From Bath Towel to Bonanza (Part One)

Innovation, Executive Development, Culture and Impact, ProductivityLeslie L KossoffComment

I think a lot about innovation - but, much as I love what technologists do and dream of doing, I don’t think about it their way...mostly because I'm not wired that way.

Instead, I think about it the way (for want of a better word) a ‘normal’ person thinks about it. I think about the things in my day-to-day life that lead me to wonder:

  • “How did someone come up with that idea?” and 
  • “Isn’t it interesting that they did!” and 
  • “What was the first company to introduce it?” and, most important of all,
  • “How much pushback (for which, read hell) did the innovator go through getting anyone to pay attention to their brilliant idea?”

All of which brings us to bathmats.

Did you know that if you compare a hand towel that you throw on the floor because it’s convenientto step on after a shower or bath to a bathmat that you buy specifically for that purpose, you’re paying an 800% differential? At minimum?

Yes, it’s true. Eight hundred percent. Minimally.

Which is why I started wondering about bathmats and the person who first brought the idea to their management.

To be honest, I don’t know how the story really goes, so allow me to tell you Part One of my version - which is what most employees and most businesses experience every day.

Once upon a time (because every story should begin with “once upon a time”) there was an employee who worked in a towel factory. We’ll call him Joe.

Joe was a good guy. Everybody liked him. Management trusted him. He came in. Did his job. Didn’t make waves. Took home his paycheck and all was right with the world.

Over the years, Joe got married and had kids. Now, everyone knows with kids you can never have enough towels (or so I’m told) and keep in mind this was before the explosion of the baby-care paper products industry. There probably weren’t even paper towels. 

Day after day, bath time required multiple towels - for drying the kids and for drying the floor. Joe and his wife (whom, you’ll notice, doesn’t have a name - which is sociologically correct for the time, but says quite a lot…which is an issue for another day) got to the point that they would simply lay down a small stack of towels on the floor to sop up the excess.

And that’s when the lightbulb went off in Joe’s head. Rather than wasting a stack of towels when stepping out of the bath, why not create a dedicated towel - a mat!! - for that specific purpose.

Even better, because it would be thicker, the company could charge more money for it!

Well, the next day, Joe went to his manager and said, “I have a GREAT idea for the company!”

…and told him.

Which is where we’re ending this story today - because there’s a really important lesson in here for you, whether you’re a solo-preneur, business owner, manager or executive...and it’s this:

There are more ideas than you can count presenting themselves to you every day. Yes, every day. And the only thing keeping them from becoming reality is your willingness to try.

Innovation isn’t limited to geniuses or techies. Or techie geniuses. Innovation has no limits - except the ones we put on ourselves.

So don’t. Recognize the ideas you have and the ones that are brought to you every day - from small incremental ideas to world-changers - and then wonder…

Hmmm. Is it this idea? The one that’ll make all the difference?

You’ll only know when you try.


The Steve Jobs Series: Innovation (For All Levels)

Building Continuous Innovation: Four Key Strategies (For Managers, Executives and Business Owners)