Many of us are intrigued by wonders that scream “FUTURE” like flying cars. But sometimes the best inventions have more to do with the power of thought than technological magic. Let me give you a couple of examples from my quest to appreciate ingenuity in boring things.
Take apple supply chains and roof trusses.
I recently came across an online grocery delivery company from New Jersey called Misfits Market. A lot of companies have fought With expenses and the difficulty of getting bananas or Doritos to us on our command. Losers know this.
The company’s response to a history of delivery failures is to think about the little things. It tries to save pennies and eliminate tiny inefficiencies here and there that can be the difference between failure and success.
Here are a few examples of what his small innovations look like: Stores and delivery companies tend to sell only medium-sized cuts of salmon. Misfits buys and sells other cuts just as delicious at a discount. Abhi Ramesh, CEO of Misfits, also excitedly told me about skipping some steps in the long chain of apple farmers, packers and distributors. Cutting out a middleman or two can save time and money.
“The boring problems are the ones that are worth solving the most,” Ramesh told me. This person Speaking to me language. It’s a competitive advantage, he says, if a company does a complicated, boring, expensive thing a little better.
There are other food companies as well. using similar approachesand I don’t know if the company will succeed. But Misfits is an example of a tech company that knows the industry well and believes it can improve the established ways of doing things a bit. This is what technological progress often looks like: a new, but perhaps low-key twist on what came before.
Roy Bahat, an investor in early technology firm Bloomberg Beta, uses the term “hot swap” to refer to the type of startup that thinks big, changing the status quo. He gave me examples like Flexport, which is trying to make it easier to ship boxes of goods by sea or air, and Newfront, which is trying to do something similar for insurance brokers. (Bloomberg Beta is an investor in Newfront.)
A characteristic of these companies, according to Bahat, is that they do not seek major changes because Warby Parker made with glasses, For example. Such changes can seem intimidating or threatening, he said, especially to customers in large industries such as trucking or insurance. Instead, a hot-swap launch promises something familiar but better.
It doesn’t always look like WOW, but sometimes it does. Dan Patt, an aerospace engineer I spoke to recently about the delivery of parcels by drone, told me about a construction company near Boise, Idaho that used something cool – robots! – To improve the holiday replay.
The company “House of Design” sells massive machines with robotic arms that automate some of the steps in building a house or apartment building, including roof trusses.
I had to google what it is. They are triangular wooden segments assembled together to form the roof frame. Truss truss designs vary, and assembling them is a relatively repetitive and time-consuming job, Michael Lindley, Head of Sales and Marketing at Design House, told me.
House of Design promises that its systems are compatible with the construction industry’s popular design software and allow trusses to be produced faster and with fewer people. There are technological minds in the House of Design, Patt said, but the difference lies in the creativity in the manufacturing process.
My colleague Conor Dougherty written about the ups and downs of excitement in home automation. Katerra, a well-known technology startup, collapsed last year after he attempted to simplify every step of the construction, including by making the light bulbs in-house.
Failure history shows arrogance Vera that you can reimagine a major industry, be it real estate or groceries. Established ways of doing things can be established for a reason. In addition, inertia is strong, the status quo is often quite good, and smart technology cannot solve structural problems.
But it is useful to remind ourselves what an invention is. It’s not always a self-driving taxi or a new smartphone that is significantly different from what it was before. Often we take a product or process we know and gradually make it a little simpler or cheaper.
Before we go…
Amazon is trying again in healthcare. Amazon He speaks it will buy One Medical, which operates primary health care clinics in the US. Amazon observers have predicted for years that the company will change healthcare, including from its 2018 purchase of a network of online pharmacies and (it’s over now) risk shaking up employee health care benefits. Amazon hasn’t changed healthcare.
“What I got wrong with Facebook.” Farhad Manju, opinion columnist for The New York Times, urged everyone to join Facebook in 2009. reflects things he regrets, including not considering the implications of Facebook’s ubiquity.
Connected: Facebook is tweaking its app to look more like TikToksays my colleague Mike Isaac.
What computer to buy a child? Kimber Streams of Wirecutter, The Times Product Referral Service, tips about repurposing an old computer, buying a used one and choosing a new model for school children and students.
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