Japan and Chocolates
Just in case you’d forgotten, today is Valentine’s Day. Millions of women across the world will be happy all day knowing that the man of their dreams will be coming home with a gift such as a huge box of chocolates (that is, if he wants to survive the rest of the evening!) One notable exception to this ‘rule’ comes from Japan. In fact, it is Japanese men who will be lucky enough to receive that same gift from their loved ones. Traditionally it is ladies who offer chocolates to men. How could this be? Some strange steeped in the rich cultural past of the nation? Nope…just a typing error!
Valentine’s Day can be traced back to a Geoffrey Chaucer poem in the 14th Century, but celebrations really took off in the West during the mass production age of the 19th Century. In Japan, Morozoff Ltd. introduced the notion for the first time in 1936 running an ad for foreigners. In 1953 it began promoting the giving of heart-shaped chocolates but due to a typing error it was suggested that women rather than men should give them to those they loved. And in the one tiny slip a tradition was born.
Accidents will happen
Of course, accidents do happen, as many surprised parents will tell you! Every medical student knows that Penicillin was discovered when a window was left open and some bacteria accidently blew onto a petri dish. Every business student knows that Post-Its was the result of a glue that didn’t work properly. Fireworks were invented in China over 2000 years ago and legend has it that they were accidentally invented by a cook who mixed together charcoal & sulfur.
Cornflakes were invented when Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his brother accidently boiled some wheat and then left it outside to dry. Chocolate Chip Cookies are supposedly the result of a failed baking experiment by Ruth Graves Wakefield back in 1930. They have been big business ever since, not to mention a cooking gold standard by which to judge every American mom.
Lucky business models, from haircuts to high tech
Even business models can come out to be developed by chance or unforeseen circumstances. The First World War sent many women into factories to replace the men who had gone off to fight. These ladies quickly realised that having short hair kept in place with hair grips or bobby pins was much easier to work with. This bob haircut became fashionable soon after the war but traditional ladies hair salons did not cater for this. Men’s barber’s shops thus become literally inundated with queues of women wanting their hair cut and did a flourishing trade for many years.
On a more modern, high tech note, Intel’s business model originally evolved around the design and manufacture of DRAM chips. In an unplanned experiment, it ventured into making microprocessors for a Japanese calculator maker, Busicom. Within 10 years the microprocessor segment accounted for 95% of its revenue.
Fooled by Randomness
In Fooled by Randomness and later in The Black Swan Nassim Nicholas Taleb has argued that we understate how much luck can play an important part of our lives and the success we have. Such blessings can even affect entire areas. Some countries are bestowed with natural resources or climates that enable them to develop their economies.
The birth of Virgin Airlines
Of course, having good fortune is one thing, using it is another. Richard Branson says that he created his airline whilst on holiday in St. Lucia. On his way home his flight was delayed. At this point, most of us would just spent our time cursing our bad luck; no so Mr. Branson. Rather, he went looking for someone with their own plane, hired it and then charged some other unlucky travellers to cover the cost. And a new industry was born. There are people who see opportunity wherever they travel.
Of course, none of this is going to help if you are a guy and you have forgotten to get a present for your nearest and dearest…unless you’re Japanese, of course, in which case you can just put your feet up and wait for her to come home!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
International Affairs in Higher Education