How “Permitted Bootlegging” Revolutionized The World Of Innovation and Creativity

Photo by Michael Competielle

This is not a story written about Prohibition or distilling grain alcohol, this is a story about encouraging people to develop their pet projects into life-changing experiences. 

Most of everyone’s job has requirements that are often narrowly impossible to accomplish. Sales quotas and product yields are designed to increase exponentially based upon increasing profits while often disregarding relevance. Unnecessary stresses are placed on employees following rules and protocols and little thought is placed on innovating or creativity. 

Brainstorming and value engineering resources are often placed on solving existing problems leaving little time or energy to nurture ideas that could potentially rewrite the destiny of a company. 

Failing Quickly Yields Future Success

In 1968 3m scientist Dr. Spencer Silver was developing a super strong and sticky adhesive that quite honestly wasn’t very strong. In fact, the opposite happened when accidentally designed a low tack reusable adhesive. 

Silver felt that his adhesive had a special purpose and he, therefore, spent the next 5 years pitching the product to various 3m departments hoping someone would find a commercial use for the adhesive.

It wasn’t until 1974 when a 3m colleague Arthur Fry who had attended one of Silvers seminars that a potential use was conceived. Fry thought the adhesive would be perfect to use as a sticky yet removable bookmark for his hymn book.

Fry decided to further develop his concept by using 3m’s Permitted Bootleg policy. It was the availability of this policy that helped Fry and Silver to work together in secrecy on a pet project that would soon be the most innovative stationery and design product. 

It took 12 years from the accidental discovery by Silver and further developed with Fry until the commercial release in 1980 of the Post-it Note. Little yellow pads of paper held together with an adhesive that bonds well yet are removable and reusable. 

Encouraging Innovation Through Bootlegging

It’s companies that have developed a mindset that encourages creativity and free thinking that ultimately is most innovative. 3m, Hewlett-Packard, and Google are examples of companies that allow employees a certain percentage of time to work on their pet projects. 

The term ‘bootlegging’ is used because while the R&D happens on company time with company resources, the projects are usually kept in secrecy during this innovation development stage. It’s this acceptance of secrecy that innovation can be nurtured as this bootlegging period of developing is exercised without formalizing the project, sharing with managers and often breaks a companies rules and conventions.

It’s these risky scenarios where development can overcome obstacles. Teams have freedoms and liberties towards their projects creative process and the success of Permitted Bootlegging has yielded additional successes such as Gmail, Google News, and BMW’s 12 cylinder engine. 

It’s from these creative minds that we’ve learned to more innovative. Post-it notes are used by project teams to develop ideas, maintain goals and find solutions. By using permitted bootlegging and post-it notes to visualize your plan we can make great strides in designing our future while encouraged to take risks. 

Author: mtcwriter

Michael Competielle is a Creative Designer specializing in Sound, Brand and Experiential Design.

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