Before the invention of the wheel, people were severely limited as to how much and how far they could transport things. After all, they used sledges to drag heavy loads. Eventually, they placed logs underneath the sledges to move loads more efficiently. The invention of the wheel, which could be attached to the sledge, proved to be better yet. So much so that the wheel ushered in an exciting era that changed the course of history.
This example offers two important lessons. First, before you address a problem, deal with a personal challenge, or tackle a work assignment, check to see whether it’s been done before and whether lessons can be applied to your situation. (It’s important to note that the situation doesn’t have to be identical to be useful.) Second, although you can’t always improve something, the important thing is to try. As Lauren Beukes, the South African novelist, said, “Can’t reinvent the wheel. But you can put your own spin on it.”
Rushing Doesn’t Always Save Time
If starting things from scratch doesn’t always make sense, why do people do it? First, some folks think every situation’s unique, so why determine if it’s been done before. Others are in a rush and don’t want to be slowed down. And of course, some people can’t be bothered or are just plain lazy.
Here are four consequences of reinventing the wheel:
Squander valuable time. Every time you start something from scratch, there’s a ramp-up period before you become productive.
Fly blind. When you reinvent the wheel, you lose the chance to build on the strengths of prior efforts and to identify their weaknesses.
Duplicate efforts. When you simply repeat things that have already been done, you’re spinning your wheels. Spend your time and effort doing something else.
Repeat mistakes. If you don’t learn from mistakes, you’re bound to repeat them.
Lessons in life will be repeated until they are learned.
When you review prior efforts, you don’t have to accept every lesson as gospel. The key is that it forces you to view things from a new perspective. That knowledge can help you jump-start a project, build on success, prevent problems, and avoid personal embarrassment.
Your Choice: Be Informed or Fly Blind
To learn from prior efforts, it’s important to ask yourself: “What elements, if any, apply to my situation? What assumptions were made — and are they still valid today? What obstacles were incurred? How should things be done differently?”
Keep three things in mind. First, learn from your experience as well as from the experiences of others. After all, if you previously did something, why pretend it wasn’t done before. Second, poor results provide as many lessons as good ones. Apply lessons learned. Last, this exercise doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but the important thing is to make the effort.
The World Didn’t Begin Today
Some people believe that lessons of the past are so yesterday. They think the world is much different today. While that may be true in some instances, many lessons from the past still apply. Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, the French journalist, said it well in 1849, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” That said, consider the wisdom from the great scholars, such as Plato, Confucius, Lao-Tzu, Immanuel Kant, Aristotle, and Socrates, among others. But you don’t have to backtrack thousands of years to secure the lessons of the past. In fact, the answer might be right under your nose. The problem is that the handwriting on the wall is useless unless you read it. Before you start something from scratch, determine whether it’s been done before. After all, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
Do You Reinvent the Wheel?
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