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How a keep it simple idea with paper glue took over the world.

Try and imagine any trip to the stationery store when your fingers didn’t itch to grab a stack of yellow Post-its to help organise your thoughts on that 400-page report.

And yet … it’s just paper and glue. The Post-it is proof that the simplest ideas are often the most effective. This doesn’t mean that its genesis was a simple process, however.

Back in the late-1960s, Dr. Spencer Silver of 3M was working on an ultra-sticky glue, and instead came up with a glue that couldn’t bond with any surface permanently. He launched his product without much success, and kept tinkering.

One colleague, product developer Art Fry, could see a completely different potential in Silver’s non-sticky glue.

As a member of a church choir, he’d always had difficulty bookmarking his hymn book with little scraps of paper. With Silver’s adhesive, he found the perfect combination.

With more years of tinkering and developing between them, Fry discovered that he could also use the sticky bookmarks to annotate a report.

The possibilities started to dawn on the team. The Post-its (first called ‘Press & Peel Pads’) took off around the 3M office, then tested in four cities. With a poor public response  (yet an entire office staff that loved them), the idea still had legs. So 3M stepped up a more aggressive marketing approach.

Sarah Rizk’s Growing Business article notes: “Samples were handed out to offices, stationery stores were persuaded to put up point-of-sale displays, local newspapers were convinced to run stories on the product and, most importantly, 3M sales temps were sent out to do demonstrations.

With some important branding tweaks, 3M fully launched the product in 1980, and now Post-its are ubiquitous in every office worldwide. 

The 3M Post-it success story is one of the most-quoted business case studies as it perfectly articulates the importance of the KIS Principle in business:

• Move fast;

• Keep it simple – don’t over-complicate things;

Agile Design – create small narrow outcomes to meet targeted customer needs;

And finally

• Don’t overcook it – keep your hands off  heavy management.

What brilliant ideas may you come up with Post It Notes?

Could this be your next innovative product?

Idea Accelerator  is an easy and proven

3 step method that helps you rapidly act on your ideas, get concepts to market faster, engage customers, and be more profitable.




Contact Paul Wilson here to turn your great ideas into action.