Steady as SPAM

by Dr. Anthony Paustian, the author of A Quarter Million Steps: Creativity, Imagination, & Leading Transformative Change

Lawn darts were all the rage in the 1980s. Released with good intentions of providing family-oriented outdoor entertainment, lawn darts were in essence foot-long spears tossed between opponents with hopes of hitting the inside of a small plastic ring positioned on the ground.

Scientists estimate the darts hit the ground with over 23,000 pounds per square inch of force.1 As a result, tossing these steel-tipped projectiles back and forth would ultimately send about seven thousand people to the emergency room over a ten-year span, three-fourths of which were children. In 1987, after a seven-year-old girl was struck and killed by an errant dart launched from the neighbor’s house, the Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reacted and officially outlawed the use of lawn darts.2 What began innocently enough as a family-fun idea changed into something destructive.

Years later, the game ultimately changed into something much safer—what is now the popular beanbag toss frequently found at football tailgates.

For over 165 years, the Arm & Hammer® name has been synonymous with baking soda and ultimately change. During its first century, baking soda was used primarily for what its name implied…baking. As that use declined, A&H began marketing its baking soda as a method to keep food tasting fresh by absorbing food odors in the refrigerator. As new refrigerator designs eliminated the need for it, A&H changed baking soda’s purpose yet again by adding it to a variety of laundry detergents, cleaning supplies and personal hygiene products. Each time consumer needs changed, A&H would proactively reinvent itself as a key ingredient in something else.3

Anyone who’s been alive for any length of time knows that things change. Sometimes change comes as the result of a proactive idea designed to add value to our lives. Other times, change occurs as a reaction to something that no longer meets the needs it was originally designed to serve. Either way, change happens, whether it’s through adding something new and useful or removing something old and unnecessary.

On the other hand, some things never seem to change. The mysterious meat product known as SPAM® has sold over eight billion cans of the same basic recipe for over 80 years.4  TWINKIES® have been around in their same form for over 85 years, and contrary to urban legend, their ingredients are like any other modern packaged food with a shelf life of only 25 days.5  By staying true to their core concepts while making consistent, minor alterations along the way, both have managed to maintain a steady path of relevancy despite the changes surrounding them.

So why do some things change while others don’t?

I believe the answer to that question can be found in the old axiom, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And when it breaks, or runs its course, or the current outcomes are no longer desired, the opportunity for a little imagination and creative thinking finally come into play. In other words, the driver of change is too often the need to create a new solution to a problem when the current, accepted solution no longer works.

I’m convinced that people in general actually like the “idea” of change, although they sometimes resist or choose not to accept it. People today seldom ever seem content, and they always appear to be trying to find their “happy” — that “something better” in life. The idea of change makes us believe we have power or control over our situations in life or the circumstances surrounding it.

Although we may think about changing something for the better, we tend to wait too long, until we have no choice because the pain attached to the current situation is now greater than the pain of changing it. This shows up in all areas of life—whether it’s related to personal finances or relationships, or something job-related such as issues with products, services, or personnel. By this point though, it’s often too late, or at the very least won’t result in the most creative or imaginative solution to the problem. Reactive is never a good substitute for proactive.

Always be aware and on the lookout. Waiting until the storm is already upon you isn’t the time to batten down the hatches, and it definitely doesn’t allow time to develop a good, creative solution to the problem. Change before change is necessary isn’t just being proactive, it’s often the key ingredient in the recipe for a steady, happy life — like the recipe found in SPAM.

Practice Challenge:  Do you find yourself frequently reacting to problems or situations? Life is full and complicated, but we all have to allow time to think and process. Regardless of how busy things can get, challenge yourself to set aside quiet time to think, process and plan — in other words, allow yourself the time to prepare for life’s storms before they hit. 

1Soniak, Matt. How One Dad Got Lawn Darts Banned.  Retrieved February 4, 2015, from the Mental Floss website:
2The Awful Truth About Lawn Darts.  Retrieved February 4, 2015, from the Democratic Underground website:
3The History of Arm & Hammer.  Retrieved August 24, 2015, from the Arm & Hammer website:
4The SPAM Story.  Retrieved February 4, 2015, from the SPAM website:
5Grabianowski, Ed. How Twinkies Work.  Retrieved February 4, 2015, from the How Stuff Works website:

©2015  Anthony D. Paustian

PaustianLargeHeadDr. Anthony Paustian is the author of four books including his most recent, A Quarter Million Steps. For more information, please visit his website at


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