February 22, 2019

Bubble Wrap

Sent by Jonathan Stark on February 23rd, 2019

Let’s talk about bubble wrap. You know what I mean by bubble wrap, right? It’s those sheets of thin plastic covered with thousands of little air pockets that shippers use to wrap fragile items for transport. (...and that receivers spend hours satisfactorily popping on their kitchen floor - Oh, just me? Never mind... :sheepish_grin:)

Anyway, dig this:

Bubble wrap wasn’t designed as a packing material. Bubble wrap was supposed to be wallpaper.

From Wikipedia:

Bubble wrap was invented in 1957 by engineers Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes in Hawthorne, New Jersey. Fielding and Chavannes sealed two shower curtains together, creating a smattering of air bubbles, which they originally tried to sell as wallpaper.

Packing material wasn’t even the second use case for bubble wrap! They tried for a time to sell it as greenhouse isolation. It wasn’t until a few years later that bubble wrap found its raison d’être.

From Forbes:

Company legend holds that a few years after Sealed Air was founded in 1960, an innovative marketer named Frederick W. Bowers finally found the true value in the cellular bubbles. IBM had just launched the 1401, one of the world’s first mass-produced business computers. Bowers showed IBM how Bubble Wrap could protect the 1401’s fragile innards in transit.

IMHO - there are two things to note about this story:

My feeling is that bubble wrap is the exception that proves the rule. How many businesses have probably failed over the years having FIRST created a product and THEN searching for someone to buy it?

Can solution-first thinking work? Obviously, yes. Bubble wrap is proof.

But why bother? Why create something and then spend months or years trying to find buyers for it? Why play on hard mode?

You eventually have to find buyers no matter what, so... why not find them first?