I’ve been working with a UK retailer on its innovation strategy and have been thinking about some of the great inventions and innovations that are overlooked and taken for granted. Here is my current ‘Top 3’.

  1. The Oven Chip. Oven chips – fries to my US readers – save lives. Literally! And not just by having lower levels of fat than fried chips. By the mid-1990s, 20% of UK house fires were caused by chip pans. Since then, the rise of the humble oven chip has reduced the use of chip pans, which now account for just 5% of UK house fires.
  2. The Shipping Container. Invented by Malcolm McLean, a US truck driver, standardised steel shipping containers were first used in the 1950s and, since the late 1960s, have become the #1choice for shipping companies. The container reduced shipping costs by at least 25%, probably more, but has also driven international trade and economic growth. It’s almost impossible to think about the rise of the Chinese economy, for example, without the shipping container. If you want to learn more – and who wouldn’t? – I can recommend Marc Levinson’s book, The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger.
  3. The QWERTY Keyboard. Yes, I know that the QWERTY keyboard is recognised as a great invention, but 150-years since it was first developed, it’s still going strong. Despite all the high-tech innovations of the last 30-years, it remains ubiquitous across the English-speaking world and beyond. No one has been able to find a better interface for physically communicating and inputting data. It’s the basis of the keyboard I’m using right now, as well as the one that pops up on my phone when I need to write something. And there’s something rather reassuring about that.

What is your most underrated innovation? I’d love to create a longer, reader-driven list.

Off The Record: There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis by Kirsty MacColl

There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis

Just like you swore to me that you’d be true

There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis

Well, he’s a liar and I’m not sure about you