The accidental innovator…and its impact on IKEA


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In her book Cheap – The high cost of discount culture, author Ellen Ruppel Shell recounts the story of how a skilled carpenter in Sweden ‘accidentally’ created one of the most powerful innovations of all time and one that fueled the rise of retailing giant IKEA.

Gillis Lundgren was an industrious man, and determined. A skilled carpenter working out of his home in the remote farming village of Almhult, Sweden, he had been hired by a local furniture dealer to build and deliver a table. Lundgren was comfortable with his tools, and crafting the piece was simple enough. But delivery was another matter: Try as he might, he couldn’t cram the thing into the trunk of his Volvo PV 445 Duet Station Wagon. After several failed efforts and some thought, he attacked the problem in a manner familiar to young boys the world over: “Oh, God, then” he was said to mutter, “let’s pull the legs off.”

Lundgren’s client that day in 1956 was Ingvar Kamprad, the farmer’s son who years later would be among the world’s richest men. A precocious and persistent entrepreneur, young Kamprad instinctively recognized the auspicious implications of Lundgren’s desperate fling at furniture dismemberment. “Flat packing,” as he came to call it, not only allowed large tables to be crammed into small vehicles, but it also squeezed the air out of the packaging process, thereby eliminating the cost of shipping vast quantities of empty space. In one stroke, two noisome problems were solved. Kamprad hired Lundgren into the company he called IKEA, where flat packing soon became an informing concept.

Here’s the takeaway: Innovative ideas can be as simple as pulling the legs off of furniture. What matters is not the size or complexity of the idea, but the impact that the idea has on the bottom line. In this case, it was clearly a game-changer.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patrick Lefler
Patrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group -- a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster by providing unique value at the product level: specifically product marketing, pricing, and innovation. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.


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