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Gut Check: Are You Resting On Your Laurels?

15-04-07 3M LaurelsImagine you are the CEO of a wildly profitable, century-old company that boasts more than 50,000 products and has a market value of more than $100 billion.

Would you sit on those laurels or would you take chances on both your brand and your products?

If you’re Inge Thulin, CEO of 3M, it’s definitely the latter.

3M is one of the most influential companies in the world. It is nearly impossible to imagine a household that does not already contain several 3M products, from Post-It notes to Scotch Tape.

The company has also managed an unparalleled history of consistent profitability. The WSJ called 3M “one of the world’s reliable profit machines.” 3M earnings are consistently in the 5-6 per cent range annually, and its stock increased in value by 17 per cent in 2014, nearly 50 per cent better than the market average.

With these kind of results, one could completely understand if the company decided to play it safe and take a “don’t break what is clearly not broken approach.”

But not under Thulin’s leadership. Instead, he is driving the company for an even stronger future.

For example, 3M has launched its first global branding campaign in 25 years with the tagline “3M Science. Applied to Life.” The campaign has taken the company into new and uncharted advertising environments, including the SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, where it built an entire structure solely out of company products.

3M has also drastically updated its environmental practices, teaming up with environmental groups to force paper suppliers to take a more ethical approach to harvesting trees. The new policy – which will require suppliers to trace paper fiber to its forest source and prove it was obtained legally – is expected to revolutionize the forest products industry.

And then there are the “disruptive products” that the company plans to launch. Earlier this year, Thulin told the Wall Street Journal he and a team of executives meet quarterly to identify promising emerging technologies coming from 3M labs. Those deemed most “disruptive” are given more money for research and development with the understanding it will take years to bring them to fruition.

Thulin’s influence on 3M cannot be understated. In an age when many companies are struggling to find new ways of doing things and new products, Thulin is demonstrating what a deeply imbedded culture of innovation really looks like.

Like all leaders who are true innovators, Thulin’s story illustrates the importance of not resting on one’s own laurels or that of the company. It’s a commitment that few leaders and organizations get right – the ability to continually seek out new frontiers of innovation and growth.

Are you this kind of leader?

My leadership gut check question for this week asks: are you resting on your laurels?

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About the Author

Vince Molinaro is a speaker, consultant, executive at Lee Hecht Harrison, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Leadership Contract now in its third edition.

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