How Post-it never stuck We all use Post-it Notes.

We are so much accustomed to using them and think that the product is obvious. In any western country we can see messages are exchanged though postit notes stuck on refrigerators. They seem like such a logical and obvious product-something that can be stuck to anything and yet taken off without any damage or slight trace of it on the original, allowing corrections, comments, and notices. The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3-M) began its operations in 1902. the start up was conceived by five people from diversified background , a doctor, a lawyer, two railroad executives, and the manager of a meat market. They do not have good knowledge about sandpaper. They sensed the demand for mineral corundum has a good demand. They started mining operations by buying a corundum mine on the shores of Lake Superior near Duluth. They sent the samples of the mined product to a sand paper manufacturer and found that the corundum is unsuitable for manufacturing of sand paper. They are so much convinced about sandpaper, they decided to be manufacturers of sand

1

paper rather than miners. The competition is tough. They have to innovate to survive. It developed an abrasive cloth for polishing metal. Then, a staff inventor named Francis G. Okie came up with Wetordry, a waterproof, reduced-dust sandpaper made from aluminum oxide, which was adopted by the auto industry. He also came up with the bright idea of marketing sandpaper as a safe substitute for shaving with a razor blade. Okie tried this idea on himself and sandpapered his chin smooth for the rest of his life. Not a good idea to persevere. The important thing is this 3-M tradition of trying to find radical new uses for established materials: It led to Post-it Notes. . . however , the journey was toughest.

Every few years, 3-M puts together a polymers-for-adhesives team to review new materials that might look promising for, say, making the glue on their cellophane tape a little more permanent. Chemist Spencer Silver was named to the team when it convened in 1964. He started looking into a new family of monomers (the Tinker toy like basic molecules that can be joined to make more elaborate polymers) developed by Archer Daniels Midland, Inc. "While doing the systematic ‘tinkering’ around, he added more than the recommended dose of the chemical reactant that hooks the monomers together into polymer chains. "I wanted to see what would happen," Silver is amused about the

2

product. He said if I have planned it and tried from research work then I would have never done it. But he did. What he got was something totally unexpected. It was a liquid that was milky white until you put it under pressure. Then it turned crystal clear. That was interesting; however, interesting products do not sell. He tried it as an adhesive. He characterized it as "tacky" but not "aggressively adhesive." Silver also found that it was self destructive, the chemical get stuck on itself more than it wanted to stick to anything else. If you put it on one surface and stuck a piece of paper on it, either all of the adhesive or none of the adhesive would come off when you peeled off the paper. The adhesive stuck to everything it touched.

Silver wanted to find an application. The rest of the company was less so, trapped in a paradigm that the only good adhesive was one that stuck more or less permanently. Eventually, the company disbanded the polymers group and reassigned everybody to new responsibilities. But Silver continued playing with his polymer, emboldened by a 3-M dictum that encourages employees to spend 15 percent of their time on pet projects and hunches. Some times the system is had lot of problems. One 3-M scientist spent 15 percent of his time seeking a use for the company's ample stock of false corundum. He became obsessed with the project and started spending more time, 15% to 20% then to 30%, to the detriment of his

3

other work, and the company fired him. Losing his job never stopped his passion. He continued coming to work every morning as if nothing had happened persisted and the company eventually rehired him. He finally discovered that the sandy mineral could be used in roofing materials. Years later, he retired as a vice president. Such is the power of innovation culture that is set in 3M. The innovation culture also empowers employees to take their pet projects to other departments if their own departments do not use them. Silver’s superiors are not in favour of the product, so he started giving demonstrations and presentations at 3 M hall way, telling other that it might be good for something. His coworkers were usually polite, but uncertain how to proceed after his now-it-sticks, now-it-doesn't presentations. He had to nearly beg the company to patent the new polymer. Not to dishearten Silver, 3-M patented it, but-to save money-only in the United States, not internationally. "You have to be a zealot at times in order to keep interest alive, because it will die off," remarked Silver. Somebody finally came up with a product using Silver's polymer: a no-pin sticky bulletin board. It died a lingering death. But Silver is a never say die man, thinking there must be some better use for his polymer. "Sometimes I was so angry because this new thing was so obviously unique. I'd tell myself, 'Why can't you think of a product? It is your job. In 1974, someone finally came up with a problem to match Silver's solution. He was Arthur Fry, 3-M chemist, amateur mechanic, and church choir director. He had seen one of

