Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ruminate Beyond the Parameters

Isn't it ironic that "think outside the box" is now a cliche? It's so easy to get doing the same things, looking at things the same ways, that even our terms to warn against it become a part of it. Now, there is nothing wrong with the tried and true. Sometimes you need to hang in there, go with the flow. You can't always be reinventing the wheel. But have you ever stopped and thought about how many invaluable inventions started out as something else? In a wonderful little book by Don Wulffson called "The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle," I found story after story of things we all use every day that were basically invented because the person who came up with them was at a dead end with their original idea. Instead of beating their head against the brick wall, they looked for a window, and ended up giving us all things we now can't live without. For instance, did you know that cellophane was originally meant to be a stain-proof tablecloth? Of course, it was too flimsy for a tablecloth - but perfect as a food wrap. The flashlight began life as a novelty item called an electric flowerpot. No one liked them and the inventor had a bunch of unusuable stock. So he removed the center cardboard tube consisting of a battery at one end and a light at the other, and began selling the "Portable Electric Light." Yes, he got rich. And there's the indispensable, common paper cup. An inventor actually came up with a vending machine that dispensed a cup of chilled water for a penny a cupful. No one was interested in paying for water (the poor guy was ahead of his time!), but people were interested in staying healthy, and everyone drinking from a common dipper was not a good way to do that. Soon the inventor met a rich man willing to invest, not in the water vending machine, but in the cups! There are many other examples that teach us not to give up too easily. So the next time life hands you lemons, what are you going to do? How about making invisible ink? Cleaning your garbage disposal? Making lemon merengue pie? Lightening your hair? After all, not everyone likes lemonade!

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