If It’s Systematized, It’s Probably Commoditized: Or Why You Should Occasionally Reinvent the Wheel

“Don’t reinvent the wheel.”

As a naive and inexperienced marketer, I’ve hard this many times. The implication? Follow the ways of doing things that have been laid down before you.

Often this is fine advice. The reason we have giants of invention is so that we can stand on their shoulders.

And yet . . .

Once a solution is systematized, it’s bound to become commoditized. Wheels probably aren’t going to make anyone a fortune these days. Same for other things we systematize.

Consider email marketing. Use of email for marketing used to be novel, and so it was very effective at grabbing consumer attention. By the time email marketing systematized, it lost much of the original power it had. People routinely ignore the majority of emails coming into their inbox. As Gary Vaynerchuk likes to say, “marketers ruin everything.” They certainly ruined email.

It’s only people who have reimagined digital communication – “reinventing the wheel”, you might say – who have brought about innovation. Consider the first chat platforms, Twitter, GIFs, photo messaging like Snapchat, or looping video platforms like Vine. The people who created these ways of communicating probably didn’t get there just by accepting the systems handed to them.

If you’re naive enough to start into working on a problem without immediately jumping to the instruction manual, you can understand the problem at a more basic level *and* you may be more open to other ways of solving it. It’s in seeing things differently that real innovation (and real opportunity) happens. And sometimes the best way to do that is to start from scratch – even if it does take a little longer.

Photo by Jon Cartagena on Unsplash

This post inspired in part by a tweet from Paul Graham:

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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