How ERRORS Have Propelled the Innovative Career of 3M's Chief Science Advocate
Jun 29, 2018

At 3M, we want all employees to have careers full of challenging experiences while making a difference in the world. And Jayshree Seth, Corporate Scientist and 3M’s Chief Science Advocate, knows a little something about creating solutions that make an impact. She’s one of the top scientists in the company, with more than 60 patents to her name, and she took time out from innovating and advocating to offer insight into what it’s like working in STEM at 3M.

Why did you go into STEM?

I grew up in India in a university town with a premier engineering institute, so I was surrounded by engineers and scientists. There is a great deal of respect in India for professions like engineering and medicine, and my dad is an engineer with a PhD himself.  With such a great college in town, local parents encouraged their kids to go into engineering and so did mine.

What would you tell those interested in a STEM career at 3M?

Whatever you want to do, you can do it here! Looking back, I never thought my technical education would take me on the career journey I’ve been on, but I let myself be open to challenge after challenge, which led me to amazing opportunities. That’s the beauty of 3M. You can solve problems, work in teams, interact with customers, launch products, build strategy, participate on committees, pursue your own ideas, teach others and more. It’s really up to you.

Describe your career at 3M in three adjectives.

Unbelievable, exhilarating and trailblazing.

Tell us more about this amazing journey.

In looking back, it is quite amazing! I went from working on diamonds in graduate school to diapers in my first 3M job in personal care, to cosmetics and skincare, to a strategic Intellectual Property special project, to Lean Six Sigma. I then moved to our industrial business for new growth platform identification, then back to our core with adhesives and tapes development with a focus on sustainability, and most recently added on a new role as 3M’s first ever Chief Science Advocate.

And in that time, you managed to rack up 60 patents! Of the bunch is there one you’re most proud?

That’s hard to pick! I am proud of them all because they’re all significant for different reasons and I learned something from each patent’s journey - from the inception of the idea to the issuance of the patent. One project I can tell you I’m incredibly proud of is the strategic intellectual property initiative, where we looked into the ‘crystal ball’ and patented concepts based on how we envisioned the product and customer needs would evolve. It resulted in over 15 patents and it was interesting to see the future unfold and how accurate our predictions had been.

How do you see your work impacting people’s lives in the world?

I started at 3M working on diaper tape, which has direct implications for the consumer. I worked on improved adhesives and release films and then on better hook and loop and elastic closures for diapers. I learned to appreciate it more when we had kids! I’m now working on improved industrial tapes and adhesives that help make a wide range of products more robust and sustainable. 3M has always had a very strong sustainability vision and mindset, and I think that is so important.

Speaking of the world, have you had the chance to travel and experience 3M in different countries?
3M has taken me all over the world! My first international trip was to Germany, to implement a product that I had developed in our factory there. I later also travelled to Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan and Mexico for deeper understanding of customer needs in the personal care markets.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Turkey and Germany as a keynote speaker at customer events. I also had the opportunity to travel to China to mentor and teach a specific methodology at our 3M labs. And this year, I’ll be traveling to Brazil, where in addition to attending 3M events, I will be speaking on our State of Science Index, and then to Poland, where I will be a keynote speaker at a women in STEM event.

When you have a teachable point of view, you want to share it. 3M has encouraged and allowed me to do just that.

Innovation is at the core of 3M’s culture and history. How have you made the most of the 15% Culture?

Every single project that I have ever worked on was initiated as a 15% effort! Our culture of empowerment and collaboration gave me the opportunity to contribute to products like the Intelligent Inhaler in our healthcare business or Command™ in our consumer business that have nothing to do with my current role. As a result of the 15% Culture at 3M, you can have your fingerprints everywhere and I have certainly taken advantage of that opportunity by working on many 15% projects across many technology platforms.

Your 3M career sounds pretty incredible, but has there ever been a time in your 25 years here where you’ve thought about leaving?

No! I love my job and the culture is a great fit for me. I like to find problems to solve and then work with teams to solve them. This is valued at 3M and I feel empowered to work on advancing so many of our product and technology platforms.  I have worked on and initiated many projects considered ‘risky,’ but even if something was not as successful as envisioned, I always felt rewarded for taking initiative. The employee empowerment aspect of our culture is the number one reason that I never considered leaving. I always felt that at 3M I didn’t have to climb the ladder – I could lead from my own rung! Continuing to enhance and safeguard this is critical in attracting and retaining talent. Employee empowerment is key.

How would you describe 3M’s culture to someone who doesn’t know 3M?
I recently described 3M’s culture of innovation in a Linkedin article through the acronym ERRORS. In my view, these are key elements to be considered for inculcating and maintaining a successful culture of innovation such as that at 3M and a lack of system level approach to any of the above would be a mistake!

At 3M there is an Expectation that every employee will be innovative, ample Resources available to help us along the way, an appetite for Risk-taking, the Opportunity to make good on our ideas, Recognition for doing so and the Socialization of the concept of being innovative that allows the culture to be sustained.

What advice do you have for women in STEM and their careers?

There has been a lot of discussion around women and the ‘confidence gap’ in the recent years and many self-help plans have been suggested for women to project more confidence in predominantly male roles and careers. My advice is that you need to find your own virtuous cycle that allows you to stay authentic to your own brand of confidence. I certainly get anxious with every new endeavor but I quickly use that to fuel action and get the information I need to feel more self-assured about the next steps. Increasing my knowledge ends up helping me be successful, which gives me confidence, and then the cycle repeats itself.

We want to hear about your experience with 3M.
Jayshree’s story is truly inspiring and at 3M, we want to make sure all our employees’ voices are heard. Whether you’re a candidate who has interviewed with 3M or a current employee, we’d love for you to anonymously share your experiences with us on our Glassdoor page.

Interested in working at 3M? Join our Talent Community.

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