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.”


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.



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.”

Dirty Harry, the blue star and the broon dog

Dirty Harry, the blue star and the broon dog

newcastle cap


“Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy” is a quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin and is just one of the many examples of celebrity endorsement of beer throughout the ages.

Beer brands play a major role in the history of marketing and demonstrate many of the traits of great, well-loved brands.




Bass’ Red Triangle was the first trademark to be registered In the UK under the Trade Mark Registration Act 1875. The Act actually came into effect on 1 January 1876 and legend has it that a Bass employee queued overnight outside the registrar’s office on New Year’s Eve in order to be the first in line to register a trademark the next morning.


heineken eHeineken’s logo contains the distinctive ‘smiling’ e’s. The story behind them is that in 1964, Alfred Henry Heineken, the grandson of the original founder decided to change the look of the brand name on the label. He wanted to make the logo ‘more friendly’ to women who were more often the ones buying the family groceries so rotated them to appear as if they were smiling.

corona ad




Corona developed a distinctive drinking ritual and communication equity with the addition of a wedge of lime. A clever solution to the problem of ‘light-struck’, which demonstrates marketers’ ability to see opportunities where others see problems.


However, there is another British brand that demonstrates not one of these marketing characteristics, but all of them and a fewmore. The brand is of course Newcastle Brown.

Secret recipe
Newcastle Brown Ale was created by Lieutenant Colonel James (‘Jim’) Herbert Porter. Porter, who came from a family of brewers, served in the North Staffordshire Regiment in the First World War and was awarded a DSO and Bar (of course). Returning form the war he moved to Newcastle. It was there that he worked with chemist Archie Jones to develop and refine the recipe. Like lots of other brands it is a “secret” recipe as he explained “We tried for a long time, all ends up. I wanted something different but not far too strong. No one was allowed to mention what was going on, but we varied it so much that few really knew.”

Premium pricing (reassuringly expensive)
Newcastle Brown Ale went into production at Tyne Brewery in 1927 and that first brew had an original gravity of 1060º and was 6.25 ABV, and it sold at what was then a premium price of 9 shillings (45p) for a dozen pint bottles.

On April 25, 1927, Newcastle Brown Ale was advertised for the first time in The Newcastle Journal. Five days later, Newcastle United were crowned league champions (their last league title to date) providing a good excuse to try a locally named brew.

Drinking Ritual
Brown-Aleand glassOver the years, it developed its own drinking ritual but one that has nothing to do with limes! Newcastle Brown was traditionally sold in 1 pint (568 ml) or more recently, 550-millilitre bottles but is served and drunk from a 12-imperial-fluid-ounce (340 ml) Wellington glass. The reason being is that this allows the drinker to regularly top-up the beer and thereby maintain a frothy “head”

Distinctive logo

The blue star logo was introduced onto bottle in 1928, a year after the beer was launched. The five pointed star chosen to represent the five founding breweries of Newcastle.

For a brand proud of its heritage, it not unsurprisingly applied and was granted protected brand status under the European Union Protected Geographical Status in February 2000. However, more surprisingly and a little disappointingly in late 2007 this was removed when brewing of the beer moved wholly away from its place of origin to Tadcaster in Yorkshire.

Affectionate nicknames
Like many things, people and brands, it has a number of affectionate nicknames, it is widely called Newkie Brown but in its hometown and local areas is often given the nickname “Dog”. This refers to the British “seeing a man about a dog” or in reference to taking the ‘dog’ (real or imaginary) for a walk. In both good excuses for going to the pub. The dog in question of course is always Broon, (“brown” pronounced in the Geordie dialect).

Celebrity endorsement
Which leaves celebrity endorsement and they don’t come much bigger or better than multi-Oscar winning actor director Clint Eastwood who is a long-time fan and has often said it is his favourite beer.


Shakespeare, Sausages and a sore head – in search of the origin of a icon

Shakespeare, Sausages and a sore head – in search of the origin of a icon


Many brand icons are pretty self-evident. They are closely tied to the brand name. Apple’s logo is an apple, Shell’s is a shell, Jaguar’s is a….you guessed it … a Jaguar

However when there is a less than obvious link between brand and logo my curiosity is piqued and I want to find out the story behind the icon.

