Maybe it's the sticky back. Maybe it's the innumerable bright colors and sizes. Whatever it is, scientists have recently learned something important about Post-it notes: People who use them get stuff done.
Specifically, they get other people to get stuff done.
A set of experiments by Sam Houston State University professor Randy Garner has found that when asking someone to take care of a task, adding the personal touch of a sticky note can make it something others want to complete. His discovery suggests that a sticky note with a handwritten request on it is more like a favor than a task or request, and people are more likely to want to help someone who asks a favor than demands a result.
In one experiment, he sent surveys to three groups of 50 professors. One group got a survey with a Post-it asking for the survey's return. Another group got the same survey with a handwritten message on the cover. A third got a cover letter but no handwritten message.
Seventy-six percent of the professors returned the survey if they'd received a Post-it with a handwritten note, compared to just 36 percent who returned with a cover letter only. (The handwritten note without a sticky was returned slightly less than half of the time.)
Why does this happen? The Harvard Business Review suggests that an out-of-place note looks a bit like clutter that needs cleaning up, is tough to ignore, is personalized and ultimately makes receiver feel important because of the individualized attention.
Other tests Garner undertook had similar results: A handwritten note was useful, but once it was put on a Post-it, it worked magic.
It isn't clear why the study is making news just now. It was originally published in 2004. Perhaps it just needed a sticky note to remind everyone it was there!