“If a man can . . . make a better mousetrap than his neighbour, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
There are some brilliant ideas for new ways to catch mice. Most are prototypes, stuck in sheds around the world, gnawing at the brains of their inventors. On the other side of the ledger, there are just as many useless mousetraps that sell by the truckload in the market place. Why we treat genius so perversely is one of the mysteries of mankind.
Ralph’s view could be described as natural selection – the survival of the fittest mousetrap.
But before queues form at the front door for a trap that works, it has to be perceived as better by those who would rid themselves of mice. Here lurks the main trap for trap makers; the world of “better” is notorious for its cultural diversity – better price, better looks, better creature care, better sustainability, better reward.
Flying under the radar with the question of “better” are these questions:
- Does a maker of a better trap really understand the world of mice, let alone the needs of mouse hunters.
- If it is really a better mousetrap, does our trap maker only want it to catch mice, or perhaps also, there is a want to be rewarded fairly for the effort of developing an idea.
- Will buyers and admirers come to the mousetrap marketplace of their own accord?
Ralph’s view of mousetrap development is pure supply-side economics.
Even if an intrepid inventor did manage to produce a better mousetrap than all the other versions, there is no sure path to riches. The world’s rubbish skips are full of products better than their opposition, but failed when left to sell themselves. The demand side of the market equation had different ideas of which of the ideas was “better”.
The timeline of a supply sided world is laced with seemingly smart ideas that may have sounded “better”. How the concepts might work remained a mystery to their potential users, but that didn’t stop early adopters beating a path. However, once word of mouth of how little “better” was involved, they faced a drought of buyers
Other supply-sided innovations failed because the ideas open for all to see, but were too far removed from the users view of “better”. They were perhaps exceedingly “better”
So what is to be done for innovators caught in their own traps? An answer lies in deeper understanding of the wants and habits of mice and men.
An inventor is often happy in the tool-shed, and might keep his cats Tom and Garfield for companionship as much as for their ability to play with mice.
Why does the world really need a better mousetrap? Any cat can only eat a few rodents in a mouse plague. The farmer’s wife can only catch three blind mice.
Before building the next new mousetrap an inventor with a limited view of the trap market outside the workshop may need expert help to understand the real opportunities in the demand side of mouse marketing.