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Author: Giles Lury

A story of men and lingerie at Christmas

A story of men and lingerie at Christmas

roy

 

It’s that time of year again.

Not just shelves laden with tinsel and baubles, not just the old Christmas songs playing on endless loops in lifts and not just the time for the infamous Office Christmas party. No, it is the time when every self-respecting tabloid runs a feature on why men are so bad at buying lingerie for their loved ones.

Seeing the first of these reminded me of the beginning of what is now one of the world’s largest lingerie brands.

In 1969 Roy Raymond went to buy his wife Gaye some lingerie, an event which he recalled some years later in an interview with Newsweek. “When I tried to buy lingerie for my wife,” he recalls, “I was faced with racks of terry-cloth robes and ugly floral-print nylon nightgowns, and I always had the feeling the department store saleswomen thought I was an unwelcome intruder.”

It was an event that clearly scarred him. He decided something had to change and for the next eight years he studied the lingerie market, developing his ideas. Finally settling on his concept he borrowed $40,000 from his parents and $40,000 from a bank to establish Victoria’s Secret.

His aim was to market women’s lingerie to men and he wanted to create a store in which men could feel comfortable buying lingerie. He wanted the stores to be places where men could browse at their leisure without having to manically flash their wedding bands or be constantly frowned on.

Though American, Raymond picked a name with a British twist. “Victoria” was a reference to Queen Victoria and was chosen to bring with it associations of the style, elegance and class of the Victorian era. The “Secret” was of course hidden underneath the clothes and probably in those olden days seen as something shocking.

vs catalogue victorian inspired

The store design was an homage to the boudoir with hints of seduction featuring dark wood panels, velvet sofas and silk drapes. The lingerie itself wasn’t the often dull but practical and functional everyday underwear which dominated the market but tended towards the frivolous and often completely impractical pieces only fit for a wedding night or burlesque show.

vs catalogues

The first store was located in Stanford Shopping Centre in Palo Alto, California in 1977 and proved a reasonable success returning profit of $500,000. Raymond opened more stores and launched a catalogue.

And everyone lived and dressed happily ever after. (Well, not entirely and there is the story about how the brand started to falter, was ultimately sold and relaunched but that’s another story for another time).

The lesser known sources of inspiration – Forgetfulness and embarrassment

The lesser known sources of inspiration – Forgetfulness and embarrassment

Words normally associated with innovation are creativity, originality and imagination. However for businessman Frank McNamara, the words might be forgetfulness and embarrassment.

mcnamara01-300x285In the fall of 1949, businessman Frank Majors had taken some clients to have dinner at the Cabin Grill restaurant in New York City. The meal came to an end and McNamara asked for the bill but when he reached into his jacket he was embarrassed to discover that he had forgotten his wallet.

Luckily for him, his wife was able to bail him out and he was saved from an evening of washing the dishes!

As the embarrassment faded he resolved never to be caught out like that again and the germ of an idea came to him. He wondered why a businessman couldn’t be free to spend what he could afford rather than how much cash he had in his pocket at the time.

He discussed his idea first with the restaurant owner and later with his lawyer and friend Ralph Schneider. Together they built the concept of a club of diners who would be able to sign for their suppers at selected restaurants and settle the bill at a later date.

McNamara and Schneider formally founded Diners Club International on February 8, 1950 with $1.5 million initial capital. Membership of the club was $3 and McNamara quickly recruited 200 friends and acquaintances as well as signing up 27 restaurants.

diners-club-platebni-karta-1

The pair decided they should celebrate the launch of their new venture and of course there was only really one way to do that. They returned to Major’s Cabin and when the bill arrived McNamara presented the owner with a small cardboard card, his Diners Club Card. It is an event which is now known as the “First Supper”.

The_Man_from_the_Diner's_Club_film_posterThe Diners Club was an immediate hit. By year’s end, 20,000 people were members. In 1952, franchises were established in Canada, Cuba and France. In 1955, Western Airlines became the first air carrier to accept the card for payment. In 1963 Danny Kaye starred in the movie, “The Man From the Diners’Club” in which he played an employee at Diners Club who issues a credit card to a well-known mobster and has to retrieve it in order to keep his job.

