We often forget it but, as a species, the human race is amazing. We are so inventive and creative, just look around you, at this moment you are surrounded by clever technological marvels that make your life easier or enrich it in some way.
Even things we take for granted and see as mundane are astonishing when you start to think about them. Take the refrigerator, for less than 100 years the refrigerator has been available to the ordinary person. This is a device that defies nature by keeping food that would otherwise spoil fresh and available for use long after it should have decayed. The refrigerator has revolutionised food consumption and thus food production. Food that would otherwise have been unavailable to us can now be purchased and kept for days or even weeks or if you are student, months or years. Or take the washing machine, another invention that has only been around for about 100 years (for the common person to buy and use), this one invention alone freed women from the horrendous time consuming chore of cleaning clothes. Nowadays, washing machines are so simple to use even men can use them.
We don’t only have one refrigerator or washing machine
If you go to an electrical appliance shop you can find lots of different washing machines or refrigerators. Did you ever stop to think why this is? Well, it’s because someone thought to themselves, “I can do this better”. We often think that this is because of the old saying “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door“, i.e. greed, but it’s more fundamental than that. Human beings have an in-built desire to make things better, to improve things, to build a better mousetrap. There are many reasons why we do this, greed is one, being able to actually catch the mouse is another, but at the fundamental level it’s because we want things to improve and so we will often look at something and say to ourselves “I can do that better”. It’s an amazing facet of human behaviour, the reason we have so many different types of the same thing is that everyone wants to create the best, this competition is what underpins human ingenuity and ensures that products get better and better.
However, the “I can do better” is coupled with another amazing human behaviour which ensures that we don’t make the same thing better and better. You see no two human beings do the same thing the same way. Don’t believe me? Take 10 people and have them perform an activity, it doesn’t matter what, writing, putting on clothes, eating toast, cleaning the toilet, seriously it doesn’t matter. Then observe them doing the activity, I guarantee that they all do that same thing in different ways. The differences may be small but they will be there and when you combine this innate propensity to do the same thing differently with the desire to do things better we end up with the staggering plethora of products that all do the same thing, but that are all striving to be the best. After all do we need 100 different washing machines? Are washing technologies so different that the cleanness of your clothes would be radically different in each of them? Of course not and yet because of “I can do better, but I’ll do it differently to you” we have 100 different washing machines all trying to be the best at washing clothes.
It’s an amazing world we live in and I’m thankful human beings have these two behaviours that drive our species forward.