The Creation of Office Supplies

I loved James Ward’s review of the book The Perfection of the Paper Clip. The book describes the invention histories of common office items like the pencil, the ballpoint pen, and the paper clip. Here’s Ward’s conclusion:

Ideas, it turns out, are the easy bit. Making a prototype that works, honing the technology so that it performs every time, working out a way to mass-produce a high-quality product at an affordable price–those are the hard bits. The invention of the ballpoint pen  by Laszlo Biro in the late 1930s is a pointed example. (I apologize for this pun…)

This is completely consistent with my own studies of the creative process; it’s rarely about the brilliant idea–instead, it’s about successfully pursuing the iterative, zigzagging process.

3 thoughts on “The Creation of Office Supplies

  1. For sure, the creativity, determination, and learning from mistakes are at least the equal to the original creative idea. What’s the quote from Edison? Something like “I’ve not failed; I just found 10,000 things that didn’t work!”

  2. Unfortunately, the idea that creativity – especially the brilliant kind – is largely a function of hard work is neither glamorous nor particularly popular. People have always liked their geniuses mad, preferring the notion of the sudden, shattering inspiration that comes to a select few – bundled, of course, with some hobbling, lifelong form of mental disorder. This works much better cinematically, as well as erasing any envy that great creativity might engender (I may not have their ability, but at least I don’t have their problems!).

    Thanks for your continuing efforts to demonstrate the truth of the zig-zag.

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