By Wynne Lewis, R&D Director at 3M United Kingdom plc.


It’s perhaps not surprising that schools don’t exactly encourage children to fail. When success is measured by grades, the focus is always going to be on getting things right. Common sense, isn’t it?

And that follows when we move into the world of work. Nobody actively seeks failure, do they?

But what if it is actively avoided?

Play safe, and you end up with the same ‘me too’ products and services as everyone else. So what do you have to do if you want to stand out in your market?

At 3M, we believe you need to create the right working environment for science and innovation to flourish.

We allow up to 15 percent of employees’ time to be dedicated to projects that aren’t yet adopted by a 3M business. It is part of a culture that recognises that unexpected outcomes are an inevitable part of the innovation process, so you need to create time and space for exploration.
If something doesn’t quite work out as you expected, you might have learnt nothing more than not to try that again! It is more likely, though, that you discover something that takes you down another path – and who knows where that might lead to?

As a result, we have lots of serial ‘frog kissers’ in our company. If they get knocked back, they just keep going and going in pursuit of the prince – that breakthrough product or technology that has the power to disrupt way things have traditionally been done and make lives better for everyone.

We are proud to support British Science Week as it provides a great opportunity to highlight to our younger generations that scientists do not fear ‘failure’ – indeed, we don’t really recognise the term. It might sound trite to talk instead of ‘learning experiences’ but that, fundamentally, is the truth of it.

In our schools’ programme, we try to highlight to students some of the things they don’t necessarily learn in the classroom. Qualifications tell us there is an intelligent brain at work. But we are looking for so much more.

Attributes such as curiosity – how does that work and could it be done better?

Problem-solving skills – if you think it can be done better, then how?

And the ability to collaborate. Students look surprised when we tell them we sometimes turn away the very brightest of job applicants – but we do explain why – our belief that many bright minds working together are much more powerful than one clever individual. So, the ability to share ideas and work constructively as part of a team is key.

We also challenge the preconception that many students have of scientists – that of people working alone in a lab wearing a white coat. For some, that is true – but we love introducing young people to our scientists – many of whom spend their time with customers and understanding what is keeping them awake at night in their industries – so we can bring that insight back to 3M and set about working on solutions for them.

Introducing young people to real-world engineers who design and create better ways of doing things is so rewarding – and that will be one area of focus for 3M during the week.

As a science-based technology company, we believe that showing students how science is applied in the real world is just too important to be left to schools and universities alone.

We have a vested interest in ensuring the talent pool of the future – so we feel we have an important role to play in showing how 3M science is applied to life – how each of our 55,000 products make things better in some way.

That isn’t altruism; our future success depends on it – and British Science Week encourages us all to reflect on that – and to do our bit to inspire the next generation.

3M is a proud supporter of British Science Week