From ballpoints to lighters: the power of an Aha! insight

Posted by Harry Mills on 8 June 2016 | Comments

shutterstock 106006013The power of an insight comes from its remarkable ability to reframe the way we think and motivate us to take action. A business-changing example of the power of a simple insight to multiply value comes from BIC, the famous ballpoint pen makers.

Marcel Bich founded the BIC Corporation following World War II. For nearly thirty years BIC saw itself as a maker of low cost plastic ballpoint pens.

 From the late 1940’s until the early 1970’s, BIC’s management spent most of its time trying to find expansion opportunities in the low cost writing implements market. 

Much of management’s time was spent identifying incremental improvements such as multiplying the number of colors or pen designs that would expand their market.Business was good but BIC wanted to grow faster. But how? 

Then one day an executive proposed that the company should consider making lighters. Imagine the reaction; “That’s not our business!” “We sell pens, not lighters!” “What do we know about lighters?” 

The Aha! moment came when one executive challenged the assumption that BIC was a low cost pen manufacturer. 

BIC, he declared should view itself as a “designer and maker of cheap, plastic, disposable items”. 

This simple Aha! value-multiplying flash of insight motivated BIC’s leadership to reconceive their market. In 1973 BIC launched the first disposable lighter. Two years later it released a plastic disposable shaver. Eventually BIC became number one in the world for branded pocket lighters and the number two for one-piece shavers.