What do shipping containers and egg boxes have in common…?


They are both boring and both boxes.

Also neither of them had been had been enhanced in over 50 years until this last year.

To see the new designs Google “Egg Box: BBC Future” or “The Economist: Humble Shipping container”.

Shipping containers were invented in 1956 by Malcolm McLean and they revolutionized trade with some economists believing the container had done more for global trade than any trade agreement signed in the past 50 years.

Dr Stephen Lechner of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy has put forward a case to make containers out of carbon-fibre composites. Such containers would be easier to use, because they would be lighter and also—if designed appropriately—might be folded flat when empty, saving space. He reckons a carbon-fibre container would need to travel only 120,000km (three times around the Earth) to prove cheaper than its steel equivalent. It would also be more secure, because it would be easier to scan without being opened.

So what about the eggs? Well, Hungarian design student Eva Valicsek’s egg carton of the future – made of cardboard and a rubber band – was made for a university competition but has already received some cautious commercial interest.

“I looked at existing egg cartons and found many problems with them,” she says. “Most importantly, the existing boxes cannot be adjusted to the size of the eggs – smaller eggs may turn around in the stand.”

The current egg box protects the eggs but also keeps them out of sight; when we buy other products, such as fruit and vegetables, we’re able to choose exactly which ones we want to buy.

So, proof positive that absolutely everything can be bettered and improved.

In the last two years, just look at the development of Google Glass effectively allowing you to use most of the functionality of your iPhone through a set of spectacles with the inside of the screen displaying information requested.

Why invent them? Because Larry and Sergei thought that the fact the average user actually checks their phone around 110 times day, equating to once every six or seven seconds, with some users unlocking their devices up to 900 times over the course of a day, there had to be a better way! Forgetting for a second that there are already some countries already banning wearing Google Glass whilst driving before they are even on sale… It will take off in one form or another, as will another Google project – Iris, the contact lens that monitors glucose levels in tears, so it’s much less invasive than the traditional blood-drawing finger pricks.

A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to Microsoft HQ in the United States where I met with a teenager from New Zealand who had created a way to distribute MS word and PowerPoint over analogue radio signals. Why? Because most of Africa still doesn’t have internet connectivity and he saw this as a way to distribute information and computer skills to remote villages.  Google “Microsoft: The Imagine Cup”.

When Steve Jobs found out he was ill they conducted a DNA sequencing test.  It cost US$100k and now only a few years later it costs only US$4k.  Give it another couple of years and it will be as little as $40 and numerous drugs sitting gathering dust on shelves that have been developed over the last three decades will be able to be released finally. At the moment they can’t be released as their potential negative side effects could kill – albeit a much smaller number of people than those it would help – however DNA sequencing is the drug equivalent of one-to-one direct marketing thereby removing the risk one person at a time!

Some of these initiatives should and will change the world and often the smaller ones are the most interesting.  At Toyota they have Kaizen, which is a daily process that aims to humanize the workplace, eliminate overly hard work (“muri”) and teach people how to perform experiments on their own work using a scientific method, plus teach employees how to spot and eliminate waste in business processes. “The idea is to nurture the company’s human resources as much as it is to praise and encourage participation in kaizen activities.”

Think about how you do, what you do and how you could improve it a little or a lot?

Changing the world is ambitious, so think of what you could tweak in your own world first. What is your shipping container or egg box that we’ve not looked at improving because it’s just the way they’ve always been?

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Chat with your friends, family and hopefully it becomes infectious, not in the way that leaves you needing antibiotics.

Technology is great and I love it, but as with this written blog, I am fearful that it stops us having conversations and they are the best invention of all. Come and have a chat with me and equally let the person sitting next to you know and chat with them about it too!

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