The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread
If the aphorism is any indication, sliced bread is the greatest thing ever.
Seriously, can you imagine if we actually had to slice our bread?
In one of the first TED talks to ever to make it online, Seth Godin tells the story of Otto Frederick Rohwedder who invented the sliced bread machine in 1912. “For the next 15 years, nobody bought it, nobody knew about it, and it was a complete and total failure.”
Nobody wanted sliced bread — it didn’t make them feel anything.
Sliced bread was not widely distributed until Wonder Bread came along in 1930. Sliced bread is not iconic because it’s a great invention; it’s iconic because of great marketing. Inventions are important, but their splashes are negligible when people aren’t drawn to them.
A new technology is only the first step on the road to making an impact. People are guided by their often irrational feelings and emotions, not faster processors or policy changes.
Social movements are led by leaders who inspire their followers with a powerful ethos. Building on the legacy of failed movements before him, Gandhi used nonviolent civil disobedience to rally thousands of angry Indians to protest against the British-imposed salt tax. Despite being wholly unqualified and unfit for the job, Donald Trump has millions of supporters because he makes them feel important and recognized. Good or bad, powerful leaders prioritize the strong emotional connections they make with their followers.
Social movements and politics teach us that ideas only spread when they deeply resonate with people.
The same is true for companies. We buy a company’s story as much as the products themselves. We create art with Apple products because they make us feel artistic and limitless. We wear Nike shoes because they make us feel athletic and unstoppable. We love Disney because it makes us feel happy and like a kid again.
We buy the feelings these products give us as much as the products themselves.
We’re emotional creatures guided by deeply subconscious feelings and impulses. The future has already been invented. From sliced bread to Apple, the next great thing already exists.
We’re just a shift in rhetoric away from the next great “invention.”