The newest tool in the innovation shed might just turn out to be post-it notes

In 1978, F.W. Lancaster prophesied a paperless society in his book “Toward Paperless Information Systems”. He laid out the evolutionary steps from print to electronic publications, but how close have we come to Lancaster’s prediction?

For starters, two years after Lancaster prophesied paper’s demise, 3M introduced the post-it note. Initially – and by accident – conceived as a way to bookmark pages, firms started using them for routine tasks such as routing stacks of paper documents.

Related: Six household products that were invented by accident

But the little, sticky papers are now getting a second life and could be proving Lancaster’s theory wrong. In fact, the modern office seems incomplete without guidance from three-inch squares of yellow paper slapped across a surface somewhere. Placed on phones, refrigerators, and wherever the eye may wander, the self-stick note has aided millions of forgetful minds.

The importance of the post-it note was highlighted by One Poll, which revealed that SMEs often jotted down business projections upon being formed or when seeking initial finance, but were never looked at nor added to again. Sure, the never looking at your initial goal part should probably be remedied, but it shows that it comes in handy in terms of improvised plans.

Of course, we don’t mean in the way Ben Brucker decided to change the walls of his office using 8,024 post-it notes. He explained that post-its were used as the firm was on the brink of moving, so needed a design that was non-permanent.

“One day I just got so tired of how sterile and boring our office felt, I thought I should do something about it,” he said. “Superheroes were the answer. I started working out the pixel grid and designing some characters.”

“Post-it note planning” is the favoured option of a third of all hospitality and events companies, with thousands of fast food outlets, cafes, bars and nightclubs reliant on planning on the hoof. A quarter of all transport and logistics SMEs also rely on improvised plans.

While post-it planning companies are the most disorganised and favoured by just nine per cent of British companies, the post-it note can fundamentally increase the creativity and collaboration of your team, as well as boost your company’s innovation.

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In his book, “Change by Design”, Ideo CEO Tim Brown recommended the post-it note as the perfect tool for brainstorming. He specifically proposed brainstorming sessions, during which each idea is written on a single post-it note and then stuck to a wall. Each participant is then given a stack of post-its and told to stick a note on each idea they like. The ideas that accumulate the most post-it votes progress to the next stage. This process continues until consensus emerges.

Abigail Sellen, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, suggested the method worked given that paper is a temporary medium, and that post-its were designed to be temporary.

Using short-term uses like brainstorming and innovation processes are a perfect application for the sticky little things – not for long-term financial plans, according to One Poll’s report. Furthermore, Sellen pointed out how useful it was to transfer work from private spaces to public spaces when working with others, as well as taking ideas from your mind and sharing them with colleagues.

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