Post-it Notes: An Employee Idea That Was Originally a Mistake

From accident to failure to world-renowned, here's the story of the humble Post-it Note.                                                                             

Coby Skonord|
February 19, 2021

Can you imagine what would life be like without the Post-it Note? A product so synonymous with innovation, Post-its are one of the most versatile products for brainstorming and collaboration ever invented—and it almost never made it to your office.

From failing two times to finding market success, the story of Post-it Notes spans a decade but has had an impact that lasts to this day.

The Post-it Note Was Invented—By Accident (1968)

When Spencer Silver, an employee researcher at 3M, was trying to create a stronger adhesive for the aerospace industry, all he ended up being able to create was a weak adhesive that could easily be removed without residue.

The project was initially recorded as a failure, and it wouldn’t be until 6 years later that the next chapter of the story unfolded.

The Lightbulb Moment (1974)

Funnily enough, it wasn’t Spencer, the product’s original inventor, that discovered Post-its’ true potential. Art Fry, a colleague of Silvers, was trying to find a solution for bookmarking his place in his hymnal book at church. He has an a-ha moment, tried Silver’s adhesive, and it worked like a charm. Now all he had to do was sell the idea to his

Fun Fact: Post-it prototypes Fry were constructed with yellow paper because it was the only scrap paper available at the time. The color has since become the product’s signature.

Failure to Launch (1977)

In 1977, nearly 3 years after Fry’s eureka moment and over 9 years after Silver had originally (and accidentally) invented the Post-it Note, 3M released what we today call the Post-It Note in 4 test markets under a different name: Press’n Peel.

However, when the product was launched, customers didn’t quite know how to use it. Lackluster sales followed a lackluster launch, and Press’n Peel was pulled from the shelves.

Ultimate Success (1979 – Today)

Two years after the initial launch, 3M decided to give the product a second chance with a free sample campaign. The company gave free samples to businesses throughout Boise, Idaho, in a plan 3M dubbed the Boise Blitz.

And a blitz it was, both in the sampling phase and after: 90% of businesses that received free samples re-ordered.

The success of the initial Boise Blitz campaigned only snowballed from there. Today, 600 Post-it Note products are sold in more than 100 countries, with 3M selling more than 50 billion individual notes per year.

Key Takeaways

  • Innovation is a muscle that’s built over time, it’s not something that happens with one “Eureka” moment.
  • Don’t deal in absolutes – It took over 12 years from the original invention of the Post-It Note and 2 failures before it became an iconic product.
  • Peer Collaboration is Key to Make Innovation Happen

Has the next Post-it Note already been invented inside of your organization? Learn how to better foster a culture of innovation at your organization by launching an employee ideation program.

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