Sometimes invention is reinvention. Many successful ideas are new ways of reusing existing ideas or new combinations of existing things. Here are three examples:
18th Century ‘Bicycle’ Reinvented for the 21st Century
The Draisine, a forerunner of the bicycle, was invented in 1817. It was powered by people pushing with their legs. In the 1860s it was superseded by bicycles with efficient drive mechanisms (cranks and pedals). In the last 20 years the Draisine has been successfully reinvented as a training bike for children. It allows them to learn to balance and steer. It helps them progress more quickly to a proper bicycle. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.
Headphones in a Tangle? Zip It!
In 1851 Elias Howe patented a device to improve ‘Fastenings for Garments, Ladies Boots and other articles’. We know it as the zip fastener. We use zips everyday to fasten our clothes and bags. We are so familiar with them we tend to overlook them. But put the humble zip in a new context and you have a neat solution to the frustrating problem of tangled earphone cables.
What Do You get if You Cross a Typewriter with an iPad?
Jack Zylkin thought it would be fun to convert an old fashioned typewriter to work with an iPad. Type on the keys and the words appear on your tablet. The typewriter’s carriage return mechanism acts as the ‘Enter’ key, swipe it and a new line appears on your screen. It worked so well Jack created a business supplying converted typewriters and kits so that you can convert your own typewriter to work with an iPad.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Reinvention has been important to our development for thousands of years.
Western philosophy stems from Socrates, reported and embellished by Plato. Aristotle made it systematic and ultimately his work influenced the Renaissance.
Isaac Newton built on the work of Descartes and Hook to create a new theory of planetary motion. Newton said:
“If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Some companies believe that to be innovative they must have a big new idea that transforms their marketplace. I help these companies understand that new products and new businesses can be created by reinventing existing ideas. With a little help, they realise they can be very successful by reworking their existing products and business models for new markets or new target populations.
If standing on the shoulders of giants is good enough for Aristotle and Newton we should all do it.