The course of action:

The intention was to create a very strong kind of glue to develop various applications within the company 3M. Dr. Spence Silver, a 3M researcher, developed a glue based on very small ‘sticky balls’ believing that this technique would result in a glue with strong cohesive properties.

The result:

Since only a small part of each ‘sticky ball’ actually makes contact with the flat surface to which it is being ‘glued’, it resulted in a layer, that although it stuck well, it was also easily removed. Dr Spence was disappointed – the new glue performed worse that 3M’s existing glues and 3M terminated the research program into this technology.

The lesson:

The ‘Eureka moment’ came 4 years later when Art Fry, a college of Dr. Spence, who was frustrated by the bookmarks that kept falling out of his hymn book, hit on the idea of using Dr. Spence’s glue technology to make a reliable bookmark. The idea for the Post-it was born. In 1981, one year after the introduction Post-it® Notes, the product was chosen as Outstanding New Product. Since then, various other products have since been added to the Post-it range.

Many ‘brilliant failures’ are born along the lines of the Post-it principle. The ‘inventor’ is working on one problem and by luck – or better-said serendipity – finds a solution for another problem. For the one who was working on the initial problem, and who is confronted with unexpected results, it is often – but not always – ‘difficult’ to see a direct application for the results of their work – i.e. to see the value in their ‘failure’. In many cases, as was for the Post-it, it takes another to extract the ‘value’ out of the ‘unexpected’ results. They are looking for a solution for a different problem, and can examine the ‘unexpected’ results from a completely different perspective.

Published by:
Bas Ruyssenaars


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Instituut voor Briljante mislukkingen