Do you know how Milk Duds got their name? I do now, after reading an interesting article the other day about the history of eating popcorn in movie theaters. Back in the 1920s, when F. Hoffman & Company of Chicago came up with the idea of manufacturing a milk chocolate-covered caramel candy, the pieces were supposed to be perfectly round.
Have you ever seen a round Milk Dud? You haven’t—because the company found the candy impossible to produce in that form and considered the project a “dud.” But their employees liked the candy, and so did their families and friends. Soon the company realized it had a hit on its hands after all, and the candy flew off the shelves when it was introduced to the public.
So, what if Hoffman had abandoned the idea, steadfastly adhering to their original plan to produce perfectly round candies, despite the feedback they were receiving from employees and others? Well, nearly a century later, movie-goers, trick-or-treaters and scores of chocolate caramel lovers the world over would be deprived of the savory sweetness these tasty little goodies deliver.
The point is, sometimes as business owners, we come up with ideas for what we think would be great products or services, or we develop business plans that are supposed to be our roadmap for the next three to five years—and then we set out on a determined path to make the idea work or to follow the plan rigidly. Don’t get me wrong—focus is good, but blinders are not. Often when the original idea doesn’t work, we think it was a dud and we scrap it—or we waste more time and resources trying to make it work according to the original plan.
Sometimes, though, there’s dollars in those duds if we’d just listen to our customers, or if we’d just give ourselves permission to step back and look at things from a different angle. I, for one, plan to keep a box of Milk Duds on my desk from now on as a reminder that some of the best ideas come as a result of staying open to possibilities. Unless I get hungry and eat them before lunch.