While not as strange as the dead lion logo to be found on tins of Tate & Lyle (a story I’ve told previously), I couldn’t immediately see a link between a Boar’s Head and Gordon’s Gin; curiosity suitably piqued I began searching.

Edward_Grutzner_Goupil_Falstaff_at_the_Boars_Head_TavernI wondered if the gin had first been served, or was first distilled, at an Inn called the Boar’s Head. There are numerous pubs and inns called the Boar’s Head, most famously it is the name of the tavern in Eastcheap where Sir John Falstaff, Prince Hal and other characters in Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays meet. Some believe Shakespeare may have taken the named from an earlier tavern in nearby Southwark, which went by the same name. The original distillery where Gordon’s Gin was produced was in Southwark but it’s not the reason for the logo.

bear sore head


I wondered if drinking too much made you wake up with a ‘Boar’s Head’. Alas not the reason either. There is of course a phrase to “be act a bear with sore head” which doesn’t mean drunk, but very irritable and annoyed.


wild-boar-sausagesI wondered if it was to do with a famous boar and gin recipe. An appetising idea and I’ve found numerous delicious sounding dishes to try – Roast Haunch of Wild Boar with Gin and Blackcurrant Liqueur, Gin and Wild Boar Sausages and the wonderfully named Drunken Boar but again it’s not the reason for the logo.



GordonsThe reason is in many much simpler. Gordon’s Gin was, as you might have guessed, created by a man named Gordon – Alexander Gordon. In 1769, he built a distillery in Southwark an area that at the time was well known for its excellent, clean water supply and he started to produce his brand of gin.

When it came to designing a label, it was for him only natural that it should include something from his clan and its coat of arms and that is where the Boar’s Head comes from.

Legend has it that a member of the Gordon clan saved the King of Scotland from a wild boar when out hunting and in honour of that the King let them include a boar’s head on their coat of arms.




Today Coca Cola is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest brands, not only present, but successful in hundreds of countries. It wasn’t however always like that.

Up until the late 1930s, Coca-Cola’s only real international success was in Germany where sales records were being set and beaten year after year. By 1939, Coca-Cola had 43 bottling plants and more than 600 local distributors there but storm clouds and even worse Stormtroopers were massing.

A trade embargo was imposed which put a halt to the supply of the key ingredients necessary for the production of Coca-Cola syrup.

To potentially further complicate things the man who had been in charge of Coca-Cola’s operations in Germany, American-born Ray Powers, died of injuries received in an automobile accident in 1938.

German-born Max Keith, took over. He was committed to trying to keep production going and keeping people employed. He decided to create to try and create a new product but knew that would only get access to what he later called the “leftovers of leftovers”.

Using whey and apple pomace – the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems of fruit that had already been pressed – he and his team created a a light-colored drink that resembled ginger ale.

raymond-loewy_fanta_bottle_1960The new product needed a name and so Keith called together some employees for a competition. He told them to let their Fantasie [Geman for fantasy] run wild. Upon hearing that, veteran salesman Joe Knipp immediately suggested “Fanta”.

Fanta was a success despite its flavour varying depending on what fruits and other leftovers were available. In its earliest incarnations, the drink was sweetened with saccharin, but by 1941 Keith and is team were allowed to use 3.5% beet sugar in their recipes. In 1943, 3 million cases of Fanta were sold enough to keep the plants operating and Coca-Cola people employed.

While all this was happening executives at Coca-Cola in Atlanta did not know if Keith was still working for the company or for the Nazis. Communication with him was of course impossible.

max keithAfter the war though an investigator commissioned by Coca-Cola examined Max Keith’s actions and they were delighted to hear that Keith had not only never been a Nazi, he’d repeatedly rebuffed pressure to become one, suffered hardships because of those refusals. He had also resisted the temptation of selling Fanta under his own name.

It is now recognised that it was thanks largely to Keith’s efforts that Coca-Cola was able to re-establish production in Germany almost immediately after World War II.

As for Fanta it was discontinued but as competition in new flavours increased in the 1950s, it was relaunched in 1955. Nowadays, while Orange is the main variety, there are more than 100 flavours worldwide.

And the moral is innovation is sometimes driven by necessity not desire. What challenges are you facing which could inspire your next innovation?

Who was FAB first?

Who was FAB first?

sgt-pepper_1 Fab 5d


It was 50 years ago today that Sgt Pepper taught the band to play. The twenty year anniversary having long since passed.

