Did you know you probably have one of the world’s greatest failures as a product sitting on your desk right now?
The Post-It Note was an accident that never should have happened. The original creator of this innovation, Spencer Silver, was trying to find an adhesive to use in the construction of airplanes. Looking at the strength of the glue on a Post-It Note, it’s easy to see he missed the mark by quite a bit. There’s absolutely nothing strong or even permanent about a Post-It Note.
On the other hand, what he did create was an adhesive able to be used to hold one thing to another, which could be easily peeled off and used again…all without leaving any kind of sticky residue.
Now, most creators would look at a failure as just that, one more failure. If they were smart, they might examine the mistake to see what they did wrong in order to improve their next attempt. Here’s where Silver deviated from that response. He realized his mistake was interesting. And while it didn’t solve the original problem, he couldn’t help but think it might solve someone else’s. He started talking to people at his company, 3M, to see if anyone could come up with some kind of use for what he’d inadvertently discovered.
It took time and a lot of brainstorming. While his adhesive was impressive, no one had a practical application for it and told him to scrap the idea. Only one person, Geoff Nicholson, saw this product to be as interesting as Silver did and worked with him to come up with an idea for how to use it.
Initially, they found the wrong solution: put it on a bulletin board and you could stick papers to it without thumbtacks, then peel them away without leaving a residue on them. But the application seemed limited. It was a man named Arthur Fry who rounded out the team by suggesting putting the glue on the paper itself. This was the tweak that led to the overwhelming success of the product.
Here was the turning point for the Post-It Note. They figured out how to apply the glue to paper, but even then, 3M had a hard time getting on board. The initial marketing on the product resulted in no sales. It wasn’t until someone else developed an alternative marketing strategy that the world discovered just how unique and useful this product was. The marketing strategy? Provide free samples to consumers so they could gain an appreciation for the value of the product.
The story of the Post-It note is all about failures and what we do when things don’t go exactly as planned. It’s about being able to look outside the box and to find a use for something when the original intent doesn’t work out. More than that, it’s about perseverance and not giving up when you know you’ve got something good but the rest of the world just doesn’t realize it yet.