Oh, kids, every single project I had “out” in the last month is “in” today. That would make this a great time for me to introduce a post from guest blogger* Billie Brownell.
Sliced Bread, Paper Clips, and You
In 1928, Otto Frederick Rohwedder perfected and sold the first mechanical bread slicer (and wrapper). Until then, people baked their own bread or bought bakery loaves and sliced them at home. Rohwedder first thought of the idea in 1912 and spent sixteen years working on it. And his invention—seemingly so simple—revolutionized the bakery industry and, one could argue, society as well.
Once people had easier access to sliced bread, they started to eat more jam. Taking a lunch to work or school—as opposed to coming home for it—was simpler when one could make a sandwich, so commuting beyond the neighborhood became more widespread. The impact Rohwedder’s invention had can be summarized in an expression we use today: “It’s the best thing since sliced bread!” Just think about a time when sliced bread was the best thing. Whoa.
Rohwedder had a Big Idea.
In 1899 the paper clip patent was granted in the United States to William Middlebrook. There is evidence to suggest he copied the beautifully simple design from someone else, but Middlebrook is the one who took it to the patent office. History remembers the winner. Think of all the times you’ve used a paper clip—could anything be more useful and suited to its purpose?
Middlebrook had a Big Idea.
I read this story twice recently so it must be fate speaking about the Big Idea: a Canadian blogger Kyle MacDonald took ownership of a house by trading a red paper clip on Craigslist for a pen. Eventually, he worked his way “up” until he was able to trade a movie role for a two-story house in Kipling, Saskatchewan. Now, that’s a Big Idea!
Years ago, as my roommate (at the time) and I were driving to some new destination and trying to read a map at the same time, she said something like, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could be in the car and just type in where we’re going and somehow we’d get directions?” We even thought, Gee, that’s kinda cool. But we didn’t know who to tell it to.
My roommate had a Big Idea. I think it’s now called GPS.
An employer once sent me (and several others from the company) through a management leadership course. The most striking thing I remember from the course is this: ideas are fragile, and they have to be nurtured to develop them. We were not allowed to pick apart an idea during the initial discussion of it, lest it crumble.
And that’s the thing. Not every Idea has to be as Big as a bread slicer. It could be a great idea for, oh, a book. Remember photographer Anne Geddes and her book Down in the Garden? Who would have ever thought dressing babies up as garden creatures and taking photos of them would sell a bazillion books? How about Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom’s inspirational best seller about his old college professor who was dying of ALS? Stephenie Meyer didn’t invent vampires, but she’s done very well with that concept.
You may have an idea too. Don’t pick it apart at first. (Let your editor do that later!) Nurture it. Give it your best shot. See what happens.
* Used with permission. An editor at Cool Springs Press, Billie can be found on Facebook and Twitter.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”