Thomas Thwaites made the decision to build his own toaster in 2010. He went to a shop and bought the cheapest toaster that he could find. Then he returned home and began to disassemble it piece by piece.
Thwaites assumed that the toaster was a simple machine. Thwaites was able to deconstruct the toaster and found more than 400 parts on his floor. There were over 100 materials in the toaster, with three primary materials being plastic, nickel and steel.
Thwaites decided to first create the steel components. Thwaites discovered that iron ore was needed to make steel. He called an iron mine in his area and asked if they would allow him to use it.
- Surprisingly they agreed.
- The Toaster Project
- However, the victory was fleeting.
Thwaites realized that he would need to use crude oil to make the plastic case for his toaster. He called BP to ask if they could fly him to an oil rig so that they could lend some oil. They refused immediately. Evidently, oil companies are not as generous as iron mines.
Thwaites was forced to accept the fact that he had to collect plastic scraps in order to melt them into his toaster case. It is not as simple as it sounds. The result was more of a melted cake than a kitchen tool.
This was the same pattern throughout The Toaster Project. Without a previous process, it was almost impossible to move ahead. He had to melt old coins to create the nickel parts. Later, he would say that “I realized that you could easily spend all your life making a toaster if you started completely from scratch.”
Do not start from scratch
- It is often a bad idea to start from scratch.
We assume that innovative ideas and meaningful change require a blank canvas. We often say, “Let’s go back the drawing board” when business projects fail. But, creativity is not always the result of throwing away all of our previous ideas and innovations and reimagining the world.
- Take a look at this example from nature.
Experts believe that feathers evolved from reptilian scales. Scales evolved into small feathers that were initially used for warmth and insulation. These small fluffs eventually became larger feathers that could fly.
It wasn’t an instant when the animal kingdom decided, “Let’s start from scratch and make an animal that can fly.” Instead, it was a process of expanding on ideas that had worked in the past.
Human flight was a similar process. Orville and Wilbur Wright are often credited as the inventors modern flight. We rarely talk about the aviation pioneers before them, like Otto Lilienthal and Samuel Langley. During their quest for the first flying machine in the world, the Wright brothers benefited from the contributions of these pioneers and built on them.
Sometimes, the most innovative innovations are new combinations of existing ideas. Innovators don’t just create; they connect. Moreover, it is more effective to make 1% improvements to existing systems than to completely destroy them and start over.
- Do not Initiate
The Toaster Project is a great example of how we sometimes fail to see the complexity of modern life. You don’t consider all the events that must occur before your toaster arrives at your home. It’s not your responsibility to see the iron being taken out of the mountain, or the oil being extracted from the ground.
Most people are blind to the amazing interconnectedness of all things. It is crucial to grasp this because it is difficult to recognize the forces that are working in your favor and those working against you in a complicated world. As with buying a toaster we often focus only on the end product and forget about the many steps that lead up to it.