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Reinventing the Wheel

I’m reexamining my relationship with the phrase, “no need to reinvent the wheel”. For pretty much all of my life, I’ve heard that in the context of starting something different, starting something unfamiliar, learning something new — and it’s almost always been used with a negative connotation. “Don’t reinvent the wheel.”

To me, along with other establishments I grew up around, it’s always reaffirmed the idea that nothing I have to offer is new. Everything has already been thought of, invented, created, curated, written down, and presented and it was probably completed hundreds of years ago.

This was usually rather disheartening, and an ugly voice in my head will say that phrase to me on occasion.

I don’t know who came up with that phrase. The idea is to adopt things already created and build on top of that. Don’t waste your time remaking every aspect of something new — and I understand the wisdom there. For example, if I want to start a massage business, I don’t necessarily need to figure out how to build a special table upon which I can ask a client to rest, face down, so that I can massage their back efficiently. Those already exist. Aptly named “massage tables”. (Probably could have used a more poetic example but whatever.)

But what if the wheel is made of thick stone and I need something more lightweight? Or what if I need something more like a sphere?

Sometimes it is necessary to build from the ground up. Sometimes the ideas of someone else come from a perspective that doesn’t serve the overall goal. Or the design requires a unique starting point. I mean… sometimes that wheel just isn’t a very good wheel.

Do we always need to reinvent the wheel? I don’t think so. But there is always a need to reinvent the wheel.

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