Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Post-it® Notes And You

A note from Tina: Are you visiting because you want the photo of Post-It notes shown in the Google search results? I’m sorry, I don’t have that here anymore. I replaced it with this one, that I thought was very cute! In the meantime, several thousand people have come to this site just for that photo! (I wish several thousand people were hiring me to speak or train–but alas, they just want the photo!)

Consider going to a free photo site or directly to the 3-M site, or as I did, to an office supply company site. They nearly always have photos of such things that you can use.

Now to the original article:

It took a team of people to create the Post-It Notes phenomena, although the motivational-speech-version of the story will likely always be the one that is told and re-told. The popular story is that Art Fry, a product development engineer for 3M, was singing in his church choir and became frustrated that his bookmarks kept falling out of the hymnal. He recalled a “failed” adhesive back at work and experimented with it to make semi-sticky book marks. Ta-da! Post-it Notes!  

Almost the true story, but not quite–or at least not quite the full story. You can check out a condensed version of the full story on the 3M site. Art Fry’s photo is first, as it should be, since he was the one who found the best way to use the repositionable adhesive that Spencer Silver discovered. (And by all accounts, Mr. Fry is a very nice man who deserves the credit he gets.) However, the adhesive wasn’t the abysmal failure some stories make it–just a different type of adhesive for which a highly marketable use had yet to be found. Mr. Silver had envisioned it perhaps covering an entire bulletin board upon which papers could be placed and removed easily.  (Think of how dirty that would get after awhile!)

In the myth of the popular story, the team that made Post-it Notes a huge success, and their years of work on the product, is sometimes overlooked. Having a great product, and creating a desire in the minds of consumers to buy it in large quantities, are two different things.

  • Jack Wilkens put together a team of salesmen and marketing experts to determine the best ways to sell the new product.
  • Joe Ramey did what I would have thought anyone would do–but apparently I was wrong–and that is, he and his team decided product sampling was the best way to get people to know about Post-it Notes. At first the notes were distributed to legal firms and other offices in the Minneapolis area.  (Lawyers often need to put notes on legal briefs and don’t like to use paper clips or staples.)
  • Bill Schoonenberg, the manager of marketing services determined that Boise, Idaho was the perfect place to formally launch the product and blitz the area with samples.  Boise? That, I have never figured out!
  • Lynn Wilson took over after the “Boise Blitz” produced spectacular results, and his team developed advertisements for the rest of the country and later the world.

All of that was theTa-da!

A friend of mine, Jim Dainty, was on the original marketing team.  He says, with a rueful smile, “They gave out samples, the word spread, everybody wanted them, and our sales people didn’t have to do as much convincing as we thought they would.”

You are a great product too. Even if you are very successful, you probably still have a few “markets” where you feel you aren’t fully appreciated or your value is not known:

  • Coworkers.
  • Those you supervise
  • Your supervisors and managers.
  • People you don’t know well.
  • Decision-makers in your organization.
  • People with whom you would like to develop a better working relationship. 
  • Family members or others with whom you would like to have a better personal relationship.

Perhaps you could use the Post-it Note story in your own life and work:

1. Be someone other people need. When I teach about influence I talk about the requirement of being valuable. What do you bring to those you want to influence? People need us because of our knowledge, skills, information, insight, connections, resources-and often because of the way we make them feel about themselves. What do you have to offer others? Do you share what you have to offer? When we help others, personally or professionally, we inevitably are rewarded in both obvious and unexpected ways.

2. Give out samples. Post-it Notes might not have become popular so quickly if 3M had waited for people to want to buy them just because someone said they were good. Instead, 3M gave people enough Post-It Notes that they could experience how impressive the product was. You give out samples of yourself every day when you interact with people and when they see your work. You have to let people experience you in their lives, and that experience must be an overall good one for them over time. You cannot do it if you rarely make personal contact, only make small-talk, or make being around you an unpleasant, uncomfortable, frustrating or bland experience.

