Where Do Engineers Come From?


Entrepreneurship, Cardboard and Packing Tape


You may need a handkerchief before watching this


Nine year-old Caine spends his mornings in the family auto parts store. While his father works the computer in the office, little Caine makes use of the extra boxes and tape he finds in the back. Watch the eleven minute video and you’ll see what an ingenious inventor Caine is.

Here’s why am I captivated by Caine’s story:

  • Caine perfectly demonstrates creativity under constraint. He uses junk and office supplies to build an entire, interactive arcade.

  • The documentary demonstrates the power of social media. But that’s really a side story; it’s really about community. Caine’s store is in a poor working-class east Los Angeles neighborhood. A friendly, socially-connected man recognized a genius when he saw one and he took action. Strangers surprise, engage and applaud Caine for no other reason than they are generous souls. Humanity’s better angels took action.

  • Caine built this all on his own. He did “build that” as entrepreneurs do.

  • Caine’s father is one of the best examples of a good parent. No hovering. No managing.


The short, eleven-minute documentary will make you smile and maybe, cry. What do you think of Caine?


Social Media Drives Creativity Inside The Enterprise

Employees surprise 3M (and themselves) with a video ‘gift’




Have you seen this video? 

Who did this? Why? The description doesn’t divulge much:

17 teams of 3M employees from around the world volunteered their personal time to create this video, a SURPRISE ‘gift’ to other 3M employees. We did this on our own, working ‘undercover.’ The video was released in a viral way inside the company on October, 2010. We’re now putting it on YouTube so we can share it with friends, family and retirees.

A year ago I saw a ‘lip-dub’ video from the Shorewood High School. Lisa Foote (@footenotes), a local, non-3M doyenne of mobile computing, ‘tweeted’ about it. I watched the video several times, transfixed. It is very uplifting and spirited. I could not watch it without smiling.

An entire high school — jocks, geeks, ‘emos,’ cheerleaders and even the swim team – filmed a single session in one shoot, backwards. Yes, I was taken with the students’ enthusiasm, but I was also amazed at the coordination. I wondered how so many students could cooperate together in five minutes and build something so brilliant.

Then the idea: could employees at my company, 3M, do something like that? Would we ever lip-synch through hallways? Could we be as brilliant as the high-school students were?

3M is like that school in many ways: it has ‘hallways’ (countries, business units) and a diverse population of 75,000 employees, worldwide. We’re pretty brilliant, too. 3M has a reputation for innovation and collaboration. The opportunity was there.

So, how to coordinate a company-wide, volunteer effort?

We relied on internal social media tools, specifically Lotus Connections and an internally-developed video sharing tool called 3M DIY Video Library. Connections’ Communities allowed for private discussion and debate. Connections’ Wiki managed group documents for project plans, team pages, storyboards and music strategy. There was a private community blog for announcements, status updates and weekly newsletters. Teams uploaded drafts of their video segments for comment (and praise) from the other teams to the video library.

I should add that all effort was ‘after-hours,’ voluntary and unsanctioned. Most of the seventy-five people have never created a video before. Few were familiar with Connections.



We sent an anonymous video invitation with very little information. This intrigued the kind of people we sought.


But those who accepted the private invitation “will you join us?” were willing to teach themselves.

Daniel Pink says employees will accomplish incredible things if given Autonomy, the chance to Master technique, and they believe in the Purpose of a challenge. The exceptional 3M employees in the project proved Pink right. People taught themselves how to create videos. Many used their after-hours time, personal holidays and vacation. They spent their own money, all to ‘surprise 3M.’

The team released the final video behind the firewall in October, 2010. Fellow employees, including executives, were delighted. And we now have permission to publish it on YouTube.


Project objectives:

  •  Surprise the company
  •  “Bottoms – up”
  •  Raise the spirit of each person who watches it
  •  Make 3M executives aware of how ‘cool’ the employees are
  •  Prove collaboration can happen with the social tools. Teach innovative people how to use them.


Other project facts:

  •  3M employees, only.
  •  All video had to internally developed.
  •  Oversight was team-only.
  •  McKnight had to be in each video segment, somewhere
  •  Theme: show McKnight how far we’ve come
  •  Encouraged: subtlety, things off to the side, mystery, exuberance
  • 75 people from the US, UK, Poland, Russia, Italy, Canada, Dubai, China and Singapore
  •  Most of the team members don’t know each other, have never met, and probably never will – in person.


I’ll be honest and tell you I was worried when the project launched. But I think we did pretty well for a bunch of amateurs. Don’t you?






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.



An E20 Evangelist’s Prayer


Please grant me the Power to release my inner Linchpin,

To unleash Creativity

And inspire Passion and Exuberance as I move through the Enterprise.

Guide my Hand through Use Cases and Proposals.

Remind me always of the Teachings of the Blessed Tufte.

Make my Presentations captivating and simple.

Bring me Stories and interesting Anecdotes. 

Bless my Dog and Pony (and iPhone).

Strengthen Me against the Skeptics’ Spears,

The Scowls of Middle Managers

And the heavy Hand of IT and Human Resources.

Help me prevail against the Spreadsheet People

Of Six Sigma with their stifling Weapons of Conformity and Measurement.

Help me find other Evangelists that I may pull them in and embrace them.

Remind me, always, how new and exciting this is.

I am a Teacher, but also a Student.

I must be patient and listen.

Let me find Inspiration in the Actions of others, both Inside and Outside.

Most of all, please help me figure out what is Next

After all this blows over

 When  the next Silver Bullet is fired.

In the name of the Gladwell,

The Solis

And the Holy Godin.


Facebook Can End Friendships, Too


I’ve always been cautious on Facebook, setting my ‘friend’ criteria to real friends and family. By ‘friend,’ I mean someone with whom I have a mutual, personal relationship. I toss off Facebook requests from co-workers, acquaintances and relationship collectors. I ignore ‘friend suggestions,’ too. I have to know you, have met you, like you or be related to you to invite you in. Those are my rules for my Facebook.

Well, my rules need tightening. Last week I ‘de-friended’ someone I knew and liked for a long time. I may have been impulsive when I did it, but thinking it over, I don’t know what else I could have done. I lost some sleep last week about the whole thing. Here’s what happened:

My friend and I are nearly opposite in our political views. I knew this for a while, and it was never a problem. Face-to-face and e-mail discussions were always candid and friendly. Trusting. For over fifteen years we kept it that way. I think she is misguided for someone so smart and funny, but the world is full of all kinds of people, yes? This past last spring we connected via Facebook.

She was different, somehow, on Facebook: she’s more active there than me; she adores the silly games; she must have hundreds of friends; and, she is much more open about her life then I could ever be.

Last week she posted a video making fun of a certain type of people, people who share the same philosophies as me. The video deployed a number of insulting epithets, too. Worst was the conversation stream of her ignorant friends, none of whom I know. I felt the insults were coming at me, in MY Facebook wall.

This was not the first time. So I de-friended her. I blocked her. If she said those things in my living room, I would ask her and her friends to leave. If I were at a party, I would walk away.

And there lies the problem I have with the new ‘social’ Facebook throws at us. It’s an artifice, an intentional distortion of the way people really want to see each other. Robots are clumsy with human relationships. Facebook pulled away the gauzy curtain we hung between us.

Well, she knows I cut the cord. I told her. She sent me an email right away but I haven’t answered because I am so angry.