I owe this to Nassim Taleb (‘Fooled by Randomness’ (2007), ‘The Black Swan’ (2008), ‘Antifragile’ (2013). As a traveller of many years through New York airport, he recalls the times when he had to carry his always heavy luggage, or use a porter, until one day, from the middle of nowhere, the concept of a piece of luggage with small wheels comes up. Suddenly, all these years of bad back and bad shoulder disappear, and legions of people drag their luggage along the ground with little effort, as opposed to pushing them,carrying them, or sticking them in trolleys and pushing the trolley. Where did it come from? Not from Harvard or an academic institution, he says (he is not very fond of them).
He also brings up two observations, all in his very, very witty tone. One: this innovation took place 30 years after we put a man on the moon. Two: those airport lounges and terminals had seen quantum physicists and Nobel Prize winners go by in large quantities,(presumably all carrying wheel-less luggage), and of those “brains” came up with the obvious innovation. (In fact there was apparently a patent for some sort of wheeled suitcase as earlier as 1972, but the ‘invention’ did not take off until 1987 thanks to a pilot. So, still Taleb’s argument applies).
One of Taleb’s thesis, is that knowledge (and institutionalized knowledge in particular) does not bring innovation. You’ll have to read ‘Antifragile’ to navigate through his myriad of insights.
I’m going to compare ‘The Rolling Luggage Paradox’ to our inability to ‘see’ some simple solutions because we are determined to find a complicated one, and because we have Departments of Complicated Solutions with people on the payroll. Disruptive Strategies however needs disruptive thinking (and I have compiled 30 Disruptive Ideas for organizations as a book, and designed a short, intense ‘disruptive’ intervention that I call an ‘Accelerator’).
There is no magic in how to exploit disruptive approaches that will help us to ‘see’ the innovation, other than injecting this disruptive thinking and letting the innovation emerge. What we do know though, is that if you hire quantum physicists and Nobel Prize winners, you’ll never imagine those tiny wheels at the bottom of a piece of luggage.
Organizational life is in desperate need of spotting, grabbing and mastering its Rolling Luggage Paradoxes.