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Why do people reinvent the wheel?

I overheard a conversation today and someone expressed great disbelief that another group was “literally” reinventing the wheel. I listened a bit longer to find out if the use of “literally” meant the group was making a wheel of some sort, but they were not.

It might be good to reinvent the wheel every so often.

Instead, the phrased was used as it is usually used, as in:

“Let’s not reinvent the wheel” or

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel” or

“We don’t need to waste our time and reinvent the wheel”

But the fact that this term is used so often means something. I think it means that people like to reinvent the wheel. There must be some benefit or people would recognize the situation for what it is: one where you are trying to do something very similar to something else that has been done before.

The assumption is that recreating the wheel is bad. But what if no one had taken the time to reinvent whatever the very first wheel looked like? We would be bumping around in our cars, that’s for sure.

Instead of wasting time, I think people find meaning in incrementally improvement. We have many more opportunities in life to improve things in small ways that we do to make drastic improvements.

If we failed to delight in these small improvements, life would feel a bit more like an assembly line.

We would also miss out on opportunities for creativity. Again, creativity is often expressed by the small ways we make change in the world.

So if the phrase “Let’s not reinvent the wheel” is uttered around you, pause. It may be that the person is saying this to express a view on the priorities for the situation. This person may be saying he/she doesn’t think it is worth the time to focus in improving whatever wheel is at hand.

And he/she may be correct.

But it is important to recognize that recreating a wheel, with small improvements and creative measures, may very well be worth your time.

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