Some of mankind’s greatest creations and inventions have not been discovered in the way that people think; rather than the ‘eureka’ moment where something suddenly makes sense, the process is a series of small steps and failures as the design or idea is refined. In this book, Ashton, draws on various examples and anecdotes to bring us the history of invention.
The orchid that produces the vanilla pod is a wonderful thing, the exotic flavour from the pods are used in so many things now, ice cream being the obvious, but you will find its scent in famous perfumes. Until the middle of the nineteenth-century no one knew how the flowers were fertilised, or if there was a way that they could improve this artificially. It was a small boy who demonstrated that they could be fertilised very simply and gave birth to the multi-million dollar industry that we have today. He explores just how man learnt to fly, hence the title of the book, with the foolhardy parachutists of Paris to the Wright brothers who solved each problem of flight before tackling the next. There are examples of critical breakthroughs that individuals had, like the re-invention of the vacuum cleaner and the development of the stealth bomber after one engineer decided to prove that it was possible.
This was a really enjoyable and accessible read for those interested in the creative process. I particularly liked the chapter on the can of coke where he shows just how many countries and processes are required to get the 330ml of soft drink in your fridge. Ashton is best known for the invention of the phrase ‘internet of things’, and phrase that many have not come across as yet, but will hear of soon. In this he blows some myths out of the water about the creative process, demonstrating just how the iterative method is so much better. He also describes how creative type struggle in the corporate world where uniformity and blandness are celebrated rather than genuine innovation and development. Overall a very interesting book.