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Jack Trout on Obvious Adams in Forbes (November 24, 2006)

Leading Blog
Five Tests of Obviousness

Obvious Adams: The Story of a Successful Businessman
Robert R. Updegraff

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Format: Paperback, 39pp.
ISBN: 9780961320300
Publisher: Updegraff Press
Pub. Date: June 1953

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Description and Reviews
From The Publisher:

Obvious Adams was first published as a short story in the Saturday Evening Post in April, 1916. Though it was the story of an advertising man, it was quickly recognized as presenting a germ idea basic to outstanding success in the business world and the professions.

Harper & Brothers brought out the story in book form in September of the year of its publication in the Post.

The book met with a ready sale. In reviewing it, the New York Times said, "The young man who is going to seek his fortune in the advertising business should have Obvious Adams for a handbook. Indeed, any young man who is going to seek his fortune in anything might be aided by the common sense and business acumen displayed in this little volume."

"Obvious Adams" soon became a legendary character. He was quoted in business conferences and at board meetings. Heads of companies wrote the author to ask if the hero of the story was a real person; that if he was they wanted to engage his services. His "obviousness" influenced the thinking of some of the outstanding industrial leaders of the day—men of the calibre of Elbert H. Gary, head of U.S. Steel, who read the book and wrote the author an appreciative letter.

That was nearly half a century ago. In the ensuing decades, two other publishers brought out editions of Obvious Adams. It became known as a business "classic" and found its way into anthologies of business literature.

For several years all editions of the book were out of print. So persistent was the demand for copies, especially from the heads of firms who want to plant the germ idea of the story in the minds of their younger executives and creative people, that this popular-priced edition was prepared.

The story may seem a bit old-fashioned to the modern reader, and at first he may regard it merely as a short story about an advertising man. But there is a basic idea in this simple story that is both universal and timeless.

To the original story the author has added, from his subsequent broad experience, five ways to test the obviousness of ideas and plans, and five creative suggestions for seeing and doing "the obvious."


"The young man who is going to seek his fortune in the advertising business should have Obvious Adams for a handbook. Indeed, any young man who is going to seek his fortune in anything might be aided by the common sense and business acumen displayed in this little volume."
The New York Times


readers index
Reader's Index

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• "Five Tests of Obviousness"

The problem when solved will be simple. The obvious is nearly always simple--so simple that sometimes a whole generation of men and women have looked at it without even seeing it.

Does it check with human nature? If you feel comfortable in explaining your idea or plan to your mother, wife, relative, neighbors, your barber and anyone else you know, it's obvious. If you don't feel comfortable, it probably is not obvious.

Put it on paper. Write out your idea, plan or project in words of one or two syllables, as though you were explaining it to a child. If you can't do this in two or three short paragraphs and the explanation becomes long, involved or ingenious--then very likely it is not obvious.

Does it explode in people's minds? If, when you have presented your plan, project or program, do people say, "Now why didn't we think of that before?" You can feel encouraged. Obvious ideas are very apt to produce this "explosive" mental reaction.

Is the time ripe? Many ideas and plans are obvious in themselves, but just as obviously "out of time." Checking time lines is often just as important as checking the idea or plan itself. " Pg. 27-30

About the Author

Robert R. Updegraff (1889-1977) was a business counselor serving as a personal advisor over a period of forty years to the top management of such leading companies as: Aluminum Company of America, American Brake Shoe Company, General Foods Corporation, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, Hart, Schaffner & Marx, Kellogg Company, Lever Bros. Company, Westinghouse Electric Corporation.

Table of Contents

The Story of Obvious Adams3
IObvious Adams5
IINotes by the Author Many Years Later25
Five Tests of Obviousness27
Five Creative Approaches to the Obvious33
About the Author39

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