Did you know that before the movie Office Space, it was impossible to get a Red Swingline stapler? That's because they didn't exist. They do now. And they've become a desirable object, highly sought after by cube dwelling office lackeys across the globe. For proof, just do a search on Flickr for "Red Swingline stapler".
Fact is that during the making of Office Space, production designer Edward T. McAvoy had a problem to solve. He needed to find a Stapler that was so special—the film's quirky character Milton would covet and reclaim at all costs if taken from him. McAvoy decided that a Swingline Red stapler would be the perfect object. Only problem was that after calling Swingline, he was told they didn't make Staplers in Red. So what did he do?
He painted one himself.
Now here's where it gets really interesting. After the infamous Red stapler made it's debut in the film, Swingline started getting scores of requests to purchase the Red staplers (which didn't exist). So they did what any good business would do.
They started producing them.
I've always loved this story for a couple of reasons. I'm a big fan of Office Space, but even more importantly I am amazed at the powerful and unexpected result from what seemed to be just a detail. After all, it was only painting a stapler. It's not like McAvoy was coming up with the next "big thing".
But ironically he did.
His simple gesture created the symbol for that movie. It's the one thing that almost everyone who sees it remembers. It's become an icon of corporate culture and maybe even a statement of rebellion against it. I was thinking about this recently because I realized that I haven't created any Red Swingline staplers lately. In fact, probably the last thing that came close to it was Blogger Anonymous, which was meant to be an inside joke, but before I knew it was getting more traffic and link backs way faster than this blog. And it was all a goof!
Why is it so hard to make Red staplers?
I wish I were creating more Red staplers both in my day job and here. Why does it seem so difficult? It's hard because sometimes we don't know when to do the right thing—what measures to take to see our ideas through the way we intended them to be. What if someone approached McAvoy and said "look! I found a Red stapler. It's not a Swingline, but who will notice"? Not good enough. For reasons not known, McAvoy wanted a Swingline. So when he found out that Swingline didn't make a Red product, he asked them if he could have one painted. When they agreed, he wasted no time taking the ordinary black stapler to the auto body shop for it's makeover.
Speaking of painting—anyone remember Bob Ross? Bob was the guy on TV with the spectacular Afro-like hairdo—who effortlessly painted outdoor scenes of "happy little trees" and "happy little clouds". When Bob would make a boo-boo on canvas, he called it a "happy accident" and he would magically make the "mistake" into an integral part of his painting. Maybe what it comes down to is that we underestimate the power of Red staplers and happy accidents. We become so obsessed with pleasing others that we forget to please ourselves.
The world needs more Red staplers and happy accidents. I need them. Crap. Where's my can of paint?