From Idea to Inspiration

How some of the biggest ideas in business came to be.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the March 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »


Attorney Steven D. Strauss has gathered dozens of tales about big ideas from Post-Its and Palm Pilots to Viagra and Silly Putty. And he tells them all in The Big Idea (Dearborn Trade, $17.95). These accounts reveal how the TV remote, Teflon, Tupperware and many other products came to be, each chapter ending with a lesson that sums it up.

Some of the guidelines are obvious. No one will be dumbfounded to learn that "Nothing beats good publicity for increasing acceptance of an innovative product." But the stories illustrating these rules help make them memorable.

Take for instance the story of how Silly Putty languished for years as first a dismal industrial product and then a resoundingly unpopular toy. Then, when Silly Putty's promoter, ex-copywriter Peter Hodgson, was down to his last penny, a magazine writer happened on the now-familiar egg and touted it in The New Yorker. Hodgson netted 250,000 orders in three days. When he died 26 years later, the Silly Putty fortune was $140 million. That's the power of publicity.

Through the Ages

Today's entrepreneurs must cope with unprecedented generational diversity. They may employ four generations, from grizzled Traditionalists shaped by the Depression to Millennials just entering the work force. That's a challenge, but one baby boomer Lynne C. Lancaster and Generation Xer David Stillman help entrepreneurs overcome in When Generations Collide (Harper Business, $25.95). The two experts in managing age-related conflict boil complex issues down to their essences. For instance, they summarize each generation's attitude in key words: Traditionalists are loyal, Boomers optimistic, Xers skeptical and Millennials realistic. If you can remember those few words and look past gray beards or nose rings, you may solve the generational puzzle.


Austin, Texas, writer Mark Henricks has covered business and technology for leading publications since 1981.

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