 

 

And the moral is that inspiration can come from all sorts of places and incidents. Are you looking for new ideas in the right places?

Airbnb: Not an overnight sensation

Airbnb: Not an overnight sensation

 

So the accepted norm for the stellar internet based brands seemed to be that it all starts with a couple of college mates who have a flash of inspiration, an idea which will engage and better the world.

They set up a website which becomes an overnight sensation, quickly leading to world domination.

Somehow reality isn’t quite like that.
the airbnb partners

Joe Gebbia and Brain Chesky fit the mould, in so far as they met in 2002 at Rhode Island School of Design.

Gebbia had form when it came to “entrepreneurship”. He had designed a cushion for back sufferers and built a website for product designers to find eco-friendly resources, which he pitched as a ‘sort of Amazon for sustainable materials’. Unfortunately neither had delivered much success and certainly not on an Amazon-ian scale!

Chesky had recently left his job as a designer on the Simon Cowell show ‘American Inventor in LA’. He said ‘the last straw came when I designed a new kind of toilet seat’. He moved to San Francisco to share a flat with Gebbia.

However it was 2007 and Gebbia and Chesky were struggling to pay their rent. They needed some cash and they needed it fast. Their need coincided with an up-coming design conference which was based in San Francisco, but rather than try and sell their design skills to the event organizers, they noticed that the city’s hotels were fully booked, and came up with a lateral idea. It was not an idea to better the world but to earn them their rent!

original logo

Could they rent out the space in their flat to people attending the conference?

They bought three airbeds, decided to sweeten the offer with the promise of breakfast and created the not very originally named ‘airbedandbreakfast.com’ website. The cost was $80 a night. Six days later they had their first customers – a 30-year-old Indian man, a 35-year-old woman from Boston, and a 45-year-old father of four from Utah sleeping on their floor.

Wondering if this could be something bigger, they got together with their old roommate and programming expert Nathan Blecharczyk, to try and build a business.

For the first for months, they worked on a roommate-matching service until they realized Roommates.com already existed, at which point they went back to working on Air Bed and Breakfast.

They launched the brand for a second time and no one noticed.

The third time, they decided to target a time and place when the local hotels should be full. It was SXSW in 2008, but they only had two customers, and one of those was Chesky. Perhaps not too surprisingly their attempts to raise capital weren’t going well either. They approached 15 angel investors and got eight rejections, and seven more who ignored them completely.
Still preserving they tried again. Barack Obama was due to speak in Denver at the Democratic National Convention, and 80,000 people were expected to be there so again, there was likely to be a shortage of hotel rooms.

Gebbia, Chesky and Blecharczyk with a new website launched two weeks before the conference. Within a week they had 800 listings – everything should have be looking good. However given their costs, it looked like even with these 800 listings they werenObama Os’t going to make any money.

Luckily a PR stunt would come to their rescue. They had bought bulk quantities of cereal and designed packaging branded as ‘Obama’s O’s’ and ‘Cap’n McCain’ cereals. They sold 800 ‘limited-edition’ boxes at $40 each and made more than $30,000.

Their activity also attracted a Venture Capitalist called Paul Graham. Graham invited them to join Y Combinator, a prestigious start-up accelerator that provides out cash and training in exchange for a small slice of the company. The company spent the first three months of 2009 at the accelerator, working on further improving their offer.

Their lack of success with other VCs continued, and looking back Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures admitted to one of those “guitar music is on the way out” moments – “We couldn’t wrap our heads around air mattresses on the living room floors as the next hotel room and did not chase the deal. Others saw the amazing team that we saw, funded them, and the rest is history.”

One thing that did change (perhaps because of feedback like this) was that in March 2009 they dropped the Air Bed & Breakfast name and simplified it to “Airbnb” to avoid the confusing associations with air mattresses.
airbnb 2009

One month later, Airbnb picked up a $600,000 seed investment from Sequoia Capital and from there the brand really began to take off.

