I wrote a few weeks ago about ‘Shavernomics’. We tend to think of technological progress as something that happens in the world of ‘tech’, in other words websites and software. The business press gets excited about the latest thing or service you can buy over the web. In the early days of dot-com excitement (in the last century, in fact), a friend and I spent an idle hour or two one afternoon putting together ever-more ridiculous ideas for web services. Our favourite was ‘frozenmargaritas.com’: just enter your credit card and voila – a few hours later your personalised cold alcoholic drink would be delivered direct to your door. How could it possibly fail? Today that idea doesn’t seem so particularly wacky. There is even a real frozenmargaritas.com – they rent out (you guessed!) frozen margarita machines.
Mechanical engineering has a lower profile but there’s still plenty of innovation going on. Now that it’s the start of the mowing season (even in Scotland), I’ve noticed this phenomenon again. Let us turn our attention to that most British of inventions, the humble hover mower.
My old mower died at the end of last season, emitting black smoke and groaning noises. Perhaps the amount of moss in my lawn had finally choked it to death. If you’re based in the UK, you may remember the marketing battle many years ago between Flymo and Qualcast. The former was, naturally, extolling the virtues of hover mowers while the latter was pushing “proper” cylinder mowers. Well, Qualcast now make hover mowers too. And, surprise surprise, theirs is better! It’s quicker and cuts more evenly. It’s easier to see how much grass it’s collected. And, crucially, it’s much lighter – a big deal when your lawn slopes as steeply as mine. If only the electric cord was wasn’t such a strange colour.
Mundane? Maybe – but surely more valuable than a new way to look at cat videos. It’s not just software that can be sexy. Look beyond the obvious places for opportunities to innovate. Ideas are all around.
© Patrick Macdonald 2015