11
Feb

2010

What We Can Learn From A Cheese Grater

Post by Steven Dale

Back in 1990 Grace Manufacturing had a lot of scrap steel lying around and it was sharp. Instead of throwing the steel out, they decided to turn that waste into revenue.  So was born the Microplane, an incredibly sharp wood shaving tool.

It sold fine, but nothing special. Then along came Lorraine Lee of Ottawa, Ontario in 1994.

Lorraine was a homemaker and her husband, Leonard owned a hardware business called Lee Valley Tools. Lorraine was known for her Armenian Orange Cake but traditional graters tended to slice too much pith off of the orange. It made her cake taste bitter.

Then one day Leonard brought home a new tool his business was selling. It was a Microplane. Unbeknownst to Leonard, Lorraine noticed it and had a thought: If the Microplane can cut wood, could it not also zest her oranges? Indeed, it could. Not only was the Microplane a good orange grater, it was superior to any she’d ever used. And it was versatile to boot.

Zesting citrus, crushing garlic, grating hard cheeses and powdering nutmeg were never the intended uses of the Microplane. It had, after all, been invented as a wood-working tool. Since Lorraine Lee’s innovation, however, the Mircroplane has become an invaluable kitchen tool found in every good restaurant and homes around the world. I own three.

Some would say Lorraine Lee’s action was insignificant compared to the people who invented the Microplane. I see it the other way. Lorraine Lee was essential. Lorraine Lee changed the way we use a tool and made millions of people’s lives better. We change tools, then tools change us.

Cable’s the same.

Cable’s been around a long time. But sometime around 10 years ago, cities began to do with cable what Lorraine Lee did with the Microplane. Forget what it was intended for, let’s see what it can do for us, they seemed to say. Cities have begun adapting cable for their own purposes, just as Lorraine Lee did with the Microplane 16 years ago.

When you’re trying to solve a problem, you’ve got two choices. You either stick with the same non-solution that’s been disappointing you for years or you innovate your way around your problem. That’s what Lorraine Lee did.

Her Armenian Orange Cake has been the better for it ever since.



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Analysis / Thoughts / Urban Planning & Design
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