original frisbee

The origin of the Frisbee is one of the most powerful examples of professionals failing to see additional opportunity in a product – and kids instinctively doing so.

In the early 1900s, the Frisbie Pie Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut was doing brisk business selling their pies from trucks that would go neighborhood to neighborhood. Managers looked at their mobile pie operation and saw a good business.

The pie salesmen saw something different. 

Returning to a neighborhood where they had sold pies days earlier, they saw kids throwing the empty pie pans to each other through the air. To warm others that a metal disc was about to be airborne, they would yell “Frisbie” as they threw it. 

It wasn’t until several years later that Walter Fredrick Morrison saw kids throwing the pie plates back and forth and designed a more aerodynamic—and impact friendly—disc from plastic.

Walter Fredrick Morrison promoting his Pluto Platters, the forerunner of the Frisbee, in the 1950s
Walter Fredrick Morrison promoting his Pluto Platter in the 1950s

He patented his “Pluto Platter” flying saucer toy and later sold it to toy company Wham-O. The company paid tribute to the discs origins by renaming it “Frisbee,” and the rest is backyard and beach history.

There is a lesson in the origin of the frisbee – a pie plate became the Frisbee we all know today because of impermanence. The Frisbie pie plate had a firm identity: it was a pie plate. It’s function was also set it place: it holds pies.

The kids that picked up an empty Frisbie Pie Plate knew what it was and what it was supposed to be for, but their agile minds looked past those definitions and thought This Could have another identity and function. The impermanence of a pie plate enabled the Frisbee to be created. 

There are opportunities contained in many objects whose use and identity we take for granted. Realizing everything is in an impermanent state allows the object’s next reality to emerge. 

Opportunity suffocates in minds closed off by previous notions and certainties. The Frisbee story holds an important lesson: Put a pie plate the hands of an agile mind, and it leads to a Frisbee. Put a pie plate in the hands of a locked mind, and it will most likely lead to another pie.

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