Art Fry had a little problem that vexed him: when he sang in his church choir, the bookmarks in his hymnal kept moving around or falling to the floor. One Sunday in 1973 he recalled that a colleague at work, Spencer Silver, had developed an adhesive. The glue wasn’t very marketable, but it did have some unique properties: it did not leave a residue, and was strong enough to stick to things but still weak enough to remove easily. Fry decided to apply some of the adhesive along the edge of a piece of paper. His bookmark problem was solved.
You may have heard the story before. Fry and Spencer worked at the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, also known as 3M. From that simple idea the company developed the product that we all know as the colourful Post-it notes, now sold around the world.
This story illustrates a point about ingenuity. As Apple founder Steve Jobs summarized: “Creativity is just connecting things.”
Jobs’ life is an example of how varied experiences can come together to inspire creativity. The idea of calling the company “Apple Computer” came to him from spending time at an apple orchard in Oregon where he attended a spiritual retreat. Jobs also spent some time at an ashram in India and experimented with calligraphy in a class at Reed College. These were experiences that were quite different from daily life in the suburbs and stoked his creativity. These same memories later shaped his thoughts about simplicity and design, which he so famously applied to the computer business. When Apple built the Macintosh computer, the company hired musicians, artists and poets along with engineers.
Another important innovator, Leonardo da Vinci, also saw the value of those inter-disciplinary connections. He wrote, “Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses - especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else."
A contemporary expert in thinking, Edward de Bono, believes that “creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”
That’s motivation for all of us to get out there and try different things...
A related stories:
How to foster creativity, previously in this blog.
How great business innovators are made (not born), from Fortune magazine. The article refers to two recent books.
The Leonardo da Vinci and Edward de Bono quotations are collected in BrainyQuote, a very useful site.