Good Things From Failures


Perhaps you know the sticky note story. These ubiquitous and often colorful bits of notepaper come in many shapes and sizes. Once, they were only pale yellow rectangles. Envisioned by 3M chemical engineer Art Fry in 1974 as his mind wandered during a sermon, Art was inspired to create the notes that would not leave a trace of glue but allow adhesion to pages in his choir hymnbooks. He knew from his workplace of another 3M scientist, Dr. Spencer Silver, who did not have a use yet for a not-so-sticky glue. Silver had hoped to find a stronger adhesive, but “this was none of those” according to the story on the 3M website. Fry’s eureka moment helped them both. Now, Post It Notes® have become a necessity for page markers, list makers, writers, and just about everyone on the planet. A popular Netflix movie shows Brooke Shields playing an author richly invested in the product. Her computer screen and desk are littered with them. (I admit to having a public and private stash.) But what about other nifty products we take for granted, like bubble wrap? That’s a cool invention, too. What’s its story?

I’ve become even more curious about bubble wrap’s beginnings, having recently seen little squares and larger rectangles of colorful bumpy plastic sold for fidgeters of every age. They hang at point-of-purchase racks in many stores. You can even get a small one for your keyring…I suppose for the impatient, sitting in traffic in Abilene. (What?) But my curiosity went into hyper mode on Friday when my co-worker, Katherine, a childhood friend, began laughing as I poked with scissors some “air pillows” that came with some books we’d ordered. “You got me some when we were kids!” she exclaimed. My action prompted her with a memory from the mid-1960s when bubble wrap was new.

I came across the product when visiting Six Flags in Arlington one summer. Black cubic boxes of the product were tantalizing. So I purchased one for me and one for Katherine. I blurted out to her that day in the office, “I liked you!” (And still do.) It was a special gift at the time.

This invention, also born of a failed experiment, produced an everyday product. Smithsonian Magazine in “The Accidental Invention of Bubble Wrap” explains that a failed wallpaper prototype involving shower curtains and a heat sealing machine introduced it to the American way of life. Instinct tells us to pop the bubbles. The sound, often a loud “pop!” adds satisfaction. 

The joy continues. Even in apps! NO kidding. The tactile part of the bubble wrap app experience is lacking unless you have 3d touch supported by some phones. This version of the bubble wrap app promises “real haptic feedback.” But even without that element, the sound is identifiable. Pop! Pop, pop!!

This year I gave some small stacks of personalized sticky notes as gifts. But the receivers all know that the best gift they receive each Christmas is renewed hope in Jesus to restore Eden. What appeared at first to be a colossal failure: Christ’s death, turned out to be brief. And he did not come to earth as a conquering king, as passages like this from Micah 5:2 might lead one to believe. 

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,

    though you are small among the clans of Judah,

out of you will come for me

    one who will be ruler over Israel,

whose origins are from of old,

    from ancient times.

But we hope, waiting expectantly, in the interval between the creation of this world and the culmination when Christ returns in glory, enjoying the graces of his goodness in family, friends, work, play, and yes, even some simple gifts of paper and plastic redeemed from failed hopes that turned into good things.  

Marianne Wood works as an editorial assistant and researcher for Bill Wright

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