New inventions come up regularly to meet needs that currently exist. Once that need has been fulfilled, the focus will then move towards making that previous need easier and cheaper to access, whilst improving on the product features to hold onto the public interest (and to offer something that the competition does not offer). For example, video tapes were the only way that people could access movies from their homes 20+ years ago. That invention came about because there was a need to fill – how can families watch movies without leaving their homes or waiting for the movie to be shown on TV. Fast forward a few years later, multimedia products such as DVDs were introduced to make it easier to meet that previous need, providing better quality and a more durable product rather than using tapes which degrade over time. Fast forward a few years later to now, we have streaming services such as Netflix to make it even easier and convenient for the need for home movies to met.
What has traditionally been a need evolves over time as most of us are attracted to the shiny new thing that can make their lives even easier or more comfortable. If that is not the case, we will probably still be primarily using boats to travel from one continent to another, taking many hours to do so. So over time, the need for faster travel came about, which led to commercial aircraft being invented to solve that very problem. As long as there are problems to solve, people will continue to find solutions because it’s in our inherent nature to come up new things, to evolve, and to do things that our forefathers and foremothers did not.
As many (though not all) problems which have come up in the last 50 or so years have already been solved, the focus has now been shifted towards doing things in a more effective way instead. Quite often, the easiest way to do this is by finding out how someone else has done it and do the same thing that they had done. Sam Walton, founder of the successful chain of Walmart stores, took a 12 hour bus ride in 1954 to witness an innovative check-out line at Ben Franklin variety stores. Customers at Ben Franklin were lined up in single lines for all their shopping purchases, rather than individual lines for individual groups of products. Walton was impressed with the faster check-out times and improved customer experience so he implemented that into his stores. In the field known as Neuro Linguistic Programming, or NLP for short, this would be known as “modeling”. In reality, and Sam Walton even admitted this, it’s pretty much just copying.
Whilst certain forms of copying are not correct or morally ambiguous at best, it is logical to state that most products within a certain product group are extremely similar. Take smartphones for example. Despite minor differences, it can be argued that all of them are practically the same. The same goes for TVs, shoes, bags, watches, in which only minute differences seperate one product from another product. This illustrates that if a problem arises somewhere, there is a high likelihood that it has already been solved in one form or another. Not always of course, there are also unique circumstances (which keeps things interesting!) but it makes sense that if we are faced with some tricky problem to solve sometime in our future, it is best to find out if a solution is already out there before we try to come up with our own solution. It doesn’t mean that the solutions available would solve the problem we are faced with completely, but chances are that we can learn something from what’s out there, which in turn can help us make faster decisions.
For business and personal development:
Think about a problem that you are currently facing, and how you are currently planning to solve that problem. Write down what you plan to do in a step by step format (step 1 followed by step 2, and so on). Once you have done that, go on the Internet and type in what your problem is using an “I” statement. For example, “I want to stop my neighbors arguing”, “I want to manage people smarter than me”, and so on. If you have found a solution that is already out there, how does it compare to yours?
The purpose of this exercise is not to determine if your solution is better than what is available (since the problem that you are currently facing may be different), but to help you determine if it would have been faster to see if a solution already exists in some form. Often doing it this way first, and then refining it based upon your particular situation would be faster than if you try to come up with a solution on your own first.
Do you find this article valuable? If so, check out the book “Decisive: How To Make Better Choices In Life And Work” by Chip Heath. You can receive the book immediately via e-book format (Kindle).