The Wheel is for Turning

Seán Fitzsimmons explains why reinvention is very much a circular argument.

For many, the initial challenges of finding a gap in the market; creating a product and successfully bringing it to market are enough to discourage them from entering the world of business. Yet these trials are very much the first of an uphill climb . Keeping a business buoyant in a competitive and ever-changing market is the real struggle , and very much a daily one.

The solution, it may seem, is obvious. In any scenario where there is competitiveness and a need to survive, we need look no further than nature itself, for it has taught us how to thrive.

The answer is to adapt.

Rolling idly from one day to the next, businesses fall prey to stagnation and the comforting reasurance of “We’ve always done it this way”. Sadly innovators and those wishing to challenge a certain behaviour or approach are met with “Why reinvent the wheel?”

The question comes at us I’m in different guises, but the implication is always the same: that to review or alter what is already present is to expend energies that could otherwise be focused elsewhere. We are commanded to be right here, right now, in the moment – rather than steering ourselves and our businesses into a future unseen.

This question is sadly as foolish as it is ironic. The wheel is for turning.

That’s more than a metaphor. Beginning its existence around 10,000 B.C. in the form of a row of logs, lined up to roll heavy objects on top of them, the wheel as a product has undergone some of the most sweeping changes and reinventions in the history of vehicular components.

Following its early begginings as a cylindrical ‘log’, it would be around six thousand years before a shaft would be attached. This would be used to turn a potter’s wheel. It was then another five hundred years before an axle was added to chariots. In 2,000 B.C., spokes were invented to make wheels lighter. In the first millennium B.C., leather and other products were added to protect the wheels as the turned on a variety of surfaces.

It would be in 1845 when John Dunlop patented the air-filled tyre. The rest, as they say, is history.

Alloys (to further reduce weight) plus a whole spectrum of tyre grips, patterns, sizes and styles and of course 4-wheeled-drive vehicles, have brought us to our present day.

Logs may have long departed, but throughout all the centuries that have come before us, the wheel has kept on turning.

It remains valid to ask why anyone should reinvent the wheel. Energy and resources must continue to be managed and measured to avoided waste. But let us not forget that two things can be round but be very different.

So maybe the next time such a question is posed to an enthusiastic reinventor, the response should be:

“Do we want our business to be a log or a ‘BBS RE One Piece Die Forged Aluminum Wheel with Weight optimized by FEM analysis’?”

Who knows, they may be willing to give reinvention a little more room for discussion.

This article can be found in Switch On To Business Edition 9, page 22.


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