Three Innovation Lessons from WD-40
Graham Milner heads up Team Tomorrow, the innovation unit at WD-40. He spoke at the recent BIF conference and shared three tips he’s learned in his nearly 20 years at the company.
- Recognize that in consumer complaints you have a rich source of innovation potential. For years, customers complained that they lost the straw on the bottle of WD-40. It took a while, but eventually the internal team collaborated with an external industrial design firm (Gad Shaanan Design), who came up with a “smart straw” system, that built the straw right into the can. It added $1.25 to the product’s price, but as far as consumers were concerned, it was a small price to pay for the convenience. Or, as DIY’er Doug wrote to them, “it’s about damned time.”
- Realize that cost and value are two different things. “This is a struggle we fight every day,” said Milner, who recounted the tension between his innovation team and those who actually have to market or sell it. But, he added, don’t be confused by cost and value. As another customer commented after the introduction of the smart straw, the extra $2 in price was worth $100 in convenience.
- Persevere with passion. It took the WD-40 founders 40 attempts to perfect the water displacing formula that makes up WD-40 (hence its name). The persistence paid off: The formula is still in use today.