Post-It® Notes and prototyping: lessons learnt

20 Jul 2022 4min read

Does serendipity have a place in product development?

If intuition gives you an immediate “no”, it may be worth reading on…

Serendipity, in essence, is what happened to Dr. Spencer Silver, a chemist working on adhesives at 3M. He was trying to create an adhesive that was strong enough to be used in aircraft construction. During his experimentation, however, he invented something else: an adhesive that stuck to surfaces but could easily be peeled off and reused.

At the time we wanted to develop bigger, stronger, tougher adhesives. This was none of those.

Dr. Spencer Silver

You might say he failed in his first intent, but undeterred, he promoted his invention within 3M for years. Dr. Silver marketed it as a spray or a surface for bulletin boards where papers could be attached and removed without the use of pins. He didn’t have much luck, but despite this, had enough faith in his invention to patent it 1972.

A colleague, Art Fry, had heard of Dr Silver’s invention and attended one of his seminars. Art felt so inspired that he partnered with Dr. Silver and they set out to develop a product from this invention.

Art Fry didn’t think of an immediate application for the adhesive until one day, while at church choir practice, he realised that he had a problem that Dr. Silver’s invention might solve: the slips of paper he was using to bookmark songs in his hymn book kept falling out. So, he used a sample of Dr. Silver’s adhesive to create a bookmark that stayed put but didn’t tear the pages when removed.

Art tested a similar bookmark on his co-workers, with positive results. Although convinced, he still needed more proof that there was a product 3M might want to pursue. Fry created some prototypes from the only paper he could find – scraps of canary yellow paper from the lab next door. He stuck the yellow sticky square note on the front of the report for his supervisor who, in turn, returned the same piece of yellow paper with his response written on it.

Traction, finally. The Post-It® Note was introduced in 1979, rolled out across the United States in 1980 and then Canada and Europe in 1981. Since then, their utility has seen them adopted worldwide.

Post-it Note

Despite the patent for the Post-It® expiring in 1997, the brand was so well ingrained to cultural fabric and the name so ubiquitous, that even competitors needed to accept that their own products may be referred to as ‘Post-Its’.

They’ve been the consumable of choice for brainstorms and office workshops for decades now. This new tool has even permeated into software applications – they’ve been part of iOS and Microsoft Windows, as ‘stickies’ for years. And even more recently, what would Miro be without them?

If I knew what I was doing, it wouldn’t be research

Dr. Spencer Silver

What can we learn from this? Well, the difference between success and failure could just be a matter of perspective.

In the case of the Post-It® Note, the invention was objective failure by first intent, but became an ideal solution for many unmet needs.

Analogies can be found in the medical space. Take for example, Sildenafil, a drug initially studied for treatment of hypertension, or high blood pressure. It failed in its first intent, but owes its vast success to a secondary effect and is now widely recognised in popular culture by mere mention of its trade name, Viagra.

So what might this have to do with medical device development?

Entering a medical device or product into the market can be a daunting prospect, with many technical challenges to overcome and many barriers to entry. At Team Consulting, we understand this. We have experts in many areas:

  • Maybe you are sitting on a discovery, you’ve solved part of the puzzle, but you have no clear route to market?
  • Maybe you have the bones of a product and need to inspire confidence in your proposition to investors?
  • Maybe you need to select the best device to deliver your drug product?
  • Maybe your medical device needs to be easy to use?

Maybe you need to get in touch!

Illustration of Viagra

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