1 – DUCT TAPE
If you need to repair something, it’s always smart to start out by using the right tools – if it fails, then try duct tape.
This method night just be the approach that several – more or less – successful handymen use when they execute tasks at home.
But actually, there’s a funny story about duct tape — a story with an anchor in one of the largest historical events of the last hundred years – namely, World War II.
During the war, some American soldiers lacked some strong, waterproof tape to keep their ammunition cases free from moisture and dirt.
The solution was delivered by the firm Johnson and Johnson, who expanded on an already-existing tape that was used in the medical field. The result was a three-layer tape with a layer of polyethylene on the top, a network of stuff in the middle, and a rubber-based tape product at the bottom.
The tape performed better than anyone expected. Besides preventing the water from entering, it was also very strong, but paradoxically, it was also easy to pull over. The tape was given the nickname “duck tape,” because its waterproof capacities were reminiscent of a duck’s feathers.
After the war, a construction boom began in the US, and the returning soldiers continued to use their strong, reliable friend from the war. The tape was often used for working with ventilation and air conditioning – also called “ducts”. This is why the tape is routinely referred to as “duct tape” in the US.
2 TV DINNER
The TV dinner concept might not not have reached the same breakthrough in Europe as in the US. The “value” of the social and health effects that can result from eating processed food in front of the TV are also highly debateable.
However, the TV dinner is an idea that has multiple innovative angles, and moreover, it is a product that sells at an astronomical rate (2010: 4.5 million dollars).
TV dinners were first inspired by airplane food, which makes sense, when you think about it. In the beginning, Maxson Food Systems invented airplane food during WWII as an alternative to the sandwiches that were typically served on board.
The TV dinner was launched during the same decade. There are different claims about who came up with the idea for the TV dinner, but one of the more popular stories refers to a combination of a mistake in the Swanson Brothers warehouse at the same time as one of the Swanson Brothers salesman was paying a visit to Pan Am Airways. The inspiration for the packaged meal was supposedly a result.
Other people believe that Clarence Birdseye, who had an idea about frozen meals back in the 1920s, should get credit for the idea.
The TV dinner was undoubtedly a success. At the same time of its beginning growth, it was becoming more and more normal to have a freezer and a television at home. During the 1980s and 90s, when it became more common to have a microwave oven at home, the concept of food that could be enjoyed in front of the TV grew even more. And now that we’re talking about the microwave oven…
3 – THE MICROWAVE OVEN
The microwave oven has, like many other innovative ideas, an origin in a random but inspiring incident. Don’t forget that an idea is just a part of innovation. The most important part is to continually use the idea/inspiration actively so that it leads to something more concrete.
This was just what Percy Spence did in 1945, when he passed by a radar system at his workplace – the weapons and electronics company, Raytheon. Spence had a chocolate bar in his pocket, and when he suddenly realized that it was melting, he began to wonder.
Percy Spence then took a bag of popcorn with him to the radar system. As the kernels started to pop, the idea for the microwave was born. Spence found out that the radar system sent out microwaves with a frequency of 2.5 gigahertz, and that water, fat, and carbohydrates react to microwaves at about this frequency.
The experiments sound a bit dangerous, but it was’t until someone wanted to cook an egg that things went wrong. The egg simply exploded in his face.
Spence discovered that he could catch the microwave energy inside a metal box where the energy wasn’t able to escape. When food was placed inside the box, the temperature rapidly increased.
In 1947, Spence and Raytheon built the first microwave oven called the “Radarange,” for commercial use. The microwave oven’s journey to mainstream success was, however, long and meandering. The first edition was 1.8 meters tall, weighed 340 kilos and cost $5,000 USD (today, approximately $55,000). These early editions were only used by large restaurants or on big ships, and things like that.
Decades passed by before the microwave oven became a product that everyone owned. In 1971, 1% of the population in the US owned a microwave oven. In 1986, it was 25%. And in 1997, 90% of American households had the appliance.
Here you can discuss that the TV dinner and the microwave oven have had a positive impact on each other. If you want to be able to make quick TV dinners, you should own a microwave oven. And if you own a microwave oven, it is more tempting to make a TV dinner.
4 – OSTOMY BAG
The invention of the ostomy bag is a slice of innovation that is as simple as brilliant. It’s even Danish!
The first known colostomy operation was conducted in 1776 by the French doctor, Pilore. The the patient lived for another 45 years, but the story reports nothing about how the person lived with the ostomy.
For the next nearly two centuries, patients lived very badly, if at all, with their ostomy. The results of ostomy operations were often terrible because of a lack of sedation methods and antibiotics, which were not widely available before penicillin became a reality around World War II.
