It is important to realize how often failure occurs and how frequently it must be overcome, particularly in business, where stunning set-backs lie hidden behind the most popular products. World War I ended too soon for Wisconsin paper maker Kimberly-Clark –it was stuck with vast supplies of cellucotton, used in making gas mask filters and surgical dressings for American doughboys. Trying to find a use for the surplus, the company invented two products — Kleenex and Kotex. Neither did well at first. Rich ladies did not want to use Kleenex to remove makeup, the purpose for which it was originally marketed. As for Kotex, stores wouldn’t stock it, and customers were too embarrassed to ask for it.

But Kimberly-Clark stuck with both, and eventually, the products found a market. Persistence is often touted as the universal solution to overcome failure, as dictated by all those locker room edicts. Sometimes it works — yogurt was a niche foodstuff for infants and invalids until the dairy industry, finally, after years of trying, found a way to sell it.

Sometimes, though, perseverance only worsens failure–call it the Vietnam Syndrome. DuPont spent a quarter billion dollars in 1960s cash before it admitted that Corfam, its synthetic leather substance, was not the right material to use in shoes. R.J. Reynolds lost even more on its “smokeless” Premiere cigarette, relentlessly pouring resources into the doomed product, despite obvious drawbacks: The cigarettes were expensive to make, impossible to light with a match, difficult to keep lit and tasted like “burning plastic.”

More later…

brian patrick cork

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