Innovation Blog

Burned Your Toast?  Serene Acceptance —  Or Creative Resistance?

By Shlomo Maital

Did you burn your toast this morning?

    Probably not — thanks to an inventor  named Charles Strite, who invented the pop-up toaster (and patented it, US POT #1,394,450, issued  October 18, 1921).  

     Like many many thousands of people worldwide who toasted bread in the morning, in toasters that opened and closed manually,  Strite had toast in the morning,  in the cafeteria of the plant where he worked.  The cooks burned it, as often happens (they were busy doing other things). 

        But Strite then acted unlike others had before him.  Most people accept bad outcomes, like burned toast, with serene complacency and peaceful acceptance, or perhaps unpeaceful acceptance, accompanied by bad language.  

    Strite offered ‘creative resistance’ — it does not have to be this way, he thought.  There is a solution to burned toast. 

    Strite simply took existing devices — springs, and a variable timer — and added them to the toaster.  Result: pop-up toaster, and an end to burned toast.   The solution was obvious.  Toast needs to be ‘timed’.  It can be ‘timed’ by human hands, or by a device that does it.  I.e., a timer.   Now what happens when the timer signals “done”?   Something has to happen to stop the toasting. What?  Something must open the toaster.  Or, move it away from the heating coils.  A  spring device?  Open the toaster doors?  Or,  pop up the toast, while turning off the heating coils.  This was Strite’s simple logic.  Like many invention problems, it was all a matter of systematic logic, defining the problem and then thinking it through carefully.

    Like many inventors, Strite misjudged his market. He thought the market would be mainly for restaurants.  But the pop-up toaster soon became a common kitchen appliance.  In no time, the manual toaster disappeared. 

     Strite was a master mechanic. He knew how to make things.  This is crucial.  Producing a prototype of the pop-up toaster was vital to its success.  But in addition to his mechanical skills, Strite had a mindset that sought to solve problems, rather than live with them. This is a key to successful innovation.

     What is your mindset?  Serene acceptance?  Or stiff stubborn resistance, in searching for solutions to problems most of us simply choose to live with.

     Next time you have your morning toast, think about Charles Strite and see if you can emulate him.