Always Reinvent the Wheel

April 30, 2014

One of the most enjoyable parts of my work is getting paid to do a hobby of mine–thinking of new ways to address old problems. Even as a child, I would happily spend two hours thinking about how to do a one hour homework project in 45 minutes. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it was something I enjoyed doing just for creativity’s sake.

Now I realize what valuable learning opportunities those moments were as a child. Through trial and error, I was learning how to think about problems from multiple perspectives. The biggest lesson I learned is that there are multiple ways to accomplish goals, and there is always a better way to do it if you spent the time to think about it.

So…ALWAYS TAKE TIME TO REINVENT THE WHEEL. In my experience, no statement kills innovation, fun, and creativity more quickly than someone in a workgroup uttering the phrase, “Well, let’s not reinvent the wheel.” There are so many reasons to reinvent the wheel. Even when you don’t come across a better solution for the time being, you have planted the seeds for a further innovation. Here are a few additional reasons why reinvention is worth the effort:

  • Today’s best practices won’t be tomorrow’s – The words “best practice” is a misnomer. The more accurate name would be “better practices, for right now.” Every current “best practice” will be replaced with something else in the future. You should probably get started on its replacement!
  • The context of your problem is always different – Details matter. Most solutions require some resource mix which includes time, energy, skills, culture, products, processes, and so on. If your resource mix differs, even slightly, from someone who has implemented a best practice successfully, your solution will also need to be different.
  • If you build it, you’ll know how to fix it – Every effective best practice makes assumptions. When you take the time to reinvent the wheel, you will list your assumptions as a matter of diagnosing the problem. If your solution doesn’t work the way you imagined it would, it will be more apparent what assumptions were incorrect.
  • Innovation is only as good as people’s desire to use it – So you have a solution, now what? You have to implement it. In service industries in particular, how you implement something requires a great deal of innovative thought itself. We are often trying to change the way staff interact with customers. It is one thing for you to tell staff you want them to greet customers with the phrase, “It is my pleasure to serve you today.” It is quite another to get them to do it with a smile, especially when there are no cameras around or a supervisor to observe!
  • The wheel itself has been reinvented many times over – There is a reason you don’t see wagon wheels much anymore.