And the moral is that most innovations aren’t overnight sensations and take time to build. What idea of yours deserves more time and perseverance?

THE BRAND THAT WENT DOWN THE DRAIN

THE BRAND THAT WENT DOWN THE DRAIN

newcastle1

Newcastle may be not the first place you think of when you’re asked about a centre of innovation, but today’s story will be the fourth one that I have written about brands that were born in the city.

Having written about Lucozade, Greggs and Newcastle Brown Ale, this week’s brand story starts with a dentist before it literally goes down the drain.

Wilfred (sometimes spelt Wilfrid) Augustine Handley followed in his father’s footsteps and became a dentist or rather what at the time was called a ‘dental mechanic’. Father and son practised at the family home at 309 Chillingham Road for many years.

Wilfred’s big idea however started with what was a waste product, sodium hypochlorite. He bought it from the ICI chemical works at Billingham and used the compound to whiten dentures (and maybe even teeth!)

domestosjarimg_0113edresizedWilfred knew it had wider potential and started to dilute and bottle it.

In fact, bleach which is what he was working with, had been around since the eighteenth century, and in the late nineteenth century, E S Smith patented the chloralkali process of producing sodium hypochlorite, which had started to be sold as a bleach under a number of brand names but none with any great success.

Wilfred didn’t therefore actually invent bleach, but what he did do, was to get the marketing and distribution right.

First he chose a brand name. According to current owners, Unilever he chose a combination of the Latin ‘domus’ meaning house and the Greek ‘osteon’ meaning bone, suggesting ‘backbone of the home’.

The Handley family tell it a little differently: Wilfred asked his mother what his product should be called. Before answering, she asked what it was for and when Wilfred replied, ‘Domestic use‘, she came up with ‘Domestos’.

His second innovation was again not a completely original idea either and was probably inspired by the success of another local branddomestos-bike; Ringtons Tea, which had been established in Heaton in 1907. Ringtons sold door to door in the area with great success and that was what Wilfred decided to do too.

He bottled Domestos in large brown earthenware jars, which then could be refilled by door to door salesmen pushing hand carts or riding bicycle carts.

The bleach was promoted as a cleaning agent to whiten whites and to to pour down and ‘sweeten’ drains and was a real success. By 1933, goods were being shipped south to Hull by sea and, within two years, supply depots had opened in both Hull and Middlesbrough.

The brand prospered in wartime when additional uses for the brand included being a cure for sore feet and a treatment for burns. The end of the conflicts could have slowed things down as the company was unable to acquire enough delivery vehicles.

Showing more ingenuity Dosmestos overcame the problem; they bought the St Ann’s Works at Heaton Junction and set up their own coach building division. By 1952 there was national distribution with offices in London, Manchester, Cardiff, York and Glasgow and a national research laboratory.

Domestos-OG-1-25LIn 1961, Wilfred sold the brand to Lever Brothers Ltd.

Frisky and Playful

Frisky and Playful

1953-playboy-logo

Hugh Hefner died this week so I thought about a story about the Playboy brand was an appropriate way for me to commemorate the event – so here is one I wrote for my first book of brand fables – “The Prisoner and the Penguin”

Frisky and Playful 

In 1959, a reader sent a letter off to his favourite magazine but instead of writing an address he drew a picture of a rabbit wearing a bow-tie on the envelope. The letter was duly delivered to the Playboy offices.

Things had obviously come a long way in the six years since Hugh Hefner launched his new magazine.

The title for the magazine was supposed to be “Stag Party,” but an unrelated outdoor magazine, Stag, contacted Hefner and informed him that they were legally protecting their trademark and would take him to court if he were to launch his magazine under that name.

