Alex Cirillo Jr. at the Citizen League

I shuffled off to an early morning Citizens League meeting on Thursday to hear Alex Cirillo Jr., vice president of community relations at 3M, talk about the Principles of Innovation. I went because I’ve been interested in this topic for at least ten years. I was also interested in seeing what the Citizens League would be like.

Cirillo began the session with a short 15 minute presentation, a time limit he admirably fulfilled. In that 15 minutes he gave us a good bit of information to think about. He defined innovation as “the use of knowledge to achieve an output that is new or novel, a pragmatic result.” To have an impact it must be transformational - large in scale and important in depth.

The key to innovation in an organization is mindset. “It is driven by a system of principles and practices which support and encourage the coupling of systems and creativity to solve a problem.” 3M accomplishes this through corporate values and social connection. Networks and the interfaces between groups are important roots for innovation.

His seven principles for innovation are:

  1. Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should! The world doesn’t need a swiss army couch, even if it is possible. Timing and the need for an outlet are as important to successful innovation as raw creativity.
  2. Resign yourself to the fact that there is no such thing as an LTQF (Long Term Quick Fix). This is where non-linearity and lack of control come in. See Glenda Eoyang on complexity
  3. Be multilingual. Need to be diverse and bring a lot of people into the conversation. More perspectives means more success.
  4. Be clear about the context in which you are working. Keep perspective. Situational awareness is needed to see what kind of innovations are needed.
  5. Know when to think in black and white and when to think in color. More diversity.
  6. The thing you should work hardest at is building confidence in your people. Be a teacher. Education and culture are important.
  7. Be personally committed to making yourself and those around you excited about innovating. Be excited.

After the presentation we took twenty minutes to talk about the most important transformation needed in Minnesota and the people that should be at the table to talk about it?

My group talked about two major themes: productivity and sustainability. Who will be the workers of the future? How are they going to support us and the economy? Which naturally led to a discussion on education. I cautioned that focusing on education as a young person’s activity is foolish. We need to keep our eye on productivity for everyone, for all ages. Education is important but part of the problem is that education is built for a business world built on hierarchy. If we don’t change the expectations of the business world while we change education then our efforts in education may be moot.

Some of the people we wanted to invite to the table were young people, scientists, poets, grandmothers, engineers, designers, futurists, single mothers.

I asked where we should convene these meetings and we mostly agreed that all organizations need to open up, go out, and get diversity?

We reconvened as a large group and shared our ideas from the table conversations. I thought the whole event was quite well-done. They stuck to the schedule and accomplished a lot.

The question is what impact this will have. Most of the people at the event were self-selected because they were already members of the Citizens League. Going forward will require more and different people.

Finally Cirillo reminded us that “innovation is a contact sport.” We need to get out there and talk to people in order for it to work.