It was 50 years ago today that Lyons Maid taught the people to lick.

So it was that I found myself, not on a boat on a river, but in my sitting room listening to the remastered Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club band while enjoying that wonderful concoction of strawberry fruit ice and vanilla ice, that had been dipped in chocolate and coated with hundreds and thousands. Noticing the 50 years anniversary mentioned on the lolly’s label I got to wondering ‘who was Fab first/’, and whether there was any connection between the two.

It turns out that there was something else completely FAB that was launched that year and it was this that inspired the ice lolly.

Gerry Anderson’s new television series “Thunderbirds” hit TV screens that May and introduced us to Scott, Virgil, Brains, Parker and of course Lady Penelope.

Set between 2065 and 2067, Thunderbirds follows the exploits of the Tracy family, headed by American ex-astronaut turned multi-millionaire philanthropist Jeff Tracy. He is a widower with five adult sons: Scott, John, Virgil, Gordon and Alan. The Tracys form International Rescue (IR), a secret organisation dedicated to saving human life.

Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward, to give her full name, was employed by IR as London field agent. She was driven everywhere by her trusty chauffer Parker and the number plate on her pink Rolls-Royce was FAB 1. (She was voiced by Gerry’s then wife – Sylvia Anderson)

“Fab” was also used by many of the International Rescue team as an equivalent to “”Roger” (communications jargon indicating that a message has been received). However despite many people speculating whether it stood for something special, Gerry Anderson has since dispelled the myth. On his website he explained that it means…

fab-2“Nothing! In the 60’s the buzz-word was “fabulous”. This was shortened to FAB and used simply as a call sign like ‘Roger’ or ‘Ten-Four’ to acknowledge received instructions. If it was an acronym, then the best suggestion we’ve heard for a potential meaning is “Fully Acknowledged Broadcast”.

So back to the lolly. It was created primarily to try and attract the 3 million girls in Britain aged 5-15. The boys had been catered for when Lyons had introduced the rocket shaped ‘Zoom’ lolly in April/May 1963, off the back of the Steve Zodiac Fireball XL5 TV series.

The original lolly packaging appears to have had a prominent image of Lady Penelope on the wrapper.

So the Fab lolly was launched in May 1967 and so too was Sgt Pepper, so is this a draw?

beatles bar

Well it seems that the term “Fab four” was applied to the Beatles in or around 1964 so maybe they win on a technicality. Furthermore the Fab Four also competed directly with Fab in the lolly wars for a while as ‘Beatles Bars’ were launched – ‘delicious ice cream bar covered in chocolate crunch’ on a stick (though unlike Fab lollies they are no longer available).

Whatever you decide, for me they will both always be undoubtedly FAB and the only question remaining is whether they will still feed me, when I’m sixty-four.

They will never sell

They will never sell

clarks desert boot



Dick Rowe of Decca is (in)famously believed to have said, “Guitar groups are on their way out, Mr Epstein” in turning down the Beatles.

They have sold more than 600 million albums worldwide.


beetleAfter the Second World War, The British Government looking for a car for the masses turned down the VW Beetle saying, “This car does not fulfil the technical requirements which must be expected from a motor car. Its performance and qualities have no attraction to the average buyer. It is too ugly and too noisy”.

More than 21.5 million of the old Beetle had been sold when the last one came off the production line in Mexico in 2003.

When Nathan Clark presented the design for a new boot, the board felt it was too informal and not in line with their traditional designs and proclaimed, “They will never sell”.

Nathan_ClarkIn 1941, Nathan was stationed in Burma with the British Army. As the great-grandson to one of the founders of the Clarks company, it wasn’t surprising that he paid particular attention to what people were wearing on their feet. He soon noticed that many off-duty officers were wearing simple suede boots with crepe soles.

Investigating further, he found out that the officers were ordering their boots from a particular bazaar in Cairo. They were made to be lightweight (so they were easier to run in), had a grippy sole (for balance on any type of ground) and the suede upper was both comfortable, and good for high temperatures.

Believing he was onto something big, he began cutting prototype patterns out of newsprint. He set these clippings along with drawings back home to the factory, which is in the village of Street in Somerset.