Though it was still connected with enormous difficulty, a lot of obstacles, and poor hygiene in terms of a bad smell and leaks, ostomy surgery continued until 1954, when a smart, Danish nurse came up with a genius idea. The idea is so simple that it almost is too obvious, but it has changed lives for many ostomy patients worldwide since then. Moreover, the idea led to one of the greatest corporate successes here in Denmark, the company Coloplast, with 7,400 employees.
The simple idea was to use a common freezer bag, equip it with adhesive material on one side and a hole.
Afterwards, it was easy to place the bag on the right location on the body, and easier to avoid leaks than with bandages.
Sometimes more is not necessary to describe an innovative idea that can change lives for millions of people and earn billions in revenue.
In this context, though, it has to be mentioned that a lot had to happen with the ostomy bag before it became what it is today. There was a need for impact from another nurse before a real production was set in motion.
Aage Louis-Hansen owned the company “Dansk Plastik Emballage”, that had reached success by developing innovative welding methods that sealed his packaging completely. He had never produced anything for the medical industry, and was skeptical when Elise Sørensen pitched the idea about mass-producing the ostomy bag.
Fortunately, Aage Louis-Hansen’s wife was also a nurse. She could see the potential, and convinced her husband to draft a franchise agreement with Elise Sørensen and produce the first thousand bags. It was a resounding success from the start, and Coloplast was established by Aage Louis-Hansen in 1957.
Bonus info: The creator of the ostomy bag, Elise Sørensen, was personally motivated for her invention when her 32-year old sister underwent cancer surgery and needed a solution.
5 – POST-IT
The ostomy is a relatively simple invention — the same applies to duct tape.
Neither of them surpasses the next innovation when it comes to simplicity: the Post-IT.
The history behind this innovation is almost incredible. This is a real story about the product, which no one imagined could be useful.
Maybe this was the reason that the birth of the Post-IT was so difficult and long-lasting. It took 12 years to develop the product technology, until the product became available.
In 1968, chemist Spencer Silver worked for the company 3M on development of a new glue. At that time, the goal was solely to develop a stronger, more robust glue.
By chance, he developed a glue that was not that strong. However, the glue’s composition made it possible to remove it and attach it several times without leaving a trace of the adhesive.
For years, Silver fought to find a need for the new type of glue. He was very enthusiastic, but his colleagues didn’t share his vision. In 3M’s opinion, they produced industrial super glue, so what was the purpose of developing a relatively weak glue?
However, Silver continued, and was so proactive in pitching his idea that he recieved the nickname “Mr. Persistent” at 3M. His persistence did not move him ahead, and “Mr. Persistent” had to put the project on standby. It wasn’t forgotten, but on hold.
Years passed without any use for the new glue until another scientist at 3M, Art Fry, suddenly faced a real challenge.
Art Fry practiced weekly in a church choir that sang during service. He routinely used small, loose pieces of paper to mark the songs they were going to sing in his psalm book. However, the papers repeatedly fell out.
He needed an adhesive piece of paper with a glue that didn’t leave any marks in the books. Art remembered that he had heard his colleague talk about his glue which would solve that exact problem. Fry has described how he got an adrenaline kick as he realized the potential.
Art Fry also realized that it was not only an adhesive bookmark, but also a note tool. The whole potential was clear to Fry and Silver as they began using the Post-ITs for writing messages to each other on the development team that was working on making the Post-ITs ready for the market. It became almost a new way of communication within the team.
At the beginning of 1980, after many market tests, Silver, Fry, and their team had a product ready for the market.
Post-ITs became a huge, worldwide success.
Bonus info: Fry and Silver did not become incredibly from their product; but they have expressed a great satisfaction with their respective careers at 3M, where they stayed until they retired.
The above-mentioned examples prove that innovations can arise from many spectacular occurrences and situations. In any case, most of them do not come from R&D departments or problem-solving meetings.
In some of the cases, the odds for innovation have seemed poor. Common to the successes is that some people behind the ideas have held a certain degree of persistence and a certain motivation. Without this foundation, many of these ideas would probably not become successful – in any case, not at that time.
The courses of action indicate that more of the innovations have probably become successful in spite of the preconditions, rather than due to the preconditions.
It’s obvious that people who are innovative will be met with a certain degree of resistance. The idea will often cause enthusiasm. But what about real support? Real cooperation about realizing the idea? Many organizations need to realize that they fall behind. Too many tasks are probably the reason, but perhaps also an excuse that is often used.
If you want to increase the opportunities for success with innovation in an organization, you have to, first and foremost, create an innovation culture – where positive conflicts and friction become the breeding ground for crazy ideas and innovation. Get inspiration in the weblog: Glem disruption! Fokusér i stedet på innovation og skab resultater gennem sunde konflikter og innovationskultur.
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