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What Would the World Be Like Without the Simple Screw
We take the simplest devices for granted in our modern, high-tech world. You turn a tap and the water is delivered, hot, temperate and cold. We hit a wall switch and darkness is overcome by light. We open the refrigerator door and look into a compartment that contains temperature-controlled stored food. These conveniences are ubiquitous in the developed world at the start of the 21st century.
And yet, little thought is given to the simplest, most important inventions that make all forms of products possible. Consider the humble screw. Yes, the little attachment vehicle that’s ubiquitous in every toolbox, do-it-yourself pre-pack, or kitchen tote drawer. The ability to fasten two opposing elements or surfaces together and ensure that their attachment is permanent is critical to the structural integrity of virtually every non-consumable product we use today.
No one knows who invented the screw. We know that wood screws were used in the time of Christ. They were widely used in the Middle East for pressing grapes for wine, olive oil production, and woodworking. The applicable uses for screws really didn’t change much until the 18th century. Englishman James Ramsden invented the first “screw lathe” to mass-produce steel screws in 1770. This advancement made screws more economical and their use in industrialization processes began to increase exponentially.
In the 1930s, Henry Philips, in response to the burgeoning automobile industry’s need for tighter tolerances, invented the Philips head screw. This square head screw was a significant advancement as it allowed machine tools to apply more torque to the screw head, providing a much tighter fit and finish between attachments.
Billions of screws are now used each year in millions of applications. Screws of all sizes and metal compositions are essential to every product we make. As useful and universal as the common screw is in our lives, we never really think about its importance, efficiency, economy, and what the world would be like without these ingenious little connecting 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 use screws. Prosperity is enhanced by the usefulness of this simplest invention.
Many entrepreneurs and inventors seek to improve lives and make business profits by creating new, innovative products. The lesson we can all learn from the plebeian screw is that sometimes the most valuable and useful concepts are the simplest. You don’t have to reinvent the transistor or discover a new water desalination system to take advantage of it. Looking at your world of work, family or leisure and finding a simple improvement that will benefit consumers is the easiest path to business success.
At my consumer product development and marketing consulting firm, we review hundreds of product submissions each year. The best, the most commercial are necessarily the simplest. They offer the most utility for the greatest number of consumers. These concepts generally 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, ease, cost-effectiveness, and applicability. This is a wonderful model that can be transferred from an ancient product to modern inventions to determine the prospects of success.
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