We take the simplest devices for granted in our modern technologically advanced world. We turn a tap and water is delivered, hot, temperate and cold. We hit a wall switch and darkness is overcome by light. We open the refrigerator door and peer into a compartment that contains climate controlled stored foodstuffs. These conveniences are omnipresent in the developed world in the early 21st century.
And yet, we reflect little on the simplest, most important inventions that make all forms of product possible. Consider the humble screw. Yep, the little fastening vehicle that is ubiquitous in every tool-box, do it your self pre-pack, or kitchen catchall drawer. The ability to affix two opposing elements or surfaces together and insure that their attachment is permanent is essential to the structural integrity of virtually every non-consumable product we use today.
No one knows who invented the screw. We do know that wooden screws were in use during the time of Christ. They were widely used in the Middle East in pressing grapes for wine, olive oil production and woodworking. The applicable uses for screws really did not change much until the 18th century. Englishman James Ramsden invented the first “screw cut lathe” to mass- produce steel screws in 1770. This advance made screws more economical and their usage in industrialization processes began to increase exponentially.
In the 1930’s, Henry Philips, in response to the booming automobile industry’s need for closer tolerances, invented the Philips Head Screw. This square headed screw was a significant advance as it enabled machine tools to apply more torque to the screw head, thereby providing much tighter fit and finish between conjoined parts.
Billions of screws are now used every year in millions of applications. Screws of all sizes and metallic composition are essential to every product that we manufacture. As useful and universal as the common screw is in our lives, we never really reflect on it’s importance, it’s efficiency, it’s economy and what the world would be like without these ingenious little linkage devices.
There is a contemporary lesson here. The simple screw has made life easier and more comfortable for every consumer. Jobs are created to produce screws, distribute screws and utilize screws. Prosperity is enhanced by the usefulness of this simplest of inventions.
Many entrepreneurs and inventors seek to improve life and profit commercially by creating new innovative products. The lesson we can all learn from the plebian screw is that sometimes the most valuable, most useful concepts are the simplest. It is not necessary to re-invent the transistor or discover a new system of water desalinization to profit. Looking into your universe of work, family or play and finding a simple improvement that will benefit consumers is the easiest path to commercial success.
In my consumer product development and marketing consulting company we review hundreds of product submissions each year. The best, most commercial are inevitably the simplest. They offer the most utility for the greatest number of consumers. These concepts typically do not require re-educating the consumer, which can be a difficult and expensive proposition.
So keep it simple and apply the simple “screw” test to determine simplicity, facility, cost effectiveness and applicability. This is a wonderful template that can be transferred from an ancient product to modern inventions to determine prospects for success.