10/19/2010 11:50 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

So Who Roots for a Chip Bag, Anyway?

"Awhile back someone put the new biodegradable Sun Chips bag on the white board. Well -- they're pulling it! Boo, Addy"

That was an email I received from one of my colleagues last week. It was addressed to everyone in my company.

It caught my eye, and got me thinking. How often do you see folks inspired enough by a potato chip bag to hang it on their company white board? And how often does someone go to the trouble of publicly expressing their sadness when a potato chip bag is discontinued? Personally, I've never seen it happen.

True, the Sun Chips bag was anything but ordinary. It was a technological feat that received a standing ovation when it was announced at a conference I attended a few years back.

But it wasn't the technology that drew fans. It was the idea that this perfectly ordinary item could actually become an icon of hope. The Sun Chips bag countered the perception that green was the domain of the privileged. Anyone could have it. Anyone could compost it. And anyone could feel a bit better about their trash because of it.

And now it was gone.

My colleague's email, as I mentioned, went out to the entire company -- all 75 of us. And by day's end, it had generated about 10 internal replies of sympathy for the poor bag.

Then, another colleague wrote a short blog piece on the topic, which gathered a further 25 responses. Most of the responses were at least 5 lines long. Some included hyperlinks and references to both science and psychology. These folks were obviously more than casually interested in the fate of the Sun Chips bag.

All this activity prompted me to check into the amount of press the story had generated.

There were over 19,000 Google links to Sun Chips Bag Discontinued. They ranged from the gloaters ("RIP F***ing Annoying Sun Chips Bag") to the hindsight geniuses who admired Sun Chips' effort, but pointed out the bag was doomed all along because of the decibels.

The majority of the articles, however, focused on innovation. In fact, the writers revealed a depth of understanding of the innovation process I was truly impressed by.

Fail Fast, Fail Forward

They generally began by bemoaning the fact the bag was gone, and expressing frustration with a public that wouldn't tolerate progress if it crinkled too loudly.

Then they struck a hopeful chord, saying Sun Chips would certainly learn from this, go back to the drawing board, and bring out a better version of the bag.

In my business, we call this fast-fail innovation. And it's absolutely key to developing game-changing products.

Fast-fail innovation provides a number of benefits that include:

  • Creating a culture that embraces experimentation
  • Developing wisdom (learning from your own experience) vs. intelligence (learning from research or books)
  • Driving partnerships with suppliers who can provide the technology you need when you don't have the time to develop it in-house.

Fast-fail is one of four forms of innovation we recommend for a robust innovation pipeline. It's a terrific way to 'learn as you go', and it helps companies develop both technological and consumer expertise (ie "people don't like noisy bags") as they fail toward ultimate victory.

I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the Sun Chips 2.0 bag. I believe it will ultimately provide Sun Chips with technology they can leverage into a brand advantage.

From the amount of positive buzz surrounding this event, I know I'm not the only one rooting for them.