3. Live up to your promises. Have you ever bought generic sticky notes? They don’t work well at all, and usually end up on the floor. They simply cannot do what they promise–only Genuine 3M Post-it Notes can. That happens in our work as well. There are a lot of people who talk a great game but never follow through. If you want to be appreciated fully you need something worth appreciating and you have to come through on the promises you have implied about yourself. We may tolerate people who do not promise much and do not do much. We mock people who promise a great deal but do not deliver. Eventually we resent those people and avoid them. Make it your goal to be so effective that the GenuineYou is considered the standard of excellence.   

4. Improve yourself all the time. 3M is always looking for new ways to use the sticky note concept. In 2004 they developed Super Sticky Notes, which have a stronger adhesive. They produced those items in colors identified as the most popular at the time–Daffodil, Orchid and Ocean. (Yellow, Lilac and True Blue.) You have probably discovered that you add to your own enjoyment when you gain new skills and knowledge and feel that you are improving. That increases your value to others as well.

None of this is meant to support slavishly wanting to be liked or popular, or doing whatever it takes to get along or get ahead. You know I would not advocate that! What I am advocating are the concepts that made a very good product no one had heard much about, become a wildly popular consumer favorite:

  • It did not happen because 3M waited for people to find out about it.
  • They did not try to make competitors look bad so they would look good in comparison.
  • They did not market a mediocre product and expect people to buy it because 3M was a sincere company that meant well. 
  • As personable as salespeople like Jim Dainty were, 3M did not rely solely on charm to make billions of dollars in sales. 

Instead, 3M had a product people needed–even though most people did not know it; they gave away samples; they lived up to their promise of a great product; they continue to improve themselves all the time. You can do those things. 

A press release by 3M says this: Every day, 3M people find new ways to make amazing things happen. You can do that, too!

March 26th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development | 7 comments


  1. There’s a lot to reflect on in this post. I’m analyzing my post-it likeness right now!

    Comment by Judith Thomas | March 27, 2008

  2. Where do you get this stuff? A really interesting article about a product I use all the time. My biggest problem is not taking them down or throwing them away, so my wife comes in and cleans off the wall next to my desk. I am not a happy camper when that happens.

    I liked the points you made. The hits just keep on comin’!

    Comment by Mike B. | March 27, 2008

  3. Judith, you are more like the Post-it Flip Chart pages–GIGANTICALLY valuable! T.

    Comment by Tina | March 27, 2008

  4. Mike…Anyone who knows me knows I should never presume to give advice about being organized in an office, although I really do work at it. However, I do this to keep Post-it notes under control—-I keep a three-ring binder with blank pages by my desk. After a week or so I put the Post-it notes I’ve had stuck around, inside the binder. That way I don’t lose them, and I open the binder now and then to see where I stand with things. I often throw a bunch away. But, at least I have them as long as I need them without having them stuck everywhere.

    I think they are a great product, but they tend to be used because they are there, not because we need to have things stuck all over the place to remember them.

    Oh, and Mike, you’d get a kick out of this. A manager I once talked to said his company had a cash award program where he could give twenty dollar bills to people for small tasks done well. He said, “You know what I’ve found? I just write “Thank you” on a Post-it Note and put it on their computer while they’re gone, and they’re just as happy as they would be with the money. It really saves on our budget.”

    Try that instead of giving out bonuses next year. 🙂 T.

    Comment by Tina | March 27, 2008

  5. Tina, I love this post, and I love the new (to me) website! This post is so very appropriate at this point in my life, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to re-connect with you. I can tell I will spend hours on this site checking it out all your wonderful thoughts and ideas. Great stuff!

    Comment by Gary Hickox | March 31, 2008

  6. I found this site while looking for a post-it note image and have thoroughly enjoyed reading many of the articles. Very interesting. Thank you for letting me download the post-it note photo! C.A. ACEO

    Comment by Corrine | May 18, 2008

  7. Tina says: Corrine, thank you for the comment. I have had over a thousand people come to the site for that post-it note image! I’m getting ready to change it to another one, so hopefully Google won’t show it anymore. It’s second on their search engine of images!

    Thank you again! Best wishes! Tina Rowe

    Comment by TLR | May 18, 2008

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