Put Wheels On It

by | Oct 16, 2018 | History, Strategy | 0 comments

In 1899, Charles Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office is reported to have said, “Everything that can possibly be invented has already been invented.”

He was wrong.

The very same day in 1899, thousands of people in Washington D.C. and elsewhere shopped until the basket they carried around the store became too heavy. It wasn’t until 1934 that when Sylvan Goldman, hoping to sell more groceries, thought to put wheels on the cart. His idea was met with skepticism and a giant yawn. The shopping cart didn’t catch on until he hired people to push the carts around the store, demonstrating to his shoppers that it really was easier.

On that very same day in 1899, thousands of people in Washington D.C. and elsewhere were hauling around steamer trunks. It wasn’t until 1970 that Bernard Sadow thought to put wheels on a suitcase, and it took twenty years before wheeled suitcases became ubiquitous.

Now let me ask you a question. When was the wheel invented?

While the legitimacy of the quote from above has been disputed, hardly a year goes by when I don’t hear some variation on, “If there was a better way to do it, someone would have already thought of it by now.” I’m willing to bet your experience is not significantly different from mine in this matter.

Think of the decades that suitcases were used without wheels. Imagine the centuries baskets were limited by the amount one person could carry. What is lugged around today that you could put wheels on? Either literally or metaphorically.

Your idea will be new and people struggle with change, so at first, they’ll scoff. They may even scoff for years. Don’t give up. As with shopping carts and suitcases, eventually they’ll come around.

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