Famous Failure: Post-It Notes
From the Famous Failures Series
Did you know you probably have one of the world’s most famous 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 understand better what just happened. Here’s where Silver paused. 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 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 suggested putting the glue on the paper itself, rounding out the team which would eventually make this product a success.
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 gave the product another go at being marketed, by handing out free samples, that the world discovered just how unique and useful this product was.
The story of the Post-It note is all about famous 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, and the world just doesn’t know it yet.