A willingness to adapt can mean the difference between prosperity and failure.
When a cold hits and sneezing and sniffles ensue, what a comfort it is to know that you have your box of tissues close by your side ready to rescue your suffering nose. Our noses would be lost without the comfort of “Kleenex.”
In 1914, Kleenex was nowhere near your nose. At that time, it was performing a patriotic duty overseas and was sent to the front lines. Called Cellucotton, it was used to dress the wounds of injured soldiers. An American company had responded to a War Department need by creating this new and remarkably soft cotton fabric, which performed its duty so well that it also served as an air filter for soldiers’ gas masks.
After World War I ended, the company found itself the proud owner of warehouses of Cellucotton. Having been a bit too zealous, they had overproduced. Now they were stuck with something that was no longer needed, so Cellucotton was retired and given a civilian job.
Like all veterans, Cellucotton had to learn to adapt to a postwar world. It was given a new name, Kleenex Kerchiefs, and along with the help of beautiful models who advertised its use, began its new job. It was sold as a “sanitary cold cream remover” perfect for makeup removal. Women loved it. Kleenex Kerchiefs were a tremendous success and the bulging warehouses began to empty.
What a marvelous turn around! Not only had a surplus been successfully unloaded, but a profit had been made in the process. Letters flowed in thanking the company for Kleenex Kerchiefs. There were also complaints. It seems that women were not happy that their men were using Kleenex Kerchiefs to blow their noses and the men wanted to know why it had to be just a woman’s product. From a public survey it was discovered that 60 percent of people were buying Kleenex Kerchiefs for their noses and not for their faces. Taking advantage of this knowledge, Kleenex Kerchiefs became just Kleenex and was now marketed as a nose-blowing tissue.
What a journey: from wounds, to gas masks, to faces, to noses. Kleenex demonstrates a classic lesson in the ability of adapting an existing product to a changing market. By not restricting themselves with tunnel vision that could only see the original purpose for their product, the company was able to maintain an open eye and discover new ways of using their product. A willingness to adapt products, careers, skills, and attitudes can literally be the difference between tremendous prosperity or bulging warehouses filled with wasted ingenuity.
A few tips:
- You are likely working in an organization that deals with a product or service. Mentally review the evolution of that product or service.
How versatile has the product or service become? Could it be expanded or adapted further?
- Brainstorm additional uses by breaking down the marketplace into consumer groups, lifestyle changes, and technology breakthroughs. “Imagine and adapt” should be your mantra.