Hefner, his wife Millie and co-founder and executive vice president Eldon Sellers met to discuss the problem and to seek a new name. Among others they considered “Top Hat”, “Gentleman”, “Sir'”, “Satyr”, “Pan” and “Bachelor” before Sellers suggested “Playboy”.  Sellers’ mother had worked for a short-lived firm called Playmarilyn-monroe-1953boy Automobile Company in Chicago and remembering it Sellers thought it might be a good alternative.

The first issue of the now re-christened magazine was produced in Hefner’s Hyde Park kitchen and published in December 1953.  The first centerfold was famously Marilyn Monroe, although the famous cover photo had originally been taken for a calendar and not specifically for Playboy.

It was an immediate sensation; it sold out all of its 50,000 circulation within a matter of weeks, which despite his confidence must have delighted Hefner. He had in fact been so worried that the original issue did not carry a date, as he was unsure if or when there would be a second issue.

After this initial success the next challenge was to create a brand identity. While the most obvious solution would have been to develop a stylish image of a ‘playboy’, Hefner and his team realised that there were already two other magazines on the newsstands that used men as their icons – Esquire and The New Yorker. So rather than face another threat of a lawsuit Hefner decided something different was needed.

hugh-hefner-classic-780x439

‘I selected a rabbit as the symbol for the magazine because of the humorous sexual connotation, and because he offered an image that was frisky and playful. I put him in a tuxedo to add the idea of sophistication.

There was another editorial consideration, too. Since both ‘The New Yorker’ and ‘Esquire’ use men as their symbols, I felt the rabbit would be distinctive; and the notion of a rabbit dressed up in formal evening attire struck me as charming, amusing… and right.’

art paul -playboy-logo

The actual logo, depicting the stylized profile of a rabbit wearing a tuxedo bow tie, was created by art designer Art Paul who said some years later  “If I had any idea how important that little rabbit was going to be, I probably would have redrawn him a dozen times to make certain. I was doing him justice, and I suppose none of those versions would have turned out as well as the original. As it was, I did one drawing and that was it. I probably spent all of half an hour on it.” 

And the moral is that design should signify something you stand not just identify your name. What does your identity communicate about your brand?

FROM BOOKS TO BEAUTY AND THE MALE AVON LADY

FROM BOOKS TO BEAUTY AND THE MALE AVON LADY

 

avon logo

Despite its name being inspired by the British river, Avon’s origins are American. The first ‘Avon lady’ was in fact a man and the business actually started in books not beauty.

That first Avon ‘Lady’ was a young door-to-door salesman, David McConnell, who originally came from Oswego, New York. He began working for the Union Publishing Company in 1877 selling magazines, greeting cards and books. He was reasonably successful and purchased 50% of the Union Publishing Company for $500.

McConnellMcConnell however found that books weren’t always an easy sell and he resorted to the then popular marketing ploy of offering a free introductory gift in exchange for being allowed to come in and make his sales pitch.

Given that most of his clients were women, he thought a complimentary vial of perfume would work well so, with some help from a local pharmacist, he blended the original scent himself. He soon discovered that many of his customers were much more interested in the fragrance than they were in his books.

He would later say that “The book business was not congenial to me” and so he announced to his partner, who had now moved to California, his intention to sell perfume. His partner enthusiastically agreed and even suggested that he call the new company the California Perfume Company “because of the great profusion of flowers in California.”

california perfume

The door-to-door formula for perfume sales was ideal for that time-period in America. McConnell focused on small towns, where his home-based clients often had no means of travelling to shops where they could buy perfumes. As his biography says “At the turn of the century, about 80 percent of the California Perfume Company’s “Depot Agents” lived and sold in communities of less than 1,000 (white) population.”

However, what really took the brand to new heights was when McConnell realised that the perfect salesperson might in fact be a woman so he hired his first female sales representative – the first female ‘Avon lady’. Persis Foster Eames Albee was a 50 year old wife and mother of two. McConnell would later call her the “Mother of the California Perfume Company”.

