“Spencer Silver, the scientist who is partially credited with the creation of the Post-it,” Sinek writes, “was working in his lab at the Minnesota-based company, actually trying to develop a very strong adhesive. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful. What he accidentally made was a very weak adhesive” (pg 168).
Instead of throwing away his mistake, he passed it around throughout the company, “just in case someone else could figure out a way to use it.”
A few years later, a fellow scientist was in church choir practice, “getting frustrated that he couldn’t get his bookmark to stay in place.” It kept falling to the floor. Until he remembered Silver’s “weak adhesive.” It would make for the perfect bookmark.
That mistake is now “one of the best-recognized brands in history, with four thousand varieties sold in over a hundred countries” (pg 169).
Instead of seeing his mistake as a failure, Spencer Silver saw it as a “Not yet.” He also saw that he didn’t have the solution, that he needed a fresh set of eyes to look at the problem. He understood that he needed help. Which is exactly why he chose to work for 3m.
3M “knows that people do their best work when they work together, share their ideas and comfortably borrow each other’s work for their own projects.” There is “no notion of “‘mine’”, which is why, at 3m, more than 80 percent of their patents “have more than one inventor.” It’s also why, in 2009, “when other companies were slashing their R&D budgets to save money, 3M still managed to release over a thousand new products” (pg 170), because “they have a corporate culture that encourages and rewards people for helping each other and sharing everything they learn.”
Rather than serving and celebrating the individual, they consider the group and others above themselves. They stick together, just like the adhesive Spencer Silver attempted to develop in the beginning. (I know, my brilliant display of a word play amazes me too.)
“Successful failure,” my son says, reading over my shoulder, and he’s right. Perfectly so. Because in a society that considers others above themselves, failure is not something to be feared. It is something to be embraced, shared, and endured.