Small Ideas = Big Business, Part 1

So I just came across a book from 1959 called Ideas That Became Big Business, by Clinton Woods.

It was a buck. How could I not buy it?

I finally finished it today. And it might be the most fascinating book on creativity I’ve ever read.


Among Woods’ 100+ examples, nine stories stood out in my mind.

Each had several valuable lessons within. This will be the first in a four part post called Small Ideas = Big Business.

The Soil is Too Rich!
In the late 1830’s, a master mechanic and blacksmith relocated from the rocky-soils of New England to the rich farms of Grand Detour, Illinois. Once he set up shop, he noticed his business primarily repaired the plows of discouraged farmers. After interviewing a score of his customers, he discovered the problem: overly fertile farmland. While it was easy to cultivate, it was not so easy to stop the soil from clinging to the plow.

One day that mechanic visited a local sawmill. The reflection from a shiny broken saw blade caught his attention. Mindful of his frustrated farmers, he wondered: “If I can somehow reshape the blade and form it to the plow, I wonder if it would clean itself as it cut the sod?”

Shortly thereafter, he formed his first – and the world’s first – steel plow.

That mechanic’s name was John Deere.

1. Listen to the complaints of your customers.
2. Find their pain, be their Tylenol.
3. Consider reshaping your design for alternate uses.

Iron Mine or Bust
Swedish miner Carl Wickman faced a problem. Between his mining town of Hibbing and the nearby iron range was a four-mile stretch of unpaved highway. Unable to make ends meet, he started using his own car to haul miners on short trips for fifteen cents a pop.

Soon, word spread throughout the mining town about this new transportation system. Business became so overwhelming that Carl invited a friend to help out. They worked day and night. Eventually, competition arose. And soon, other entrepreneurs began to haul groups of people for up to 90 miles, which, in 1915, was a long way. Then, in 1921, intercity busses were created. Painted gray and appearing slim and trim, they were forever dubbed “The Greyhounds.”

1. Choose a name that’s so obvious and memorable, customers could figure it out by simply looking at your product.
2. Ideas that spread win.
3. If people are copying you, you’re doing something right.

Creativity is cool, huh?

Post your own “Creativity Trio” here!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
Author/Speaker/That Guy with the Nametag

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