Stuck on Innovation

 |  December 27, 2010

There is a difference between invention and innovation. Invention is the creation of something that didn’t previously exist where as innovation can be thought of as developing a new way to look at or use something that already exists.

To me, one of the best examples of this is the ‘Post-It’ note. The little yellow squares of paper that can be stuck to something with a message written on it and then later removed and stuck somewhere else. I have known people run their lives using these things (which is kind of scary) and they are still one of the most used products in the stationary cupboard in offices around the world.

In 1970, a 3M researcher called Dr. Spencer Silver was trying to develop a new strong adhesive. One of his experiments produced one that wasn’t really very good; it would stick but not very well and was easy to lift it off again. In typical corporate fashion, the invention of glue that didn’t work was seen as being as much use a fart in a spacesuit. Despite Dr. Silver’s best efforts, it was left sitting somewhere on a shelf under the ‘failed’ category.

Several years later, another 3M employee called Art Fry was looking for a way to use removable and reusable bookmarks in his hymnbook. He remembered attending a seminar where Dr. Silver was a speaker and thought that his ‘low-tack’ adhesive attached to paper might be just the thing. The rest is history but it shows the difference between invention (a glue that didn’t work very well) and innovation (a new way of using it).

It was in this spirit of innovation that I was trying to persuade Mrs. D that a 63-inch 3D plasma television would be a worthy addition to the Daring home. As we stood in the electrical shop, wearing those glasses that make you look like a wide-eyed ant and watching a documentary on the Galapagos Islands, especially filmed to show off the depth effect, my techno-lust became all consuming.

Not surprisingly, Mrs. D didn’t agree and felt that things like food, clothing and having a life were more important than blowing the budget on something that we didn’t really need. Having learnt from previous experience where I had been let loose unsupervised with access to money, the credit cards were secured in her handbag. As a result and despite my best whining, I was unceremoniously dragged from the store.

I have to confess that as a bit of a geek, I am easily drawn into the latest technical innovation and the ways in which it would make my life _ sorry, our lives, better. Several cupboards of unwanted and outdated electronic gizmos tell the true story of unnecessary solutions to problems that I didn’t know I had.

Of course, Mrs. D tells me that she is all to painfully aware of my problems and to be fair, is always finding innovative ways to ‘deal’ with them. I have never been quite sure how she does it but she always seems to be one step ahead of my latest scheme and I find myself thwarted at every turn. Must be some sort of feminine intuition thing or perhaps I am just too predictable.

“I know you too well” she will say as my latest justification has been shot down in flames. I think this is grossly unfair. Being but a simple man, I have absolutely no idea half the time what she is thinking or how to read the mood signs. Some of them are obvious (for example heavy sighing, rolling of the eyes, a loud voice etc.) but it is all too easy to get it wrong and end up in trouble. So, I feel that a useful innovative product would be a mood reader. A modern version of those plastic fish from years ago that you put on your hand and would either curl up or change colour and supposedly tell you how you how emotional you were.

Imagine that! Being able to come home and take a reading of the ambience before you entered the house. Or before you were about to arrange to play golf? A quick mood check and you would know what to say rather than ending up completely flummoxed by incorrectly judging the emotion level.

Alas, several searches on the Internet have found nothing to address that particular problem. I, like many others, are left treading the fine line between peaceful coexistence and deep poo without any help whatsoever and without those necessary things such as new televisions.

Final thought on “Post-Its”. If the glue is not very sticky, how do they get it to stick to the note itself?

Now, that is clever.