We sent a man to the moon before we put wheels on a suitcase

We sent a man to the moon before we put wheels on a suitcase

Rory Sutherland is full of wonderful anecdotes about the peculiarities of human behaviour.

He has a knack for picking examples that so perfectly illustrate the highly illogical ways in which we think.

Take the wheeled suitcase for example.

This is a such a simple and obvious idea for moving heavy baggage around. And yet it is only a recent invention.

So recent that humanity put a man on the moon before they put wheels on a suitcase.

Can this statement really be true? The answer is “yes!”

As a concept, the humble bag has been around for a long time.

By way of illustration, there are depictions of men wearing bags in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs although it’s highly likely bags existed before this period.

The wheel was invented around 3,500 B.C. which is also a considerably long time ago.

The conventional wisdom for thousands of years was that bags were an object to be carried over the shoulder or in the hand.

As for wheels, they were only to be used for moving large and heavy objects around, like carts and cargo.

And that was that.

Then, one day in 1970, an American named Bernard D. Sadow was crazy enough to pose the question: what if we put wheels on a suitcase?

It seems so straightforward an idea that it’s hard to believe it’s less than 50 years since it was invented.

Human beings have an uncanny ability to set arbitrary rules from themselves about the roles and functions of things. In this case, a bag is only for carrying items and wheels are only for moving really big stuff.

These are sometimes referred to as ‘associative limitations’ and they act as a type of invisible barrier preventing us from making the necessary conceptual leaps to imagine new things.

It takes a creative mind like Mr. Sadow to challenge the conventional wisdom.

Another example is the iPhone.

Mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras, mp3 players and sat navs all existed as separate ideas until Steve Jobs had the radical idea of putting them together in one device.

Can you imagine navigating a busy airport with a heavy suitcase without wheels now? Or going on holiday with five different digital devices instead of one smartphone?


The ability to solve problems and spot new opportunities is what separates those companies that survive and prosper from those that fail.

If you’re interested in how creativity can transform your business then pre-register for our upcoming course ‘Creativity for Business’ for more info.

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