Taking time away from everything over this recent Holiday Season has been refreshing, rejuvenating, and inspiring. I feel ready to take on a year of new beginnings and new directions. This seasonal detox of sorts brought some new realizations and caused me to promise myself that I’d focus on a much wider perspective (and have a broader attitude) toward issues that interest and concern me.
With those thoughts dancing in my head…I’ve carefully considered my recent series of writings on the topic of INVENTIONS vs. INNOVATIONS…and now believe my approach toward this issue has been a bit jaded– placing much more emphasis on the positives of INVENTIONS and INVENTORS, and offering a “judgmental,” frowning view on INNOVATIONS and INNOVATORS.
As I embark on the 2014 journey, I approach with a deeper appreciation. Moving forward, upward, and onward – getting unstuck – needs to become the battle cry. Whether an idea is completely new (an invention = built from scratch and crafted from sweat equity) or a modification or twist on an existing idea or item (an innovation)…one thought beckons brightly – new techniques and ways of considering how we live and move through life is absolutely essential to begin the process of becoming “unstuck.” Getting out of our own way…and allowing those ideas – new or morphed – to be voiced, experimented with, materialized, and brought into the hands of those who can and will use them is what truly matters…and will make a difference.
Ever since researching the history of SCRABBLE for my November 17th blog, I’ve paused throughout my day each time I retrieve and/or get ready to use an item or product. I sit, reflect – even stop all activity for a moment – and wonder if the product I hold in my hand or am about to use underwent any challenges as it tried to maneuver its way into the marketplace…and, therefore, into my hands; or if the ensuing destiny of that product or item was random – simply a coincidence or sheer luck as seemed to have happened with the game of SCRABBLE?
If you recall…according to urban legend SCRABBLE was an invention that underwent several challenges and false starts. After undergoing a few minor INNOVATIONS (or adjustments), 2400 game sets finally sold (which took 11 long years) and after another 6 years, 4 million sets ultimately sold. As a fellow entrepreneur, I find this type of patience and staying power to be extremely admirable (and inspiring).
1938 – Alfred Mosher Butts, an out-of-work architect, invented during the Great Depression
- Conducted frequency analysis of letters by calculating use and frequency of 26 English language letter using sources such as the front page of the New York Times;
- Hand drew original game boards, printed and pasted them on folding checkerboards;
- Cut and hand-lettered tiles from balsa;
- A spin-off of an original word game (Lexico); ultimately named Criss-Cross Words;
- Had poor success at selling game to manufactures.
1948 – James Brunot (Butts’ partner) bought rights from Butts (offered royalties)
- Simplified rules and slightly rearranged “premium” squares;
- Trademarked the name SCRABBLE (“to scratch frantically”);
- Opened up factory in an abandoned schoolhouse in Dodgington, CT;
- Struggled for first 4 years;
- By 1949 – made 2,400 game sets (12 per hour); lost $450.
1950 – Macy’s Department Store President Jack Straus discovers game while on vacation
- His stores were not stocking SCRABBLE;
- He decided “everyone had to have one” and placed a large order.
- Stories about SCRABBLE were shared through national newspapers, magazines and television.
1952 – Brunot could not keep up with demand
- Sold rights to Selchow and Righter Company, game manufacturer who originally rejected the game, to market and distribute;
- Within two years, close to four million sets were sold.
1972 – Selchow and Righter Company purchased trademark
At the close of my SCRABBLE blog, I suggested it might be worth considering the role marketing plays in today’s economic marketplace. Are strategic marketing plans/approaches still necessary…or do ideas/products randomly move through our society/marketplace? Below are some products (new and old) to ponder…see what you think of their approach, philosophies, etc.?!
In his book “Tipping Point,” Malcolm Gladwell offers an intriguing observation on the modern approach to “ideas.” He claims each idea has a “biography” – an account of its life written by others. He suggests we occupy a world order that adheres to the rules of an epidemic. Ideas, products, and messages and behaviors, he believes, spread in a similar way – somewhat like a flu virus. Basic underlying patterns – contagious behavior, exposure, and infecting others – catapult these epidemics. Gladwell claims that “people with a rare set of social gifts” who he terms “connectors, mavens, and salespeople” perform their respective and contagious roles as messengers/transmitters by spreading the word and setting the nation “afire.” As an example, he passes along the story of the once floundering Wolverine Hush Puppy shoes.
