MAJ Caprissa Brown-Slade tests a self-cooling welding helmet at 3M’s Innovation Center in St. Paul, MN.

“Innovation is no accident” states the 3M Tour Guide during a recent DAELP trip.

In the Depot and Arsenal Executive Leadership Program (DAELP), participants do not simply sign up, attend, and finish a course.  They join a dynamic alumni network that has begun performing benchmarking tours of successful companies across the country.  The first tour took the team to Boeing in 2011, and this year the team travelled to St. Paul, MN to visit the corporate headquarters of 3M for a 3-day tour around the theme of innovation.

This year’s group consisted of representatives from across the country including Rock Island Arsenal, Sierra Army Depot, Anniston Army Depot, Watervliet Arsenal, McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, Tobyhanna Depot, US Army Special Operations Command, and Joint Special Operations Command Fort Bragg.

Why a theme of innovation?  Innovation is something newly introduced, such as a new method or device.  At 3M, the team is constantly searching for ways to not only invent new products, but to make their existing product line better.  They do this by working cross-functionally and encouraging their team members to utilize the 15% rule.  This rule encourages 3M employees to use 15% of their time working on other projects outside of their normal routine.  Additionally, 3M invests $1.5 billion in Research and Development annually.

DAELP representatives really took away a new perspective of innovation for their own organizations.  How can we do things more efficiently at our organizations?  One solution they discovered was using new tools and devices such as adhesives to make painting faster, making this process more efficient.  Joe Heser of 3M discussed Lean Six Sigma and continuous improvement processes – more tools to take back to their organizations.  By taking these new methods learned, the participants are looking forward to taking the theme of innovating and putting it in place.

Innovation is a central theme to the Institute for Defense and Business (IDB).  By bringing together members of diverse communities from the DoD, government agencies, academia, and the private sector for seminars, participants return to their respective organizations with new fresh ideas, perspectives, and relationships to start putting what has been learned into practice.  New courses and programs such as the Military Vehicle High Performance Capabilities Program (MVHPC) and the UNC Strategic Studies Fellows Program (SSFP) represent innovative additions to IDB’s product line.  IDB also continues to innovate within its existing programs—striving for continuous improvement with each offering through new faculty, updated material, and attention to feedback.

How do you define innovation?  How do you use it at your organization?