What happens if we try to “reinvent the wheel,” or any age-old model for that matter, even if it’s impossible or fruitless?
Most, if not all, of us know the timeless story of the Wright brothers – two daring and ambitious young men who took to the air despite being up against the greatest of perceived odds at the time. It’s also a story that many take for granted on a basic level everyday. Consider this: on average, there are, at least, half a million people in the air at any given time of day. I’d wager that only a small fraction of that amount even notices or concerns themselves with that fact, though.
Over one hundred years ago the first powered, sustained, and controlled flight took place. Since then, countless advances in aviation and aeronautics have come and gone. All the while, numerous fields and industries have popped into and out of existence over the years; each having some degree of impact on humanity. The most recent of which, having the capability to change the world profoundly: the internet, the smartphone/iPhone, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, drones, 3-D printing – the list goes on and on.
See, as of recent, I’ve heard a phrase that has me slightly worried, “there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.” I’ve heard this phrase from several different people, with good intentions and some degree of power or influence within well-established, successful organizations. Initially, the phrase didn’t bother me. Yet, after hearing it so many times I began to rethink the phrase and whether it’s logic held weight.
My conclusion is this: seemingly every major advancement or innovation has come from wondering what possibilities lie beyond “reinventing the wheel” in some form or fashion. Take our initial example of the Wright Brothers – they took the original design of the wheel, spun it ninety degrees, modified it appropriately and put it on the front of a modified bicycle frame allowing one person to experience true flight, if only temporarily. Now, the descendants of their reinvention carry millions of people across the globe simultaneously, with low to no error, and around the clock.
So, what’s the take away here for our modern day society of blossoming entrepreneurs so often enamored by the latest app or software? What action steps are there to be had in this thought process?
Well, figuring out how to answer that is part of the fun of being an entrepreneur, isn’t it?
To help out, here’s a formula that seemed to work quite well for the Wright Brothers:
1) Look for a big problem that not many people are focused on – the radical, crazy kind that most consider impossible or have even forgotten.
2) Find a technology that’s somehow relevant, or adjacent in nature, to the problem (the wheel moved us on one plane, the ground – by spinning it, we get a propeller that gives us other planes to move on; land, air, and sea).
3) Now, give that technology a ninety degree spin, and
4) Combine with another somehow relevant, or adjacent in nature, technology.
5) Test and experiment until arriving at some semblance of a desired result.
6) Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Keep in mind: we must approach each step creatively, with passion and purpose, or not at all. Do that and, who knows, you might just reinvent the wheel in the process!
Best of luck and happy hunting,
Chris Mitchell, MBA