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Post-It Notes Were Born From Collisions Of Ideas

Innovations are often created when one or more ideas collide with another. A great example of this is the famous Post-It note.

In 1968, while working in 3M’s R&D lab, Dr. Spencer Silver failed at creating a strong bonding adhesive. The adhesive that he did create seemed to have interesting properties. The bonding agent was sticky on multiple surfaces, sensitive to pressure and appeared reusable. Dr. Spencer couldn’t shake the feeling that that the bonding agent could find a place in the market. For years afterward, Dr. Spencer gave countless presentations within 3M about the properties of this bonding agent and the potential for what this bonding agent could do.

Art Fry had attended one of Dr. Silver’s presentations. Six years after the adhesive was invented, Art was looking for a bookmark that wouldn’t fall out of his hymnal while singing with his choir. Art was looking for a bookmark that could stick in his hymnal and be removed without damaging the pages. Remembering Dr. Silver’s presentation from years before, Art took it upon himself to create a new product under the 3M Bootlegging policy. He used some of Dr. Silver’s adhesive, pasted it to the back of a small sheet of paper and created the first prototype Post-It note.

The story doesn’t end here.

In 1977, 3M launched Post-It notes to the public. Surprisingly, they didn’t fly off the shelves. In fact, they remained on the shelves like a lead paperweight might. But 3M believed in their new product. They suspected that customers would love to buy the product if they knew what Post-It notes could be used for. So 3M decided to start a massive sampling campaign to let consumers try out the product and share ideas with each other about how to use the revolutionary new product. The rest is history. Today, 3M produces over 1,000 Post-It products around the world which reportedly contribute to over $1B in revenue to the company.

Ideas often need to smash with others to become complete. Dr. Silver’s idea for a respositionable adhesive was an incomplete idea. His incomplete idea had to combine with Art Fry’s incomplete idea of a sticky bookmark. It wasn’t until these two incomplete ideas collided that the Post-It note was created. Finally, the practical ideas about what Post-It notes could be used for came from consumers field testing the innovative new product.

All three idea sources (Silver + Fry + Consumers) for Post-It notes had to combine and collide before the product became a success.

Do you have any stories about idea collisions to share? Are there any other famous examples you can think of?

  • http://www.esveegroup.com/ Esvee Group

    Great example, Marc, and interesting to see the expansion from challenging ideas to their merging. The ideation process is rarely completed in a vacuum and the involvement of others is what really opens up a concept to breathe and evolve, as the Post It so vibrantly shows.

    The iPhone is another widely regarded collision of ideas, with the already successful iPod evolving into Apple’s radical development of the mobile device, from basic voice & messaging functionality to full fledged entertainment portal.

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