each limb what to do. What they discovered through observation is that a centralized intelligence system for each of the limbs did not give the desired result, but when the intelligence was decentralized and each part was allowed to govern and manage itself, that the desired result was achieved. This is how 3M operates - 3M builds on its strengths and allows each division to manage itself independently of the others. This allows 3M to manage all of its products and divisions without being controlled by a central manager or CEO who will easily become overwhelmed by the amount of work and management needed to run such a large corporation.

3M's approach to innovation with their system of product "champions" and their liberal management practices allows 3M to function as a learning system

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