Sometimes you hear about an innovation, usually something really, really simple, and you wonder why no one ever thought of that before. When I bought my Volvo a few years ago – a used model, I had to get one that was pre-Ford – I thought the best thing was the little ticket clip on the inside of the windshield. Sure the airbags and the safety rating were great – after all, I needed a sturdy car to make sure my then aging dog had a comfortable ride – but that ticket clip is great! No more lost parking permits – just sit them in the clip and they won’t budge. I have somewhere to put the permit I pay a fortune for to park at the lake near my home, and when we go to the beach, the two-buck parking ticket doesn’t fly away as soon as I open the door, because it’s held in place by that neat little holder. Great idea – well done you Swedish folks.
Let's hear it for Volvo.
I started thinking about this business of innovation – not the big leaps forward, but those little things that just make life easier – a couple of weeks ago, when it was announced that the European parliament (a strange bunch of cats if ever I saw them) had decreed that all cellphones throughout the European Union must use the same recharging unit. No longer will you have to ditch the recharger when you get a new cellphone, and no longer will you be up the creek because you’ve lost your recharger on book tour and no one in that hotel has the same one as you – because everyone will have the same charger. What a concept? Why didn’t someone think of that before? And before you tell me, I think I’ve guessed: It must have been money.
Now I know the European Union is good for something – they’ve even recently rolled back a ruling that all bananas sold throughout Europe had to conform to the same shape. Seriously.
Oh, and they passed a law to ensure that food manufacturers and distributors had to come clean and label packaging if it contained GMO food. The USA was up in arms about that one.
Here’s another great leap forward, and probably won’t interest anyone who isn’t a horse owner. I use a product called “Sore No More” on my mare, who has a ligament injury. It’s a sort of liniment and it has the consistency of water. It's really great for hardworking horses. So, to get it on Sara’s hocks, I have to kneel down next to her leg – not something for the fainthearted – pour some of the liquid into my hand and slap it on her before it all runs through my fingers. Needless to say, half the stuff went down into the earth. I could have bought an empty spray bottle to decant it into, but kept forgetting – there are so many things you have to buy with horses. So, imagine my surprise, and joy, when I went to stock up with Sore No More, instead of this ...
This was on the shelf ....
Why did that take so long? The downside is that my arthritic writer’s fingers really did benefit from a dousing of that stuff.
Here’s a story that’s the stuff of legend – it may or may not be true. There’s a type of match in Britain called Swan Vestas (“The Smoker’s Match”). For years, like other brands of match, they had two sandpapered striking sides – until, that is, it came time for a lowly worker at the factory to receive his gold watch upon retirement after a good fifty years at the factory. Having given him the watch and a pat on the back, one of the higher-ups asked him if, after working for the company for so long, there was anything he thought they could do to improve things. “Well,” he said. “You’d save a bit if you only had one striking side.” Those higher-ups went around thumping their heads for days, wondering why they’d never thought of that one. And that’s why Swan Vestas only have one striking side. According to lore the company saved a lot of money.
So, what do you think would be a good idea? What simple change, what miniscule addition to something in your daily life would represent a true innovation? And like the spray bottle of Sore No More, it doesn’t have to be a big thing – just an idea whose time has come.
Have a great weekend!