Years ago, before my dad’s Alzheimer’s and my mother’s dementia, they were included in a tour of one of the 3M facilities. When I asked how they’d liked it, my dad told me details from a businessman’s perspective. My mom’s perspective was different.
She remembered ACM—the initials of Acrylate Copolymer Microspheres—from the tour. She nicknamed them “A Creative Mistake,” and they became an inspiration.
In 1968 3M intended to create a super strong adhesive for the aerospace industry. But there was a mistake in the plan, and the end result was an incredibly weak product. Years later, the reworked mistake became Press’n Peel, a low-tack, reusable pressure-sensitive adhesive. The final name was of the product was Post-It notes, which became very successful.
Writer Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” Or as my mother and I would have paraphrased it: “Post-It is the name of mistakes that became successes because somebody didn’t give up.” We agreed Post-Its should be a standard tool for writers, to stick on pages needing better ideas and corrections…and also serve as a reminder not to give up.
Some mistakes have tragic consequences, and I certainly am not making light of life-changing, heart-breaking mistakes. For this post, however, I salute the discouraging but not serious mistakes we all make that can be redeemed or redefined if we don’t give up.
Mary Pickford, an early motion picture actress and one of the pioneers of Hollywood, became a co-founder of United Artists film studios. Along the way, she faced many problems, and this was her advice. “If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”
I can’t resist concluding with a “mistake” made by a man who decided to shoot an armadillo. (Can’t you see “mistake” written all over this already?) He didn’t realize how tough the hide was, and the bullet bounced off the armadillo and hit his mother-in-law. She wasn’t seriously hurt, but this reminds me of something my mother often said: “Some mistakes require a whole lot more than just saying ‘Ooops’ to fix them.”