Thinking Anew – II

William Addis was a rag trader.  He bought rags and used them to make paper.  He was arrested for causing a riot in protest meetings from weavers who saw their wages dropped.  Being entrepreneurial minded, he wanted his prison time to be productive.

One day, William bit into a bone in the meal given to him.  He punctured holes in the bone and then took bristles in a broom in his cell and pushed them through the holes.  the result was the creation of the concept for the modern toothbrush.

Cleaning of the teeth had begun as early as 3500-3000 BC chewing twigs.  The Chinese used pigs’ hair for bristles and bamboo for handles.  Horsehair and feathers were also used for bristles.  None of these worked very well.

Originally, abrasive material was used for what we would now call toothpaste.  Materials used included ashes, egg shells, and tree bark.  When Addis developed his toothbrush, toothpaste was in powder form.

When Addis was released from prison, he decided to create a business to sell his toothbrush.  With the availability of a toothbrush, brushing of the teeth became more common place.  Sales of toothbrushes made Addis very rich.  When William Addis died, his company was transferred to his son.  The company remained in his family until 1996.

Think about the origin of the toothbrush.  Why did its creation come from a man sitting in prison?  What triggered his thinking about the toothbrush?  Did the limited resources available to him help or hinder his idea creation?  The answers to these questions gives a clue to the process of invention.

  • You need time to think
  • You need to experience problems in new ways
  • You need to impose constraints to think anew

The above questions work in inventing new ways for performing activities as well as products.  Think about how the COVID-19 pandemic led to innovations.  Just as Addis used his time in prison productively, we can often use challenging times as moments of opportunity for thinking anew.             

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“As our case is new, we must think and act anew.” – Abraham Lincoln

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