AlbeeIt is she who is credited with creating the company’s system for distributing products. She travelled all around the north-east by buggy and train, not only selling door-to-door but recruiting and training other women as salespeople. Albee recognised that these women (Agents) would not have to travel but could sell in their own communities. The fact they were actually part of the communities in which they sold gave them a credibility with their friends and neighbours, a credibility and accessibility that no travelling salesman could match.

The company allowed these women to purchase products and literature and resell the items in their own time in their own style. It was the first time this kind of approach had been used in cosmetics and was one that has allowed the brand to prosper for over a century.

What Albee and McConnell were now selling was a business opportunity for women — women who needed money — usually older, married women. It would give them the chance to earn an independent income. It was an appealing idea and, in 1887, just one year into his perfume business, they already had a team of 12 agents selling the now 18-piece fragrance line.

In 1905, the company launched Outlook magazine, a publication for sharing advice with employees and keeping representatives up-to-date on other company news. The following year they had enough products to release a sales catalogue, another move that helped further grow sales.

It wasn’t however until 1928 that the company started using the Avon name, which different sources say came from the fact that it is the birthplace of McConnell’s favourite playwright, or that, when visiting Shakespeare’s home at Stratford-On-Avon, McConnell was taken by the way the countryside resembled that around his home in Suffern, New York.

lipsticks

The name may have changed and the range expanded but the brand remains committed to “empowering women around the globe” and states its purpose as “to create a world with more empowered women”. It aims to stay true to the set of guiding principles that McConnell developed all those years ago:

⦁ Providing an earnings opportunity so individuals can achieve financial independence and enjoy all that comes with such an accomplishment.
⦁ Recognizing everyone’s unique contributions.
⦁ Giving back to the communities Avon serves.
⦁ Offering the highest quality products with a guarantee of satisfaction.
⦁ Maintaining and cherishing the “friendly spirit of Avon.”

And the moral is it isn’t just what you sell but the way that you sell it. Is there a better route to market for your brand?

Footnote: Avon is not the only brand where the founder started in one business but found his ‘door opener’ gift would prove to the truly successful brand. William Wrigley Jr sold soap and baking giving away sticks of chewing gum before moving into the confectionery business.

 From wasted to wanted: Doing what couldn’t be done

 From wasted to wanted: Doing what couldn’t be done

e-leather 2

Over the years, I’ve worked on many different brands from lots of different categories and in a variety of different countries.

One of the brands I feel very lucky you have worked on in recent years is E-Leather.

They describe themselves on their website as “an award winning, environmentally friendly materials technology company that uses traditional leather fibres and high-powered water to produce a technologically advanced eco-leather material.”

However that doesn’t do them justice.

chris-bevan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On an early visit to their site, I noticed a tribute to their founder, the inventor, Chris Bevan (1937-2012). It read…

 

Somebody said that it “couldn’t be done…”

But, he with a chuckle replied that “maybe it couldn’t,”

but he would be one who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.

So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin on his face.

If he worried he hid it.

He started to sing as he tackled the thing that couldn’t be done,

and he did it.

 

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that; at least no one has done it”;

but he took off his coat and he took off his hat,

and the first thing we knew he’d begun it.

With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,

without any doubting or quiddit,

he started to sing as he tackled the thing that couldn’t be done,

and he did it.

 

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,

there are thousands to prophesy failure;

there are thousands to point out to you one by one,

the dangers that wait to assail you.

But just buckle it in with a bit of a grin,

just take off your coat and go to it;

just start to sing as you tackle the thing that “couldn’t be done,”

and you’ll do it.

 

It turns out that Chris Bevan was a man who hated unnecessary waste. When he learnt that up to 50% of every leather hide often ends up in landfill, he decided that something needed to be done.

His first idea was to use the leather off-cuts from the shoe industry and turn them into insulation. An idea that wasn’t so much re-cycling but upcycling. The offcuts hadn’t been used but they were still being treated as waste. His idea was to upgrade the wasted into something wanted.

Creating a viable insulation product proved difficult, the fibres would often clog up before forming into the blocks but that didn’t stop Chris.

