March 26, 2005
Post-It Notes: 25 Years

Nicely detailed story about the invention of the post-it note. Some interesting bits - post-its were originally a skunk-works project:

At 3M, however, there is a long-standing policy that permits employees to spend fifteen percent of their time working on projects of their own choosing.

The inventor, Art Fry, really had to sell the product, both within the company:

Fortunately, he had a wider range of closing techniques than the average luggage salesman. To prove that the necessary conversion machines wouldn�t be quite so hard to fabricate as the engineering department was imagining, Fry built a prototype machine himself, in his basement. It wasn�t perfect, but it worked well enough to show that it could be done. There was just one problem; by the time he was finished with it, it had grown bigger than he�d anticipated it would be. “To get it out of my basement, I had to take out the basement door, then the door frame, and part of a garden wall that was outside,” he said. Fry loaded the machine into his pickup truck and drove it to 3M. And, really, what self-respecting engineering division of a huge multinational isn�t going to respond to a gambit like that? The necessary enhancements were made, the production process was perfected, and eventually, it was time to see what the public thought.

and to the general public:

Like every inventor at 3M, Fry had some experience with unhappy endings. Most of the projects he worked on, for one reason or another, never made it to market. But he also knew how much people liked his notes once they were taught how to use them. Even many of the naysayers were habitual users. Why, when it was so popular inside 3M, would it not be popular elsewhere? “We knew the test markets failed, but we just kept saying, ‘Maybe it was us. Maybe we did something wrong,’” said Gaudio Edwards. “Because it couldn�t be the product—the product was great.”

To see for themselves how people outside 3M responded to Post-it Notes, two 3M executives, Geoff Nicholson and Joe Ramey, decided to return to one of the test cities, Richmond, Virginia, to conduct their own one-day market research expedition.

Echoing Fry�s efforts at 3M, the duo cold-called offices throughout the city, giving away free samples and showing people how to use the product. The responses they got were substantially more enthusiastic this time. “Those things really were like cocaine,” said Steve Collins, who ended up working on the Post-it Notes account for more than a decade and is now the president of Martin/Williams. “You got them into somebody�s hands, and they couldn�t help but play around with them.”

On the dark side of the post-it:

At the FBI, they�ve even coined a special acronym for the product. “They call them FLYNs,” said Fry, who learned this one day when an agent interviewed him for an FBI newsletter. “That stands for ‘funny little yellow notes.’ Except I’m cleaning it up when I say ‘funny.’” Fry clarified. “When field agents submit a report and it comes back with a lot of notes on it, that means it�s a lot more work for them. So they�ll say, ‘Man, I�ve really been flynned.’”

As they say: read the whole thing.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at March 26, 2005 01:05 PM
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