To reinvent, or not to reinvent, that is the question. “Don’t reinvent the wheel”, it is a cliché to be sure, I say it and think it a lot but mainly from the perspective of learning as much as I can from the past before I proceed. When to copy the wheel, when to reinvent the wheel, and when to just learn from the wheel, here are a few ideas.
When to copy the wheel? There are times when you look at an old product and have a eureka moment, a better way to sell or tell an old story through new packaging or marketing. This is when marketing by itself can at times be enough to sell something old as new. When you are copying the wheel, you are often tapping into a short window of opportunity and may only get one or two scores before your in-the-moment old is new pop culture bubble bursts. Toys are a good example of this. A toy for a 4-year-old in 1970 can still work for a 4-year-old in 2018.
When to re-invent the wheel? For me, reinventing the wheel (in a good way) is taking an existing product that you know had historical success and adding an improved feature set or a modern twist. Today it is normally adding digital to something old, file for some new IP protection and you have just reinvented or improved the wheel for a new age. Music and book delivery systems are a good example of reinventing the wheel in a good way.
When to learn from the wheel? This is when you analyse direct competing products or very similar products to your idea and learn as much as possible from them to assist you in creating something brand new. I like this approach the best and it is what I tend to think of when I say to myself don’t “reinvent the wheel”. Dedicating enough time and resources to market research, both virtual and tactile, is the best investment you will ever make in developing your product. It will save you valuable time and capital from literally reinventing something that already exists in the market. It will tell you what the market already approves of from a price point perspective. It will give you a good idea what customers approve of for feature sets. it will open you up to existing material options in the market and packaging in the market. Learning from the wheel will allow you to create something new that is distinct enough to stand out in the crowd.
Learning from the wheel is something I practice consciously and sub-consciously each day for design, product development, and photography. Whether you borrow from proven ideas, improve on something old or create something completely new, the wheel can help guide you in your pursuit of success.