ART FRY MAY not be a household name, but he long ago acquired legendary status at 3M. It is his story that encapsulates better than any principle that innovation in the commercial world does not derive from some mysterious ability or depend on a sudden stroke of genius. In nine cases out of 10, it is the result of observation, application and dedication mixed in varying amounts. About 30 years ago, Mr Fry worked as a technician in the 3M adhesives division and spent his spare time singing in his local church choir. Needing something unobtrusive to mark the page in his hymnbook, he experimented by placing a small amount of 'non-sticky' adhesive on one side of a strip of paper. The product had originally been developed in the laboratory but put aside as having no apparent commercial value. Finding it was just what he needed, Mr Fry mentioned this unexpected use to his colleagues. From that point on, the company swung into action. Samples were checked, consumer feedback gathered and products tested. Before long, the first yellow 'Post-it' notes were on sale in the United States and on the way to becoming a standard stationery item in offices around the world. Today, the 'Post-it' brand is one of the most powerful among 3M products and has its own division developing further innovative wares. 'It remains a great example of what the company does best,' said 3M Hong Kong managing director George Chao. 'From a failed adhesive, a whole new division was born. It developed from one idea but was made possible by successful teamwork in creating an initial product that met customer needs. Although Art Fry deserves a lot of credit, we always say it takes a group of heroes to make something like that happen.'