The topic came up at the dinner table: “Why can’t we reinvent the wheel?” This wasn’t any dinner table, though. It was the 14th Annual Dinner Celebration of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce, with the theme Diversity, Inclusion and Excellence, at the MGM Grand Detroit.
The keynote speaker was Bill Imada, founder, chairman and chief collaboration officer of IW Group, the marketing, advertising and communications powerhouse focused on growing multicultural markets. He was explaining how he was asked by students about the meaning of American idioms such as “Think outside the box,” and “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.” They were confused, he said.
“Why do Americans believe the answers to all their problems, their challenges come from outside the confines of their business or state or organization?” he said, paraphrasing the students. “Why can’t they think inside the box first?”
Or why shouldn’t we reinvent the wheel? “I came here because America is the land of innovation,” another student said. “If they could make a better wheel, why wouldn’t they?”
When you think about it, that is what innovation does. It challenges accepted standards and definitions thought of as rational with new ideas, new products or practices that some may view as irrational. That is what Henry Ford did when he reinvented the wheel and mass production in 1908 in shape of the Model T. That is what took place in 1952 when the first mechanical heart was used during an operation at Harper University Hospital. And it is what Gov. Rick Snyder referred to recently at the Fuel Detroit conference when he said, “If you are fully rational, you will never be successful.”
It’s also what entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists and many others do on a daily basis. They challenge accepted practices with innovations. Three stories in the May-June issue of Corp! magazine by Contributing Editor J.D. Booth illustrate this point:
• Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn has reinvented its fan base with music events, festivals, better access, top customer service and forward thinking.
• M1 Concourse in Pontiac is redefining “Home, Sweet Home” for motor enthusiasts with tailored “car condo” units built around collector autos and a 1.5 mile performance track.
• The Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress yearly reinvents the driving experience with technologies that push the boundaries of what we think the auto should be.
So what was Imada’s answer back at the dinner table? What did he want people to take home from the event? He issued this challenge to his students, and the Michigan business leaders and innovators at MGM Grand: “From this point forward, you are not allowed to say, ‘Let’s not reinvent the wheel.’ If you can build a better wheel – do it!”