January 18, 1943 isn't a date you'll learn in a textbook, but for a brief while, it was the day the American government was forced to enact one of the most draconian measures the country has ever seen: a ban on sliced bread.
The ban, put in place by the Secretary of Agriculture, was meant to help America's efforts in World War II by conserving resources like waxed paper and steel
It caused a huge uproar.
The general public was just not willing to part with their perfectly sliced loaves, war effort be damned. Less than three months after it was enacted, the sliced bread ban was rescinded on March 8, 1943, so strong was the public outcry.
Believe it or not, pre-sliced bread had only been sold for 15 years at that point. In a decade-and-a-half, pre-sliced bread went from non-existent to something so cherished that people weren't willing to part with it despite its ban potentially helping the country defeat the Nazis.
Let that sink in.
The guy who invented the first machine that pre-sliced bread in 1928, Otto Rohwedder, had a degree in optometry and worked in the jewelry industry. How did he come up with a machine that would revolutionize the baking industry when he wasn't even involved with it?
He was presented with a series of dots and he simply drew the lines to connect them. The good news is that you can do this, too.
Let's take a look at these dots and lines that our hero used to come up with his invention:
Connecting the Dots
We'll almost certainly never know the story of the 'aha' moment for Rohwedder, but I like to imagine that in the Hollywood biopic of his life that we'll never get to see, the eureka moment would be a scene where he goes to make himself a sandwich some time in 1912 and gets frustrated with his attempts to cut two uniform pieces of bread. He begins grumbling about how he wishes bakers would start selling sliced bread and then spots a piece of the jewelry he's made with one of his own machines on the counter. The (figurative) light bulb turns on--with inspirational music swelling in the background, of course.
That's almost definitely not the way it actually happened, but we can still easily identify the dots that Rohwedder connected and lines he used to connect them:
- It would be good if we could have loaves of bread with uniform slices ...
- A machine could cut uniform slices of bread ...
- I invent machines ...
- I bet I could make one ...
In the case of Rohwedder's bread slicing machine, the dots were his knowledge and experience with machinery, an inkling that people would be willing to buy pre-sliced bread if they could and either ignorance of or disregard for the fact that bread would go stale faster if sold pre-sliced.
Sometimes dots are things that are missing. Sometimes they are things that make existing processes easier. Sometimes they are things that people don't even know they want until they exist.
If you know you want to start a business, but you don't have a good business idea, finding more dots is crucial. Read, observe and explore subjects outside of your own comfort zone to generate more dots for yourself, and see where connecting those dots takes you.
It may even give you the greatest idea since... sliced bread.