The Big Idea: What Companies Can Learn from 3M’s Large Post-it® Meeting Notes

One of the best ideas that we have come across in recent times is the Large Post-it® Meeting Note, a gigantic sticky note bearing the label of the 3M Company, a Minnesota-headquartered corporation that has long been a byword for innovation in the normally gradualist sector of office products. These oversize notes, which measure nearly 20cm by 15cm, are many times the area of even a conventionally large Post-it® note – by way of comparison, they are similar in size to A5 paper or the cover of a novel. They come into their own during brainstorming, meetings and planning, with the dimensions of the notes encouraging both productivity and relative concision; they have even garnered the attention of culture-jamming bible Adbusters, which featured the notes in issue #109 (September/October 2013).  

Part of the paradox of these notes is that despite their obvious utility, they are a very recent invention; indeed, it seems quite incredible in retrospect that this product was not on the market years ago, with countless telephone message pads, artificially-partitioned diary pages and torn pieces of A4 paper and So what are the lessons that companies can learn from 3M’s arguably belated eureka moment?

1. Maximise Existing Assets. Large Post-it® Meeting Notes do not represent anything fundamentally new on the technological level: they are sticky notes, albeit unusually-sized ones. Considering variations of the easily-implementable variables (size, colour, shape, adhesion, packaging) more deeply could have resulted in earlier implementation.

2. Establish Dialogue. Customers are an amazing bunch of people: they will come up with uses for and desires of a company’s products that even the best and brightest minds in the corporate network may never have contemplated. By engaging with customers more profoundly, innovations can be realised more quickly. Moreover, listening to and taking inspiration from those who ostensibly have nothing to do with your product or company – whether that be snowboarders, museum curators or even inanimate objects – can yield unexpected insights.

3. Reconceptualise Corporate Structures. One of the main reasons behind East Asia’s reinvention of industrial and technological paradigms – particularly in Japan – was a surprising degree of heterarchy and flatness within corporations: even the lowliest worker feels empowered enough to contribute ideas to the very top levels of management, with CEO to average salaried employee income ratios dramatically more even than in the United States and even Europe.

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2 Comments

Filed under Business, Creativity

2 responses to “The Big Idea: What Companies Can Learn from 3M’s Large Post-it® Meeting Notes

  1. I think the current fad for ‘personalised’ products reflects a truth. One must constantly ask people for what they want and also find ways of finding out what they don’t yet know they want, but would buy if they saw it. I don’t quite agree though with looking to Japan as an ideal. Yes, ideas might float up, but I would guess criticism would not be as readily accepted by the higher echelons.

    • At the factory level, AFAIK management in Japanese companies have traditionally avoided direct criticism by simply ignoring proposals that they don’t agree with, which of course is not an ideal solution. That said, East Asian (and South-East Asian) companies do generate amazing amounts of ideas and engage their staff in ways which companies elsewhere can only dream of – for now.

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