Office icon: the Post-it note

Forgive the trashy Nineties film reference, but it’s so ingrained in my mind that it really wouldn’t be right not to mention it. I’m talking about Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, with the fantastic tagline “The Blonde Leading The Blonde”.

Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa “Phoebe from Friends” Kudrow) are ditzy 20-somethings who want to expel the loser image they had at high school. In an attempt to impress their old classmates at the ten-year reunion, they decide to reinvent themselves as “businesswomen”, and claim to have invented the Post-it note – “Wouldn’t it be great if there was, like, this, like, ‘stickum’ on the back of the paper so, like, if I laid it on top of the other paper it would just, like, stay, you know, without a paper clip?” Clever indeed. The girls then fall out when Romy decides it was just her that invented it and all Michele did was decide to make it yellow. The lifelong friends arrive at the reunion now sworn enemies, and things get worse when Romy marches up to her former nemeses – a bitchy, Heathers-style trio of Alpha girls – to stake her claim in the invention. “So what do you do?” asks Bitch number 1. “I invented Postits”, declares Romy. Heather Mooney, a savvy, chain-smoking former classmate with a grudge, storms over and pitches in, “You did not.” “Yeh I did”, shouts Romy. “You did not.” “Yeh I did.” “You did not.” “Yeh I did… well who did then?” “A guy named Art Fry from the 3M Corp who studied at business school.” Much nasty cackling ensues. It all turns out alright in the end though – Michele stands by Romy and shares the humiliation, and the blondes come out on top with a series of fabulous outfits and a couple of cute guys to boot.

And just like Romy, that Mr Arthur Fry had an accomplice too – fellow American Spencer Silver, who invented the not-too-sticky-but-just-sticky-enough glue that made the iconic product possible. It all started in 1968 when Silver was trying to find a strong adhesive and inadvertently invented a weak one instead. All was not lost, however. Six years later, fellow 3M scientist Fry was looking for something to mark his place in his hymnbook at church – something that wouldn’t just fall straight out again. He thought of using Silver’s glue to coat his markers, hence stumbling across the perfect formula – something that easily sticks to things, but is just as easily removed without damaging the surface: the ideal temporary reminder. Post-its hit the general market in 1980 and there are now over 600 different Post-it products.

It’s testament to this humble stationery product that it’s always the thing that disappears from desks – many is the time me and my colleagues have accused each other of Post-it theft (in fact it’s an ongoing war) and many is the time I’ve trekked up to the stationery cupboard only to find we’ve run out, again. Although the classic Post-it is canary yellow and 7.5cm squared, they now come in all colours, shapes and sizes – hot pink lips being one of my favourites. The only problem I have is that I tend to write just about everything on Post-its rather than in notebooks, and consequently end up with masses of the things covering every surface of my workstation. I could of course use the computerised versions now, but somehow they’re just not very satisfying – it’s the glue you see, you need the satisfaction of sticking them onto things and peeling them off again. That Romy, sorry, Art Fry wasn’t just a pretty face.

Published in Onoffice magazine, March 2008. To view it context, click on the PDF link below.

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