When he got back to England, Clark sources the finest materials and shoemakers to transform his idea into reality. Using an existing last (a 3-dimensional mold upon which a shoe is constructed) that had been used for a popular Clarks sandal, he began to experiment. He used what is known as a stitch-down construction, a method used in other Clarks styles, but opted for an orange thread as a further distinguishing trait.

Sticking to the look he had seen in Burma, he decided on a beige suede, sourcing it from a nearby tannery, Charles F. Stead. The colour of the suede he now recognised as a reference to the boot’s desert origins. The choice of suede however was to be part of the controversy as at the time most men’s shoes were made from stiff, formal leather and came in black or brown.

Presenting his Desert Boot prototype to the board, he was met with a frosty response – they will never sell.

Nathan however still believed in his new boot, so in his capacity as Overseas Development Manager, he unilaterally decided to take his latest creation to the Chicago Shoe Fair in 1949.

There it was well received, and was dubbed the world’s first “dress casual” shoe.

rsz_clarksdesertbootadSo, in 1950 the desert Boot finally went on sale. It was an immediate success.

More than 10 million pairs of what was described in a 1957 advert as the ‘world’s most travelled shoes’ have been sold in 100 countries.

Famous fans have included Steve McQueen, Bob Dylan, Robbie Williams, Cabinet minister Kenneth Clarke and even Sex And The City actress, Sarah Jessica Parker who was spotted buying two pairs — one in brown, one in black — because she couldn’t decide which she liked best.

Pretty greenOasis star Liam Gallagher was such a fan that throughout the 1990s he hardly wore anything else. He went one step further and collaborated with Clarks to design his own version of the boot as part of his “Pretty Green” clothing label.

The boot was named one of the ‘Fifty Shoes That Changed The World’ by the Design Museum in 2009.


And the moral of the tale is that experts don’t always get it right. What do you believe in so much that you will push ahead with it even in the face of rejection?

A ladder to success

A ladder to success

ladder of success

“I’m going to democratize the automobile,” Henry Ford said in 1909. “When I’m through, everybody will be able to afford one, and about everybody will have one.”
model tUsing the highly cost-effective assembly-line method of producing cars he had developed and with the Model T, his Ford Motor Car Company took control of the market.
However, Ford’s vision was to make the car a commodity. He is famous for saying “Just like one pin is like another pin when it comes from the pin factory, or one match is like another match when it comes from the match factory” and “You can have any colour you like as long as it’s black”.
It gave Ford the ability to grow and develop the early market, but also created the opportunity that Alfred Sloan and General Motors were to exploit to overtake Ford and become market leaders.
Alfred_P._Sloan_on_the_cover_of_TIME_Magazine,_December_27,_1926Sloan was born in New Haven, Connecticut and studied electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
He went on to become president and owner of Hyatt Roller Bearing, a company that made roller and ball bearings. They started to supply early automotive companies like Oldsmobile with the ball bearing they needed.
Then, in 1916, on the back of the rapidly expanding car market, Hyatt merged with a number of other companies to become the United Motors Company, which in turn soon became part of General Motors Corporation. Sloan became Vice-President of GM, then President in 1923, and finally in 1937 Chairman of the Board.
Sloan’s approach to business management including managing diverse operations with financial statistics such as return on investment was to make him famous in that field, but he demonstrated a flair for marketing and consumer insight as well.
He realized that consumer tastes changed and evolved, and that not everyone’s taste was the same. While a basic cheap and functional car suited many it didn’t suit everyone especially more affluent customers who wanted more power, more style and to demonstrate their status.
So he came up with a concept he called “a car for every purse and purpose“. The idea was to have five distinctive brands which did not compete with each other (which form lowest cost to most expensive went) – Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac but offered choice and variety to different groups of customers. Customers could, as their income grew, move from brand to brand, moving up what Sloan called “the ladder of success.”
Sloan had introduced a five way segmentation into the market.
To meet the need for changing tastes and to encourage people to want to come back and buy another car he introduced the idea of frequent styling changes, so if you wanted to keep up with the latest trends you would need to buy a new car. It is often labelled as the introduction of “planned obsolescence” though in reality it was mirroring what was going on in other industries like fashion.
The changes, along with Ford’s resistance to change, worked and GM overtook Ford to industry sales leadership by the early 1930s, a position it was to retain for over 70 years.
Sloan’s ladder of success was to prove a ladder to success for GM