Social networks answer questions faster than Google

3M’s tiny, powerful projector shows up in a surprising place



3M’s MPro 120


3M has a reputation for innovation, but unlike other companies, this innovation comes from a long-standing culture of technical collaboration. 3M has 35 laboratories all over the world. Scientists conjure new technologies that product developers in other countries may turn into products. Technical service engineers in the field meet with customers to solve problems with these products. The sun doesn’t set on a global company like 3M; the beehive of informal, technical collaboration is always buzzing. It’s along this internal network that information flows the fastest.

Are you following the story of the miners in Chile? Dozens of men are still trapped deep underground after the main entrance collapsed in this summer. They are lucky; none were hurt, they’re in good health and they have three small holes up to the surface. It’s through these holes that they get their air and medicines. And amazingly enough, they got the chance to see a live video-link to a football (soccer) game — with 3M technology. Yet I didn’t learn about the trapped miners through any internal communication. No e-mails. No newsletter. No corporate Intranet posting. Instead,  I heard about it from a non-3M person.

Here’s the story:

I was having breakfast, thumbing through my Twitter newsfeed with my iPad, when I saw a ‘retweet’ by a person I follow. She’s an interesting lady, the co- owner of a local auto repair business. She’s in the same place in life as me (empty nester, married, Boomer). She also reads a lot and passes on interesting tidbits like this:



It was a link to a Newsweek article. Using simple graphics, it described how tenuous the life- link to the surface is. It also had a long list of things passed down to them. Included in the list was a the mention of a “mini projector.”



Look how small this hole is!

A projector? Really? Then I remembered 3M’s MISD division makes ‘pico,’ hand-held projectors in the mPro line .

When I got to work I Googled “3M projector Chile.” Nothing. “mpro miner Chile” told me nothing, either. Then I posted the link on a colleague’s Lotus Connection Wall. He responded in less than a half hour. He said:

“This is a great find. I don’t know for sure, but according to a comment on a Daily Mail article, they are using a 3M projector.”

My colleague is a scientist who tapped into his network and confirmed that it was an mPro projector. A Chilean 3M engineer worked with a local telco to join the projector to a media feed at the surface. Then they lowered it down the hole.

3M’s tightly engineered product traveled hundreds of feet through a bore hole and performed beautifully in the mine. The miners watched the entire Chile vs. Ukraine game. Their cheering blue-lit faces made the broadcast news, and the social world of bloggers and Twitter. The rest of world smiled that day. The design team in Saint Paul headquarters watched it, too. There was a sense of validation and pride when they saw the cheering, grimy miners.




The miners are still down there and won’t be rescued for many weeks to come. Click here to read about the conditions in the mine.

Things to ponder:

  1. The combination of people-based and computer-based networks (Twitter, Lotus Connections) brought forth the story in three hours. Social networks answer questions at business speed. It verified what Google couldn’t.
  2. It pays to “cultivate your margins” and pay attention to interesting people outside of your normal channels. Gifts come from unexpected places. Who would expect a Midwestern small business owner would find this nugget? If she didn’t, would any of us ever have known it was a 3M product down there? You won’t get as many good stories if you communicate with the same people you see every day.
  3. It was four degrees of internal separation, including me, to answer the question “is that our product?” It was answered in three hours from people on the other side of the world. Each person knew just the next person in line. If you add the Twitter feeds to me, that was two more people for a total of six. @laughingsquid found the Newsweek article, @jacquebona, who I follow, ‘RTed’ it.
  4. Google grabs what’s published, not what’s talked about. The social network rocks because it promotes what’s naturally interesting to people. The Google robot emulates people, but not as well, or as quickly.
  5. The little projector is STILL down there, used every day in non-spec conditions. It’s 90F and very humid down there. There’s a “takes a licking, keeps on ticking” story here.




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