Okay, right about now you might be saying…”that’s a fascinating example of an INVENTION created by some enlightened individual back in 1958…that’s now being embraced and spread (like a virus) by a bunch of INNOVATORS (those “people with a rare set of social gifts”); but, what about some honest to goodness INVENTIONS – those items that took sweat equity to conceive of and bring to our daily lives? Were they forced to undergo challenges as they embarked on their trek into the marketplace and the hands of users?
ZIPPERS Whitcomb L. Judson was an American engineer from Chicago, Illinois. In 1890, he invented a metal zipper device with locking teeth. He patented his “clasp-locker” in August 1893 which he exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair. He never succeeded in marketing his new device. On its route to acceptance, the zipper passed through the hands of several dedicated inventors including a Swedish-American engineer, Gideo Sundbach who improved upon the zipper. None were convinced the general public would accept the zipper as part of their everyday costume. In 1923, the B.F. Goodrich company named the zipper. Judson died in 1909 before his device became commonly used and well-known.
TOILET PAPER Joseph Gayetty invented toilet paper composed of flat sheets in 1857. Prior to his invention, people used tree leaves and pages torn our of mail order catalogs. Unfortunately, Gayetty’s invention failed. Later, Walter Alcock of Great Britain developed toilet paper on a roll instead of in flat sheets. This invention also failed. Finally, in 1867, Thomas, Edward and Clarence Scott – brothers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA – succeeded at marketing toilet paper that consisted of a small roll of perforated paper. They sold their new toilet paper from a push cart which was the beginning of the Scott Paper Company.
TOOTHBRUSHES People have been cleaning their teeth for millennia, starting with the ancient Egyptians who are thought to have scrubbed their choppers with a special powder made from ox hooves and eggshells as far back as 5000 B.C. The Romans opted for sticks with frayed ends, while the Greeks used rough cloths. About 800 years ago, the Chinese began fashioning proto-toothbrushes by attaching coarse animal hairs to bamboo or ivory handles. During the Middle Ages, travelers brought these devices to Europe. Fast-forward to the late 18th century, when an Englishman named William Addis landed in jail for inciting a riot. To while away the time—and freshen up in the process—he carved a bone handle, drilled holes into it and inserted boar bristles that were held in place by wire. After leaving prison, Addis started mass-producing his contraption and died a wealthy man. In 1938, the DuPont company developed the first toothbrush using nylon fibers, which proved sturdier and more efficient than animal hairs. It wasn’t until soldiers returned home to the U.S. from World War II indoctrinated with military hygiene habits that brushing one’s teeth regularly became a widespread practice.
PAPER CLIPS The paper clip was invented in 1899 or 1890 by a Norwegian patent clerk named Johann Vaaler. His original paper clip was a thin spring-steel wire with triangular or square ends and two “tongues.” Vaaler patented his invention in Germany and later in the USA (1901). The modern-shaped paper clip was patented in April 27, 1899 by William Middlebrook of Waterbury, Connecticut, USA.
BIFOCAL GLASSES Benjamin Franklin invented bifocal glasses in the 1700s. He was nearsighted and had also become farsighted in his middle age. Tired of switching between two pairs of glasses, Franklin cut the lenses of each pair of glasses horizontally, making a single pair of glasses that focused at both near regions (the bottom half of the lenses) and far regions (the top half of the lenses). This new type of glasses let people read and see far away; they are still in use today.
Hopefully, these historical inventions/innovations inspire you to wonder about new and upcoming INVENTIONS or INNOVATIONS. I was intrigued by a few I found online…and would love to track down in the marketplace. How about you? Have you found any that have truly made your life run more smoothly? Or do you have some ideas you’d like to turn into new products…but, don’t know where to get started? Watch for my next blog…where I’ll share more…
Crafted, researched and written by: |LIZ CARLOCK
The Write Resources, LLC™
© 2014 EM Carlock