Sunday 18 May 2014

Suitcases with wheels

More than 5000 years passed between the invention of the wheel and that of the wheeled suitcase, as Nassim N. Taleb points out in his book "Antifragility". By the time humanity sent a man to the moon we still had three decades left of straining our shoulders lugging around bags whenever we traveled. Quantum theory and relativity had been discovered for more than fifty years and the scientists uncovering the subtleties of these theories with ever more detail had to pick up and carry their suitcases when they wanted to go and discuss their findings at a conference. And then someone started putting wheels on a suitcase. This completely changed luggage carrying. Wherever you look, you'll find people dragging around their trolleys.

I think this is a big lesson for people like us who are supposed to be in the "invention business." The paradigm changing innovation may be right in front of our eyes, and it might have been there for a long time. It is just that we are too domain dependent to see it. "Interdisciplinarity" (in this case between the fields of luggage carrying and transportation) is an overused buzzword but it is a key element of efficient research. Let's build suitcases with wheels rather than reinvent the wheel.

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