Innovative Thinking – An Actual Product – Blog 078

An Actual Product

This idea came full circle and formed a company out of it.  The company has been in business since 1999, nearly 20 years.


This idea formed while I was a marketing director for the Port of San Diego and San Diego International Airport.  The problem was their public image and their interaction with the Port.  Even though they owned and managed 16 parks, including all of the hotels, museums, shops, and marinas along the 21 miles of San Diego Bay from Tijuana to Point Loma, no one knew who they were or cared.

I was asked to create a publicity campaign to attract more attention to the Port and put them in a good light.  And oh, by the way, I had no staff and no budget to do this.

I thought about it for a while and realized that they weren’t missing the businesses or Navy.  They interacted a great deal every day.  I determined that they were missing families.

After working with Apple in the mid-1980’s I understood Steve Jobs idea of putting computers in the elementary schools so when the kids got to middle and high school, they would expect Apple computers.  And, when they entered the workforce, it would be Apple Computers they would want.

I also understood how McDonald’s differentiated themselves from all the other fast food restaurants by providing the kids habitrails, the tubes the kids played in.  Great idea!  When my daughter was young and had a choice of fast food for lunch, she would always pick McDonald’s because of their play gyms.  I liked it too because I could bring a book and get an hour with little interruption.

I knew if we stole the children, the parents would follow.  Figuratively of course.


Knowing this much, let’s walk through this innovation together.  Grab your pen and pad and answer the questions I pose.

I have to lay out all the questions and answers here, but at any time, put the book down and try to guess the next question and the answer to that question on your own.  You can solve this!

What we know: We need to get to kids.

  1. Question: Why kids, again?

Answer:  Grab the kids and you have the parents, families, and the schools.  Go ahead, write it down.


  1. Question: What do kids like to do?

Answer:  They like to play.


  1. Question: What do kids like to play with?

            Answer:  Toys.


What we know:  I have no budget, so I can’t advertise.


  1. Question: What communication media do I have that doesn’t cost anything?

Answer:  The Internet.


What we know:  Toys need to be tangible.


  1. Question: What is the only device connected to the Internet  / computer that can take something from the Internet and make it tangible?

Answer:  The Printer.

Here’s the big reveal:  I need to create a tangible toy for kids to play with that can be distributed over the Internet!

When I developed the final product, I realized its potential as a corporate specialty advertising tool.  My first pitch was to United Airlines.  Here’s how it went.

“What if I could create a specialty advertising product similar to a tea-shirt or coffee mug, with your marketing message and logo, which we can change every 15 minutes, where your customers, who will represent all demographics, men, women, and children, rich & poor, across all cultures and ages will actually ask for it, and I’ll handle the manufacture and fulfillment anywhere in the world, 24 / 7 / 365, instantly, and each time I fulfill one it will only cost you 10¢.  Are you interested??


Our first product was this.

After the first month, United contacted me to re-negotiate.  They said that even at 10¢ each, they didn’t have a budget for the
750,000 people who came to their website.

Since then, I have completed contracts with British Airways, General Motors, The City of San Diego, the Department of the Interior, Kia, and more.  The store now has over 100 products that cater to teachers, parents, school kids and their projects.

I have three U.S. Patents on the concept and have had more than 45,000 customers and generated more than $1 million!

The company is called Paper Models, Inc. and can be found at  Here, you can download nearly 50 free paper models.

What started out as a fun project to increase the awareness of the Port of San Diego, turned into a company that provides fun for kids and parents, instant school projects, and corporate specialty give-aways.

The purpose of this chapter was to give you simple examples of how you can learn to ask the right questions, arrive at the correct answers, and develop ideas that can help you in your daily life or actually become a company.

You Can Do It!


Lon Safko
Serial Innovator, Keynote Speaker, Trainer, Innovative Thinking


Tags: innovative thinking, creative, creative thinking, Innovation, critical thinking definition, innovation definition, critical thinking skills, creative process

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