When Luke from Yabber first got in touch about doing a special Post-It themed Stationery Club, I was a little bit concerned we would be selling out to The Man. I discussed it with @wowser, and although we were a bit wary, Luke’s use of the phrase “access to one of the inventors of Post-Its” was enough to persuade us to go ahead.
Because there were actual grown-ups involved in organising the night, things were a bit different this time round. A room in a pub was booked (a first for Stationery Club). There was a laptop and a projector. An audio-visual extravaganza.
Although Romy and Michelle claim to have invented the Post-It, that is not actually the case. The true story is explained in this video:
I wasn’t sure what form the “access to one of the inventors of Post-Its” would take. At first, the plan was going to be a specially recorded video message. This then transformed into a live video chat. Very exciting.
After a couple of technical false starts, we could hear Geoff Nicholson and Geoff could hear us. We could see Geoff and Geoff could see us. A roomful of people in a pub in Camden were talking to a man sitting in his front room in Minnesota about Post-It Notes.
Geoff explained how Spence Silver invented a “very poor” adhesive (he had been working on an adhesive to hold aeroplane wings together. The glue he invented was not suitable for this purpose). The rather important problem with Silver’s glue was that it wasn’t very sticky. They weren’t sure what to do with this glue and had an idea of creating giant sticky notice boards you could stick bits of paper to. Silver’s colleague, Art Fry, pointed out that maybe it would be better to put the glue on the paper instead.
The trouble was, if you try to explain what a Post-It is to someone who has never used one before, it doesn’t sound very useful. “It’s a bit of paper which is slightly sticky at one end”. It’s only after you’ve used them that you realise how useful they are. Nicholson started giving out samples to departments in 3M, and his secretary was getting swamped by requests for more (“Part of that was because they were free, but there’s a limit to how much free stuff you can give to people before they ask you to stop”). His secretary couldn’t keep up and said he had to decide if he wanted her to be his secretary or his distributor. At this point, the marketing manager still didn’t believe in the potential of Post-Its, so Geoff told his secretary to redirect all requests for samples to the head of marketing. “Some people say it was a brilliant move, it wasn’t, I was just angry”.
I’d asked earlier on Twitter if anyone had any questions for Geoff and something a lot of people mentioned was the name: why are they called Post-Its? “I don’t know. Someone in marketing came up with it”. They had been calling them “Peel & Press” notes, because that’s how you use them, but apparently you can’t trademark a name like that because it’s too descriptive (it would be a bit unfair on other cola manufacturers if you called your drink “Cola Flavoured Carbonated Soft Drink”TM). Sadly, he couldn’t remember any of the names which were rejected before they settled on “Post-Its”.
Geoff seemed like a really lovely guy. He has special Post-It Notes with his name on (“From when 3M still cared about me” he joked). The next day, I sent him an email with a little thank you Post-It:
He’d said he was coming to London soon, so I said it would be nice if he could make it along to Stationery Club in person. I also asked if he’d seen Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion (I’d meant to ask him on the night, but I forgot).
He sent a reply:
Thank you VERY much for your email and attachment. It was a pleasure to talk to my country of birth and have fun as well. Needless to say, getting a five year story into a few minutes is difficult, and full of peaks and valleys.
It is interesting that you ask about that movie, I kept getting asked about it so I finally got a DVD from Amazon as it was no longer available in the stores. It was fun to watch.
When I come to London I will be with my wife, daughter and two grandkids aged 12 and 14 to see London and Windsor. Her husband has to stay at work here. I doubt that I can use our limited time away from them. We arrive on a Monday from York to Chiswick…then in the evening to see the show Stomp, the next day a trip on a double Decker bus with stops. And then we go to Windsor the next day..it is a crazy trip but we really want our grandkids see their great Grandma in York, she is 95.
I wish you continued success with your efforts, and as for the next product in the stationery area, one cannot help but think that there has to be something that will go along with our phones and PC’s.
What a lovely man.
When I first got to the pub, I was worried that the night was going to be a bit corporate and marketing-y, but in fairness to Luke and his colleagues, they were happy to take a back seat and allow Stationery Club to be Stationery Club. In fact, in the end, we ran out of time and didn’t get to play the new Facebook game Post-It have created.
There was even a prize to be given out to the person who got the highest score. Instead, we put everyone’s names into a hat and picked out a Post-It. @MandrewB was the lucky winner. In the pub afterwards, he was looking through the bag of Post-It goodies he won. I picked up one item I liked, and he must have seen something in the look in my eye. “You’re going to steal that, aren’t you?” he asked. “Well, I’m already holding it, so I guess I already have” I replied.