In some articles I’ve read, new inspiration followed a fall. They report that one day, still looking for a solution, Chris slipped on a bit of shredded leather in the lab, and fell in a heap on top of it. Getting up he noticed how the fibres had been compressed together into what looked like a new mini-sheet of leather. It gave him an idea and rather than insulation, he started to think how he could create a new material.

e leather

Unfortunately, I was told the story of fall was just that, a story. However Chris’ determination was genuine and he did finally find an alternative use for the unwanted offcuts which was a new material.

Using what is a now patented technology and based on the wonderfully named “hydro-entanglement”, Chris found a way to sandwich genuine leather fibres around a micro textile inner core, all without the use of any adhesives, so creating a leather-fibre composite which was christened E-Leather.  It is a high tech, high performance material that contains a high percentage of real leather, but which is much lighter and more economical than traditional leather.

While it looks and feels just like leather, it can be produced in rolls, something that can’t be done with traditional leather. This means E-Leather is easier to use, considerably reducing manufacturing wastage.

E-Leather-1

The products were introduced in 2007 and the business has built from an original base in aviation with development of product lines for ground transport, commercial & domestic furniture and footwear. Production and sales have grown rapidly and the company has won numerous green awards along the way.

Not bad for something they said couldn’t be done.

Chris Bevan died in 2012 but the company “still honours the vision of our founder Chris Bevan, and his commitment to the development of a clean technology product and culture”.

For me what makes this brand so special is how it cleverly turns the wasted into the wanted, with a wonderful trinity of benefits – it is a product that is good for businesses, good for customers and good for the planet.

How an elegant table stifled creativity

How an elegant table stifled creativity

buzz pixar

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, after all it is a book written by Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. ‘Creativity, Inc’ is, as the sub-title says, a book about “overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of creativity.”

I’ve only recently started reading it, but already in the first 3 pages of the first chapter, Ed Catmull has told a great story about a particular barrier, the problems it caused and how in the end the issue was resolved.

pixarThe story revolves around a table, not just any old table but one that was specifically chosen by a designer that Steve Jobs liked. It sat in what was known as the ‘West One’, a large conference room at Pixar’s HQ. It was long, thin and elegant. Around or a rather along its two sides, regular meeting were held to discuss various Pixar movies.

As it was important that the director and producer of the film under discussion were at the heart of things, they always sat in the middle. Also in the centre were John Lasseter, Pixar’s chief creative officer, Catmull, and some of Pixar’s other most experienced directors, writers and producers. To ensure these people got their spaces someone started making and putting out place cards.

With hindsight, Catmull says, “We may as well have been at a formal dinner party.”

For around a decade this was the way all meetings were set out. Looking back, Catmull is honest enough to admit that those sitting in the middle were at the time completely unaware of how this sent out a signal that completely undermined one of Pixar’s core principles – namely that when it comes to creativity, job titles and hierarchy are meaningless.

He now realizes that he and the others sitting in the middle could see the ‘sense’ and convenience of the place cards but didn’t see anything amiss, believing themselves in an inclusive meeting. Others sitting at the end had a different perspective and saw quite clearly, how the relative positioning of key people and the place cards established a pecking order and presumed that is the way it was meant to be.

ed catmullBy chance one day the meeting was held in another meeting room, which was not only smaller but had a square table in it. Hearing the improved interplay between the team and the broader range of contributions, Catmull and Lasseter could now see what had been wrong with the previous arrangement.

“Our vantage pint blinded us to what was right before our eyes.”

The long table was moved out and a new square table replaced it.

However it wasn’t until Andrew Stanton, writer and director of A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, and WALL-E (2008), co-writer of all three Toy Story films and one of the previous “table-centrists” entered the room and started randomly redistributing the place cards was the whole problem solved.

And the moral is sometimes you can’t see a problem even if it’s right before your eyes. 

Bath time inspiration – A second Eureka moment

Bath time inspiration – A second Eureka moment

Steaming bath

John Adrian Shepherd-Barron’s was letting off steam while sitting in steam.

