During the 50s Noah and Joseph mcVicker ran a factory that produced a whitish goo. Their product was intended to rub off black soot from people’s wallpaper. They had a good cleaning product, yet the market they operated in was declining. During the 40s and 50s people switched from wood and coal stoves to heat their homes in favour of electricity and gas. This meant: no more soot to clean off people’s wall paper. The mcVicker brothers were facing tough decisions.
What strategy were they supposed to follow?
- Strategy A – lay low: Do nothing and hope for better times.
- Strategy B – milk the cash cow: Aggressively cut costs, optimize the production proces and milk the existing product dry.
- Strategy C – withdraw: Sell off the factory and other assets to perhaps save some of the money invested.
- Strategy D – expand: Launch the existing product into new markets such as the German wallpaper-cleaning market.
- Strategy E – innovate: Introduce a modified version of the cleaning goo – perhaps it could be used to clean dirt and grime of other surfaces.
What strategy would you pick?
Joe mcVicker picked Strategy G: do something you’re not supposed to do. He gave the stuff to his sister in law who worked in a nursery school at the time. The kids loved to play with the non toxic moulding clay even though it came in one colour only. Jopseph and his brother went on to found a company called Rainbow Crafts and reanemd their goo ‘Play-doh.’
History is rife with similar examples. Our apelike ancestors instinctively knew were not supposed to come anywhere near fire or do something crazy like cook their food in it. Until someone did. The Internet was supposed to be a military network that could withstand a nuclear attack; we were never supposed to use it for porn, games or face-book. Until someone did. Likewise, we are not supposed to hack cheap DIY furniture. Yet unfortunately we still teach our kids they are not supposed to colour outside the lines.
It turns out that when we do things we are not supposed to do that we unleash that most potent force available to human beings: creativity.
Supposedly we can be rather good at that. Since that happy little accident in the 50’s almost four hundred million kilo of Play-Doh has been sold to mommies and daddies all over the world, making Joe a millionaire by the age of 27. All because his sister in law decided to hand a chemical compound to kindergarten kids – something she really wasn’t supposed to do.