I just finished reading the biography of the Sargento company.
It was a great entrepreneur story.
One that started in my home state of Wisconsin. We love our cheese.
Anyway, there was one thing that really stood out about the founder and his problem solving ability. Actually, there was a lot that stood out. Lots of lessons to learn.
But we’ll focus on one for this post. One that could help you solve a problem you’re stuck on right now…
Vacuum Sealing to Sliced Cheese to Shredded Cheese
The founder of Sargento, Leonard, was an innovator. He wanted to create a cheese company that was on the cutting edge of the industry.
His first spark of an idea was that business owners he knew couldn’t find proper gifts to give their employees and clients and colleagues. That’s when Leonard started putting together trays of cheeses that the execs could send as gifts.
But then Leonard starting seeing more opportunity…
One was the ability for cheese to last longer. So that it could be shipped further and so that people could keep it in their homes longer.
At the time, there wasn’t a plastic that could hold a vacuum seal. But Leonard kept working and used existing technology to figure it out.
Then he saw a need for packaged sliced cheese. Up to that point consumers would go to the grocery store and the person behind the deli counter would take a block of cheddar and slice it up on demand. Leonard wanted to automate that in his factory. So he worked with an existing meat slicer and along with his team eventually figured it out.
The next innovation was even more impressive. He wanted to sell packaged shredded cheese. He eventually figured out that he could use a pasta maker to shred the cheese into perfect one-inch pieces.
Repurposing Existing Technology
The takeaway here is that when you’re presented with a problem that you may not need to invent something from scratch. When presented with an opportunity, Leonard usually looked for existing technology that he could repurpose.
Part of the reason for this was that he didn’t have a lot of money to invest in research and development. And he was in Wisconsin where you often just used what you had lying around to figure things out. And he had a great tinkerer in his small hometown that was willing to help him figure things out.
He used a meat slicer to slice cheese on his assembly line. He used a pasta maker to shred cheese on the line. Obviously they made slight modifications, but the technology had already existed.
Yes, eventually they would create machines from scratch specifically for their process. They wanted to get as efficient as possible. But the original technology came from what already existed.
If you’re looking to solve a problem. Or if you’re looking to create something new. You don’t have to create it from scratch. Look first at what already exists. See if you can repurpose it. That is often where the best innovation begins. Using something for a use other than what it was intended for. Some of the best entrepreneurs simply looked at the world around them and saw different ways to use things that others missed.