Change an industry

The Tasmanian who changed an industry

Let me take you back to 1902, when an enterprising young man had an idea. J.A. Birchall owned a small stationery shop in Launceston, Tasmania Australia. Someone who would change an industry without being a juggernaut.

Back at the turn of the century, if you wanted to communicate with your clients or just keep in touch with family and friends, you couldn’t email or text them. You could jump on your horse and head off across town, or you could write to them. And unlike today’s world, when you bought writing paper you did so in large individual sheets, usually rolled up that you would then cut to size before use. 

Our young hero could see problems from his customers’ point of view. He noticed that if it was windy or raining his customers would leave the shop fighting to keep their paper rolled neatly without it getting crushed or wet or blown down the road. There had to be a workable solution to this problem and that’s when Mr Birchall had his idea.

He wrote to his suppliers in England and suggested they cut the sheets down into smaller, more manageable sizes. He then evolved the idea and suggested they place a firm backing board under the sheets, so you didn’t have to roll them. He took it even further and suggested they get some gum and glue the top edges of the loose sheets together, so people could peel them off, one by one, as they needed them. 

It took a while to convince his suppliers, but eventually, J.A. Birchall’s creative scheme came into existence. A Tasmanian from Launceston invented the writing notepad that we know today.

What I love about this story, and I tell it often when speaking at conferences, is that it demonstrates three important pillars to change an industry and for business growth.

Firstly, the need to find gaps. Not just market gaps, but small gaps in the way you do things, that solve customers’ problems. Continually look for areas that can be improved bit by bit, inch by inch.

It also demonstrates that creative thinking and innovation belong to everyone and not just the leviathans of industry.

And finally, there’s a spirit in the story you often see throughout places like Tasmania. One which we can all learn from. It’s the spirit of having a crack. It’s the ability and courage to have a go and make ideas happen.

You don’t need to be a juggernaut to change an industry.

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Nigel Collin Speaker