Innovation: challenge and resilience-the story of WD-40

by Joe Lafferty on October 21, 2009

I was in conversation with a leading CEO in Scotland recently who’s business is all about innovation.  We began to speak about innovation and he asked me if I knew what WD-40 was & where it came from.

WD-40

Of course, I knew, as an ex-engineer, that is is a water dispersant, hence the term WD.  And, as a proud owner of old bangers, it was a vital part of my ‘toolbox.’ As I had to constantly spray it on my wet spark plugs and HT lead (remember them?) when my car refused to start…

“Yes, you got that right, it is a water dispersant, but where did it come from?”

I had to confess I didn’t know.  He then told me that it was developd by NASA. They were trying to find ways of getting rid of moisture before takeoff in rockets – moisture in the wrong place could be disasterous!  Ok, i got that.

“But what does the 40 mean in the name” he asked.

I was stumped.

“It was the fortieth attempt at creating an effective solution – hence WD-40!”

Made me think of some innovation workshops I’ve been running with my colleague Niall recently, where the Chief Executive of the Company has challenged the organisation to get rid of the ‘treacle’ that slows down or stifles innovation.  We need the opposite of treacle – and someone came up with WD-40!

This story reinforces both the challenge that stimulates innovation – a real problem to be solved.  Also, innovation requires hard work and resilience. Not giving up. Being willing to fail.

What if they had stopped at WD-39?  I’d never have got my old bangers to start…

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Timon June 8, 2011 at 11:30 am

Thank you – very insightful/inspirational

Joe Lafferty June 8, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Glad you liked it Timon!

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