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The Corporate Culture of Post-it Notes

July 8, 2009

Ahh, the ubiquitous Post-It® Note.  My workspace is covered with lovely multi-coloured notes, or it was until I discovered Digital Notes. The unassuming Post-it has become a legend but I wanted to  share it again, as told in The Knowledge-Creating Company by Nonaka, and Takeuchi.

Knowledge_Creating_Company

“Art [Fry] sang in the church  choir and noticed that the slips of paper he inserted to mark selected hymns would fall out.  He decided to create a marker that would stick to the page but would peel off without damaging it.  He made use of a peel-able adhesive that Spence Silver at the Central Research Lab had developed four years previously, and made himself some prototypes of the self-attaching sheets of paper.

Sensing a market beyond just hymnal markers, Fry got permission to use a pilot plant and started working nights to develop a process for coating Silver’s adhesive on paper. When he was told that the machine he designed could take six months to make and cost a small fortune, he single-handledly built a crude version in his own basement overnight and brought it to work the next morning.  The machine worked.  But the marketing people did some surveys with potential customers, who said they didn’t feel the need for paper with a weak adhesive.  Fry said, “Even though I felt that there would be demand for the product, I didn’t know how to explain it in words.  Even if I found the words to explain, no one would understand…” Instead, Fry distributed samples within 3M and asked people to try them out.  The rest was history.  Post-it Notes became a sensation thanks to Art Fry’s entrepreneurial dedication and dogged persistence.

(Nonaka I, Takeuchi H. The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies Create the Dynamics of Innovation. 1995)

That entrepreneurial spirit has been part of 3M’s corporate culture almost since inception.  As stated in the William L. McKnight Management Principles:

“As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women, to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good people, are going to want to do their jobs in their own way.

“Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she Post-itmakes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to tell those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs.

“Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.”

Chris touched on this when he blogged about Failing Should be Easy and even Why don’t people like my ideas?!.  Art Fry was given the opportunity to fail.  When people didn’t like his idea, he proceeded to find a way to prove that his idea truly was great.

I’m proud that we here at Point2 allow people to fail; in fact, using Test Driven Development we ensure that everyone fails at first.

We give people time to explore and experiment, and everyone has some time for professional development.

Incidentally, Ken Schwaber’s early paper, “SCRUM Development Process” references heavily the work of Takeuchi and Nonaka and their description of a rugby organization style.

By: Kevin Bitinsky

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