Tuesday, October 04, 2011

31 (More) Days of #BIF7 - Day 4 - Graham Milner

When I first heard that Graham Milner was going to be talking about WD-40 at BIF-7, I was surprised ... and a little wary. If BIF was all about innovation, dramatic change, and personal transformation, wasn't WD-40 the complete polar opposite: a stable and boring solid rock product that hadn't changed since the Eisenhower years?

But once Graham Milner began his story, it was clear that he and WD-40 belonged at BIF. Because WD-40 emerged only after failure. And repeated failure. The proper name of the product -- which I learned at BIF-7 from Graham -- is "Water Displacement – 40th Attempt". Yes, it took the creator (Norm Larsen) forty tries until he perfected the formula that repels water and prevents corrosion. As I sat in my seat at BIF absorbing the information, I challenged myself to think of examples when I persevered through forty failed attempts. I couldn't come up with many.

Graham's story provided an unexpected and down-to-earth reminder that innovation doesn't come easy and many never break-through because they're unwilling to endure the constant failures. Failure would emerge as a key BIF-7 theme as many of the storytellers would note the relationship of failure to both innovation and entrepreneurship.

Graham's other WD-40 story also related to innovation. He told how WD-40 was nearly as famous for the red straw that everyone always lost as it was for the product inside. So, even when you succeed and build up a brand with healthy margins for over 50 years, there's still room to innovate. To their credit, WD-40 (no doubt after some failed attempts) innovated and recast the red straw as the Smart Straw.

I'll bet this won't be the last time they fail and improve because of it.

Additional information:

Graham Milner on Twitter:

BIF Profile Page

This is part of my 31 (More) Days of #BIF7 blog series.

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