While shuffling through pages of The Sunday Times magazine, I came across an advertisement of a book titled ‘How Innovation Works’. Authored by Matt Ridley the book is designed in simple minimal style. It has a yellow cover page with white and blue fonts. The heading of advertising mentioned: Why did it take so long to add wheels to a suitcase? This is the punch line. Exactly, why did it take so long? It’s absurdly ridiculous to not have such a simple engineering modification to our travel bags which had been painful to carry around.
While I look forward to reading the book, its punch line has stimulated some thoughts in my mind. It is worth pondering over a question: Why simple things happen at last? Or say, why our brilliant minds miss out on the simple, day to day requirements? It reminds me of an anecdote I had read somewhere. It may not be true, though.
A company got a big bronze statue of its founder-chairman to install in the centre of its campus. While the truck carrying the life-size figure arrived at the gate, they realised the top of the entrance was shorter by an inch or two for the truck to enter along with statue loaded on it. Each and every senior manager suggested how to resolve the problem. Someone wanted to bring a smaller truck, and shift the heavy piece on it. Another senior executive wanted to lift the statue by eight human labourers. But it was the truck driver who had a simple solution. He reduced pressure of the tires by half the truck lowered enough to enter the gate, without removing the statue. Senior Managers’ degree and experience didn’t find such a simple solution.
This is interesting. When we start looking for more intelligent solutions to problems, we miss simple ones. In our quest to study mars and moon, we miss studying our own neighbourhood. Once The Economist did a cover story about the invention of a flush toilet – which is termed as one of the greatest innovations of the century. What a simple but essential thing – toilet. But it’s certainly a simple innovation that could have come much before.
I am waiting for cars to run with tyres without air, so we do not face the problem of flat tyre ever again. Some company has built prototype airless tyres, but yet to come in wide circulation. If we can build electric cars and flying jets, designing airless tyres is certainly not more difficult. A simple thing, but perhaps not given enough attention by auto companies.
Can you think of simple issues which could be resolved easily but are made complex unnecessarily?