4

Silver's demonstrations years before and had this product in mind. One Sunday morning, Fry had marked songs in his hymnal with little scraps of paper. While signaling to the choir to stand, he fumbled his hymnal and the scraps of paper fluttered to the floor. While frantically finding his place, he thought, "Gee, a little adhesive on these bookmarks that would be just the ticket." Suddenly he remembered Silver's now-it-sticks, now-it-doesn't demonstration, and he started thinking of situations where seemingly sticky paper might be helpful in real time situations like this. On Monday, he came to work early. He found there were still problems to be ironed out, like how to make sure the adhesive didn't come off on the document. Company chemists came up with a substrate paper coating that made the adhesive stick firmly to the paper. There was another problem: 3-M's mechanical engineers said it was impossible to apply the adhesive to paper in a continuous roll, which made the product impractical to make. Fry designed a machine he thought would do the trick and assembled it in his basement at home. Unfortunately, it was bigger than his basement doorway, so he had to knock out part of his basement wall to transport it to work. Fry and his team began producing prototype Post-its in the now-classic yellow color. As a form of informal marketing research, they began distributing them to offices around the building. "Once people started using them it was like marijuana," said a team member. But despite in-house utilization, the 3-M marketing department didn't believe the little yellow sheets could be sold outside the company in any significant volumes. The marketing department kept asking the question: Why anybody will pay money for this "glorified

5

scratch paper”. Their lack of enthusiasm showed up in their promotional strategy in a fourcity test market. They simply described the product, and didn't include samples. There was just no way for people to imagine the uses for the new product-they had to try it out for themselves. Due to poor marketing effort, the Post-its failed the four city test miserably.

Fry's boss, Geoff Nicholson, looking at the thousands of Post-its circulating around the company, couldn't believe that they wouldn't succeed if marketed. He went to his boss Joe Ramey, and requested him to come to market to find the reasons for failure. Ramey agreed but mostly to keep Nicholson happy. They went to one of the four cities, Richmond, Virginia, to talk directly with people who might find Post-its useful. This is the culture of 3M.. William L. McKnight, 3-M's sales force would not make a presentation to the purchase manager, until they had talked about their products to the final customers. This not only created a demand for the products, but sometimes inspired new ones because the sales representatives were trained to look for new ways to use and improve their products. One sales representative that saw auto workers struggling with painting twotone trim on cars came up with the idea of masking tape. The company made it with two narrow strips of adhesive on the back, one running along each edge. An auto worker complained that 3-M should put adhesive all over the back of the tape instead of just on its

6

edges. "What's with this 'Scotch' tape?" he asked, referring to generally referred term for stinginess. The company adopted his suggestion, and then decided "Scotch" would make a good name for the new product. Fry and Nicholson trudged around Richmond's business district, handing out packs of Postits, sticking them on things, and showing what they were good for. From the enthusiastic response they got, it was clear that people would use them, show them to their friends and, yes, even buy them. They left Richmond at the end of the day with good orders. The same methodology was applied to different places.

Post-its went into full national distribution in 1980 with direct-mail pieces and giveaway offers in business magazines. They caught on across America. Since then, they've become an international hit as well, sometimes with necessary adaptations. In Japan, for instance, they are long and narrow in shape to accommodate the vertical writing of Japanese characters. "The Post-it was a product that met an unperceived need," says Fry. "If you had asked somebody what they needed, they might have said a better paper clip. But give them a Postit Note, and they immediately know what to do with it and see its value." Questions

7

1) 2) 3) 4)

Why Post-It was so successful? Is it because of its initial failure with sand paper business made the organization to give high priority for innovation? What is role of serendipity in this case? What is innovation culture of 3M? Recent reports indicate that 3M has lost its innovative edge due to following six sigma. Do you think six sigma is a constraint to innovation?

This case study ( I call them ‘Tales of Organizations’) is prepared for class room discussion. Unlike case studies these tales of organizations have some moral to carry home. I will update on how you have to look analyze ‘Tales of Organizations’.

8

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful