Proximity Case Study — Baby Powder Aha

Johnson & Johnson

Fred Kilmer The Napoleon of Baby Powder?

Fred Kilmer
The Napoleon of Baby Powder?

Johnson & Johnson was started in 1886.

It made sterile, ready-to-use medicated bandages that vastly reduced the infection rate from surgical procedures.

Then in 1890, a doctor complained of skin irritation from the bandages. Fred Kilmer, the company’s director of research, sent the doctor a packet of Italian talc. The doctor liked it. Kilmer then proposed that Johnson & Johnson include a small can of talc with some of its bandages as part of the standard pack­age.

Customers liked the talc and asked to buy it separately. That surprised the company, but it quickly agreed. The powder became a major product line, one that is famous to this day.

Fred's Aha

Fred’s Aha

[In their book, Built to Last,] Collins and Porras cite the official company history: “The Johnsons got into the baby powder business by accident.” This was surely a creative and not an adaptive response, but was it really an accident? It might have looked like one to the company as a whole, but how did it look to Kilmer himself?

The company was surprised, but he was not. He had a coup d’oeil and the resolution to follow it through. The company had the good sense to follow his lead and not stick to its previous plan. Yet expert intuition and not “accident” is a better way to describe the path of success. Accidents happen to people. They are not something people do. Successful strategy is something you do, something that starts with coup d’oeil.


The above is quoted from The Art of What Works by William Duggan.  Chapter 3, “The Art of Success:  Expert Intuition in Business, Page 53.

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