3 Innovation Lessons from Tootsie Pops

For those millennials reading this, there is a classic 1970 TV commercial for Tootsie Pop that has taken on a cult following and the rest of us likely remember.  Here is a link: Tootsie Pop!

tootsie roll pop and innovation

In the commercial, a young man asks "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?"

So, what can we learn regarding innovation and this Tootsie Pop commercial?

1. Ask questions.  The young man in the question first went to Mr. Cow, Mr. Fox, and Mr. Turtle, as experts, to ask his question.  The first three characters asked admitted that they didnÕt know but they suggested other "experts" that the young man should ask.  This eventually brought the young man to Mr. Owl, as the wisest.  

We all know that when posed with the question, Mr. Owl, as the wisest of the experts, offered to help.  After three licks he lost his willpower and bit into the Tootsie Pop.  He then returned the now Tootsie Pop free stick to the young man, and said it takes only 3 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

2. Experiment.  Through Mr. Owl, an experiment was run to determine the number of licks.  Arguably the experiment "failed," but the answer was correct.  It took only three licks for Mr. Owl to be overcome and bit into that candy shell and reach the center of the Tootsie Pop.  And from that experiment, the young man has learnings.  

3. Pivot.  Because of Mr. OwlÕs actions, the young man learned that he needs to pivot and rephrase the question to something like, "How many licks does it take to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop without biting into the candy shell?"  However, without experimenting with Mr. Owl, he may not have known enough to even be able to know how to ask the right way.  

Each of those learnings - Ask Questions, Experiment, and Pivot - are exactly what each of us should be doing with our own products and services to improve them and innovate.  

And before anyone dismisses Tootsie Pops as real science, I would like to point out that there are at least three scientific studies that have been publicized showing the number of licks it does take to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop.

Purdue University reported that its licking machine, modeled after a human tongue, took an average of 364 licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.  University of Michigan recorded that his customized licking machine required 411 licks to reach the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop.  And Swarthmore Junior High used human lickers, reporting an average of 144 licks to reach the center of a Tootsie Pop.  

What projects are you working on where you should be asking more questions?  How can you more quickly and affordably experiment to learn more?  And how are you pivoting when you do learn more?