Around 360 BC, Plato (in Greek), famously referred to “necessity, which is the mother of invention”. Plato was writing, in Plato’s Republic, Book II, about creating a new state out of the needs of the people. He and Adeimantus were discussing what that new state could and should be, based on the needs that were known. They imagined. They designed. A number of authors and pundits since have used the phrase, “necessity is the mother of invention”. This is generally understood to mean that if something is needed strongly enough, then a solution or an innovation will be found. This principle goes for the smallest levels of challenges and the greatest.
Consider this example. A friend remembers repairing a grandfather clock, in which a tiny part had broken. The part was no longer available, and the clock stood silent and useless. My friend puzzled and tinkered. Today, decades later, the clock works well, and there is still a sewing needle, deep in the works of the clock.
In another example of solving small problems, a client tells of having an annoying drip from her kitchen exhaust system onto her glass-top stove. The drip made a strange film on the stovetop, which adhered to any cooking tool passing by that spot. In an otherwise attractive kitchen, until the cause and solution of the drip itself could be found, a small and lovely temporary solution was developed: put a tiny terracotta baking dish on the stovetop, under the drip. The tiny baking dish also serves as a spoon rest, so it remains. How many tiny innovations have you made, that enhanced your daily life?
In the TLC television show, What Not to Wear (WNTW), over 200 episodes of makeovers have taken place. But this is no shopping show, no find-the-right-pants show, no get-a-better-hairstyle show. There is a much larger vision. WNTW creates a unique opportunity for women—and an occasional man—to completely re-envision how they present themselves to the world. Each participant, or “contributor”, is offered the chance to go to New York City with their entire wardrobe and have their collection reviewed by Stacy London and Clinton Kelly. Stacy and Clinton literally take away any pieces that they believe do not work for the contributor’s lifestyle; this is often the entire wardrobe. There is no going back. The old clothes are gone. The contributor is then given a $5000 card to use to shop for new pieces by WNTW rules. In the studio, as the old clothes are disappearing before the contributor’s eyes, the opportunity opens questions such as: what are the essentials of who I am? What do I take with me into this new time of my life, and how? How do I design my appearance, to represent who I really am? By the time the wardrobe is replaced, the person’s hair restyled, and new makeup designed, observers can see the contributor’s attitude, stance, languaging, and self-esteem powerfully shifted. Contributors have often reported great gains in their relationships and careers after their makeovers. WNTW creates the necessity to re-invent, not only a person’s style, but a person’s self-concepts, by removing the contributor’s habitual lifestyle props: their wardrobe. WNTW mothers (re)invention.
Occasionally, a serious situation may be the mother of our invention or innovation. In 2003, 28-year-old outdoorsman Aron Ralston was mountain climbing in Utah, when his arm became wedged between boulders. Ralston remained there for over 5 days, until he realized he could leverage enough force to break two of his arm bones and cut off his now-dead forearm with a dull multi-tool. This graduate of Carnegie-Mellon University had majored in mechanical engineering and French, and had minored in piano. He knew his piano days were over. He knew that, to live, he would need to break and cut off the now-useless arm, rappel down a cliff one-armed, and hike 8 miles. He did these things. Today, he still climbs mountains, wearing a prosthesis, and he has a wife, a son, and a speaking career. When Ralston realized his arm was lifeless, he re-invented himself and his life. Read more about Ralston in his book, Between a Rock and a Hard Place.
So in your life, right now, what necessity is calling you to invent something? Do you need a re-invent a relationship that isn’t working, innovate a change in your stale business life, or invent a new schedule with more family time? Is the ugly doorway of your home in need of a change of direction and redesign of the porch? Is your health calling you to re-invent your wellness, with a fresh exercise/diet/supplements regime? What necessity will be the mother of your next invention? Enjoy your inventing!
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