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Innovations Come From Individuals, not Committees

By John Malmo
February 10, 2016

John Malmo is the Chairman Emeritus of Archer Malmo, and the post below is an excerpt from his 2003 book When on the mountain there is no tiger, Monkey Is King. A graduate of Boston University, Mr. Malmo worked in a variety of roles over the years before founding John Malmo Advertising in 1967, eventually merging with Ward Archer & Associates in 1991. His legendary insight and smart tone still resonate, and the lessons demonstrated in these stories are still relevant today. If you like this post and want to read more, simply request a copy of the full book, and we’ll send it along posthaste.

For hundreds of years man (and woman, of course) has been confounded in his efforts to melt a cold, flat, square pat of butter on a hot, round, skinny ear of corn.

Confounded, that is, until 1994. That’s when the first spray butter; well, butter-flavored spray; well, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter Spray showed up in supermarkets.

Why, you ask, after decades of WD-40 spray oil and PAM spray cooking oil, did it take so long for somebody to figure out you could spray some butter-tasting stuff on your corn and asparagus? And who is this “Vegetable Hall of Fame” genius who finally made this breakthrough, anyway?

The answers to these important questions are not easy. But some light is shed by the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter brand manager, Scott Russell.

“I’m not sure why it took so long. Somebody may have tried it earlier, but we were the first ones who were able to bring it to market,” says Russell.

Who did this wonderful thing, Mr. Russell?

“Well that’s not easy to say. I can’t remember exactly whose idea it was. The committee’s, I guess.”

And how big was the committee, Mr. Russell?

“Oh, about 20 people.”

The only thing 20 people ever created was a two-humps camel. Ideas of this quality come from an individual. One person said, “Hey, let’s try to spray the stuff.” It surely took several times 20 to make it do right, design the package and all the other stuff.

Ideas, though, come from individuals, not committees, and Russell “couldn’t (or wouldn’t) remember” which one it was.

Come clean, Mr. Russell. Being first, you guys must be making a killing on this stuff. “We don’t divulge margins, of course, but I can tell you we can’t make it fast enough.”

This opportunity, as so many others, had been out there for decades. The basic technology was in place. Lots of companies other than Van Den Bergh Foods, part of Unilever, could have done it, but they didn’t. Scott Russell and his bunch did.

In whatever product or service category you work, there are other ideas just as basic waiting for you to do something about them. They come not because consumers tell you they want them. They come from observing the problems consumers have with existing products and services in your category. Like trying to melt a cold, flat, square pat of butter on a hot, round, skinny ear of corn.

The one person says, “hey, let’s try…”

About Archer Malmo

Archer Malmo, with offices in Memphis, Tennessee, and Austin, Texas, combines brand thinking, data and technology to help growing brands adapt to the digital and creative complexities of today. Since 1952, we’ve continually evolved to changes in the industry, helping level the competitive playing field for midsize companies. The agency’s combination of discipline specialists, strategic orientation, creativity and culture yields strong client relationships and business results. With more than 150 people,  Archer Malmo is one of the oldest independent agencies in the U.S. and has been recognized by Advertising Age and others as a “Best Place to Work” and has been named to the “Inc. 5000” list of fastest-growing private companies in America for five consecutive years.