It was 1965 and bank kept strict business hours. Shepherd-Barron had failed to get to his branch on time to withdraw the money he needed, so still fuming he had returned home and decided to take a bath.

Ensconced in his tub, like Archimedes he had a “eureka” moment. “It struck me there must be a way I could get my own money, anywhere in the world or the UK. I hit upon the idea of a chocolate bar dispenser, but replacing chocolate with cash.”

Luckily for him, his work at De La Rue Instruments provided him with an opportunity to meet the then chief general manager of Barclays Bank. He grabbed the opportunity to pitch his idea: “If you put your standard Barclays cheque through a slot in the side of the bank, it [the cash machine] will deliver standard amounts of money around the clock.”

regA contract was quickly drawn up and signed, over a pink gin according to some versions of the story. It wouldn’t however be till 1967 the first ATM would be installed at a Barclays branch in the north London suburb of Enfield.

Reg Varney, from the successful television series ‘On the Buses’, was hired as the celebrity to be the first person to withdraw cash.

barclaycard ATMThe machines worked with cheques, Each cheque had to be impregnated with a mildly radioactive chemical – fortunately it was one that was harmless to humans. The cheques were also encoded with a personal identification number (PIN) that the user had to key in.

It was Shepherd-Barron’s wife who suggested that a four-digit code should be used as she thought that six figures would be too many for most people to remember.

The first machines paid out only £10 but as Shepherd-Barron observed that, at that time, this was “quite enough for a wild weekend.”

Atmplaque

Think Sideways – Don’t constrain your innovation.

Think Sideways – Don’t constrain your innovation.

3M has a well-deserved reputation as an innovative company.

innovative compnaies

The invention of the Post-it note is perhaps the most famous story of what 3M does, but there are numerous other examples of how it creates new things in new ways.

In my book “The Prisoner and the Penguin”, I told the story of how a banjo-playing, engineering school dropout and 3M employee called Dick Drew created masking tape.

Two tone car4.1.1

Two tone cars were all the rage in the 1920s but were causing a serious problem for mechanics in body shops as they tried to create this effect. The problem was the masking – no one knew how to do this well, so most improvised. They glued old newspapers to the body and windows with library pastes, homemade glues or surgical adhesive tape. While this helped create a sharp demarcation between the two colours, the adhesives stuck so firmly that trying to remove them often ruined the paint job.

Drew vowed to solve the problem and finally did using ingenuity and a little bit of cheek to get around the procurement people and get his prototype made. The answer was in effect sandpaper without the sand and a sticky but not permanent adhesive.

This was the end of my story but in fact was really just a chapter in the bigger book of 3M innovations.

Drew

 

One of the next chapters features Drew again. Working on another project and now technical director of 3M’s Product Fabrication Laboratory, he was immediately intrigued when one of his team showed him a sample of a new moisture-proof packaging material from Dupont – Cellophane.

 

cellulose tape

He saw the potential for it as a new backing for masking tape and despite having to reformulate the adhesive used, he and his team went onto produce what was originally called Scotch® Brand Cellulose Tape, was later renamed Scotch® Transparent Tape and nowadays is known simply as Scotch® Tape.

So ended another chapter, but the 3M’s innovation book continued as Larry Wendling, VP of Corporate Research 3M explained in ‘Imagine: How Creativity Works’ by Jonah Lehrer.

“You might think an idea is finished, that there’s nothing else to do with it, but then you talk to somebody else in some other field. And your little idea inspires them, so they come up with a brand-new invention that inspires someone else. That, in a nutshell, is our (3M’s) model”

Masking Tape bumped into panelling and this led to the development of sound dampening panels. The idea was based on the adhesives used in industrial strength masking tape.

This in turn led to the development of another product for another market – Scotch-Weld a super-strong adhesive foam.

The adhesive from Scotch® Tape was the basis for much of the smart screen technology and coatings and also the more specialist light refracting films invented by 3M.

As Wendling aptly concludes, “The lesson is that the tape business isn’t just about tape.”