Four Great Innovations Past and Present: Four Disruptive Players from Four Different Industries and How They did it – Part Two Rainbow Loom

Posted by on Aug 7, 2014 in Commentaries | 0 comments

In our July 7th commentary piece, we shared what Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam had said at the DBS Asian Insights Conference on 4th Jul 2014.   Mr Shanmugaratnam had said that it was unlikely that Singapore would ever return to the formula of relying on cheap labour for its competitiveness.  Instead, Singaporean corporations and businesses must rely on an innovative culture within the organisation to spearhead productivity and innovation to outperform the competition.

We listed in another earlier article “4 Signs Why your Business will need to Innovate in the New Economy” four imperatives for in-house innovation in corporations and businesses:

1) Factors of Production

2) Sophisticated Domestic Demand

3) Supporting Workforce and Industries

4) Domestic Rivalry

In the first of our four-part article, we have shared the Mazda MX5 as the first of four great examples of in-house innovations past and present.  This part two on “The Rainbow Loom” follow up with an example of a great innovation that started in a garage, in a home environment with a special highlight on “sophisticated domestic demand”.  Again, at the end of this part, we also highlight the relevant Beanstalk Creative™ Design Thinking principles and techniques that was embedded within the factors of innovation for this particular example.


Part 2.  Rainbow Loom (2011)

In-House Innovation Toy Rainbow Loom Rubber Bands

What is the Innovation:

Rainbow Loom is a plastic loom used to weave colourful rubber bands into bracelet, charms and other objects one might fancy.  The kit consists of two plastic template boards, a hook, 24 plastic clips and 600 multi-coloured mini rubber bands.  From it, 24 bracelets can be woven into patterns similar to those traditionally used in lanyards and friendship bracelets, but more complex and colourful.  Rainbow Loom is the invention of Ng Cheong Choon, a Malaysian immigrant of Chinese descent with a graduate degree in mechanical engineering now residing in the US .  He came up with the idea in 2010 and began selling the kit while employed as a in-house crash-test engineer for Nissan. As of September 2013, it had sold over 1.2 million units, according to Ng, who has sued the makers of rival products FunLoom and Cra-Z-Loom for patent infringement.

It was named one of the three most popular toys of 2013 by Cyber Monday Awards and was the most-searched toy on Google that same year.

In 2013 the Rainbow Loom fad inspired a 204-page book, The Loomatic’s Interactive Guide to The Rainbow Loom, by Suzanne Peterson, owner of Learning Express Toys of Reno, Nevada, and a 48-page book, Totally Awesome Rubber Band Jewelry: Make Bracelets, Rings, Belts & More with Rainbow Loom(R), Cra-Z-Loom(TM) & FunLoom(TM).


Factor to Highlight: Sophisticated Domestic Demand

Rainbow Loom began as an attempt by the inventor to impress his two daughters, Teresa, now 15, and Michelle, now 12.  One afternoon, the girls were making bracelets out of small rubber bands, and when Mr Ng tried to join in, he found that his fingers were too big.  He went to work in his in-house garage workshop creating a wooden board with push pins, which helped improve his dexterity.  However, the board was too bulky to win his daughters’ approval.  They also did not see why they should use an instrument to do something that they could do simply and equally well with their hands.

Mr Ng persisted, adding rows of pins.  “I was putting pins on two and three and four rows, criss-crossing the rubber bands and making big bracelets,” he said.  Finally, the girls were impressed by the complexity of the designs that the loom could achieved and were very soon hooked, and they began to use the board to make gifts for friends and neighbours.

With the encouragement of the family members, Mr Ng proceeded to have the toy manufactured in China and turn the home into an in-house assembly workshop, selling the toy on-line.

They had limited success selling Rainbow Loom online, and their early attempts at placing it in major toy stores fell flat. Part of the problem was that people didn’t know what to make of the newfangled toy. To educate potential customers, Mr Ng and his daughters posted instructional videos on YouTube, and he bought Google ads to help spread the word.

In the summer of 2012, Mr Ng’s luck changed. The owner of a Learning Express Toys store, a chain of 130 franchises, placed an order for 24 looms, and, two days later, she called to reorder. Soon, other Learning Express Toys stores were clamoring for Rainbow Looms. The key to selling the kits, it turned out, was educating buyers about how to use them.  Specialty toy and craft stores were just the place for loom demonstrations and classes.

The role of Mr Ng’s daughters as sophisticated domestic “buyers” of his invention was a critical success factor in this in-house innovation example.


Relevant Beanstalk Creative™ Design Thinking principles and techniques

Mr Ng acted immediately on his desire to develop a tool and produced a quick-and-dirty instrument for immediate use during that afternoon making bracelets with his daughters.  This initial “prototype” quickly became increasingly sophisticated.  The use of prototype, trial-runs and pilots is an important design thinking technique that is based on the “hands-on” principles of the Beanstalk Creative™ Design Thinking methodology.


Please read Part Three of this article.

If you have any queries about our in-house innovation training and design thinking workshops, please do get in touch with us!

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