How often do you do what you have never done?

Today is February 24 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “if you want something you’ve never had, are you willing to do something you’ve never done?” Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well will involve doing something that you have never done. This is akin to Albert Einstein’s observation that “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we use when we created them.”

Practicing the art of living well will challenge you to think and act differently with each passing year. Today’s reflection involves asking yourself how often you currently do what you have never done? If you notice that your life so far has been void of new thinking or new doing, perhaps it is time to rethink such an approach. In the 1930s, brothers Dick and Mac McDonald were struggling to make a living running a movie theater in California when they noticed that a nearby hot dog stand always seemed to do a lot of business. They used new thinking and new doing to change their lives, and in so doing, altered the restaurant business forever.

With a $5,000 loan, the McDonald brothers started the Airdrome hot dog stand in 1937. By 1940, they moved it from Arcadia to San Bernardino and changed the name to McDonald's Barbeque. Despite success, the brothers wanted to do things better and faster. In a bold move, based on new thinking and new doing yet again, they temporarily shut down the place in 1948 and reopened with a new, experimental approach. They simplified the menu to focus on burgers, fries and milkshakes and got rid of those characteristic carhops, who were ubiquitous in the industry at the time.

Adopting the process that revolutionized the auto industry, the brothers used an assembly line to prepare their food and improve the efficiency of the restaurant. They called it the Speedee System. The retooled restaurant struggled at first, though, and fired carhops heckled the brothers. Once McDonald’s replaced potato chips with french fries and introduced triple-thick milkshakes, however, the business began to take off with families and businessmen drawn by the cheap, 15-cent hamburgers and low-cost menu. Their new restaurant not only paid off but was to soon set the standard for success in the fast-food industry.

While they worked very much in tandem, Richard McDonald, who was known as Dick, is credited with two talismans of the McDonald's empire, the Golden Arches and the sign that proclaims how many hamburgers the chain has sold -- a figure now high in the billions. Much like the McDonald brothers, Art Fry and Spencer Silver use new thinking and new doing to launch a product unfamiliar to anyone since it had never been on the market.

In 1968, while working at 3M trying to create a super strong adhesive for the aerospace industry, Dr. Spencer Silver accidentally managed to create an incredibly weak, pressure-sensitive adhesive agent called Acrylate Copolymer Microspheres that could easily be peeled off a surface and was also reusable. Since 3M management viewed Silver’s creation as too weak to be useful, the discovery was a dead end. Silver spent the next five years trying to figure out a way to use his discovery. In 1974, Art Fry, a 3M product development engineer, attended one of Silver’s seminars on the low-tack adhesive. Fry sung in a church choir in St. Paul, Minnesota and had a problem of accidentally losing his song page markers in his hymn book while singing. From this, he eventually had the stroke of genius to use some of Silver’s adhesive to help keep the slips of paper in the hymnal.

During the seminar Silver placed some of the adhesive on a bulletin board to demonstrate how it worked. With his hymnal issue in mind, Fry suggested Silver was using the adhesive backward. Instead of sticking the adhesive to the bulletin board, the adhesive should “put it on a piece of paper and then we can stick it to anything.” To try this approach Fry and Silver found a lab with paper and did an experiment. The original notes’ yellow color was chosen by accident, as the lab next-door to the post-it team had only yellow scrap paper to use. 3M launched the product as “Press ’n Peel” in stores in four cities in 1977, but results were disappointing. A year later, 3M instead issued free samples directly to consumers in Boise, ID, with 94 percent of those who tried them indicating they would buy the product. On April 6, 1980, “Press ’n Peel” was reintroduced in US stores as “post-it notes.”

How often do you do what you have never done?