Mark Baldwin works as the Product Design Manager at 3M, and spoke to Trend Hunter about the importance of being open-minded when approaching creative work.
How does your team generate great ideas?
We do a lot of consumer research, and it can vary depending on the size of the project, sometimes we’ll do ethnographic research with consumers to uncover unmet needs. We’ll do primary research, qualitative research with consumers. We also mine a lot of data from trend research companies not unlike Trend Hunter. We’ll do internal brainstorming sessions within design typically, but it’s more of a cross-functional team. It depends on the scope of the project and the work, and what we might already know versus what we have to discover.
What are some barriers to innovation and how do you get around them?
Sometimes existing processes or existing ways of doing things can limit innovation at times. Some limits are self-imposed, with either how far we want to push the envelope versus how innovative we want to be.
I’m part of a small team right now where we’re really trying to innovate and push the envelope, so we’re really just trying to approach things differently. We’re engaging some outside help in terms of facilitators or people who are good at making us think outside the box. A lot of it’s mental, we’re just trying not to be mentally limited. Let’s just not worry about any manufacturing process limitations. So it’s a combination of forcing yourself to be mentally open to things and also, sometimes getting some external help to push the envelope.
How do you identify trends?
I always like to get back to pencil and paper, to sketch and draw and get things down physically. It helps me to work through ideas. At the beginning of a process I would say I always like to scan areas for ideas that are not necessarily directly related to the problem I’m trying to solve. A lot of times you can get inspiration from either adjacent industries or completely different ones, you can make a connection back to what you’re actually trying to solve in a completely different way. It opens up new ways of thinking.
What can you do to create a culture of innovation?
I think in any organization the leadership has to be an advocate of different kinds of thinking and openness to exploring things without having to worry about being penalized for pursuing something that may or may not work out. I think failure is an important part of innovation. If you fail fast, you can learn a lot. I think the idea of fast prototyping is very helpful. Try something, build it, if it fails you get a new idea and build upon that.