Why Didn’t I Think of That?

Does this ever happen to you? You see something in the grocery store, or the hardware store, and it just jumps up and smacks you in the face. Something so obvious that you marvel that no one thought of it sooner. Worse, you didn’t think of it sooner. And you just feel kind of sick, knowing that someone, somewhere, is raking in a fortune, and it could have been you, if only you’d thought of it first.

The first time that happened to me was many years ago. I should have thought of it. My dad loved to barbecue. When I was a kid it seemed he barbecued almost every night, and for sure every weekend. Burgers, hot dogs, chicken, all the Great American Outdoor Foods of the 1960s. But his specialty was steak. He made the best steak in the world. I’ve never had better, anywhere.

(Part of his secret was Old Missouri Hickory Barbecue Sauce. I haven’t seen it for years. Also, my mom would doctor the steaks up in the kitchen first, with garlic salt and other things. Another part of his secret was perfect timing, accomplished by smoking two cigarettes, one for each side. That worked out to be about seven minutes. He quit smoking when I was ten, and we had a brief period of underdone/overdone beef, until he worked out another method involving Olympia beer.)

It was my job to start the fire. I was given precise instructions on how to stack up the briquettes, then douse them with lighter fluid, with all the proper cautions. In fact, I was so properly cautioned that I still don’t like the stuff. I was good at it – perfect fires every time. At least, that’s what Dad told me. I did this for a decade. Stack them up, douse them with fluid, stand well back, touch off. I took this job very seriously, and did it well.

Kingsford® BBQ Bag® Single Use Charcoal Briquets

Kingsford® BBQ Bag® Single Use Charcoal Briquets

Then one day I walked into the local grocery and saw, to my absolute astonishment, an end-cap display of tiny little bags of briquettes, just enough for one barbecue, already impregnated with lighter fluid. And get this: you didn’t even have to open the bag. You just put the whole bag into the barbecue, and lit the bag. Lit the bag!

“Of course. Of course. A child could do it!  A child could do it.” So obvious, in hindsight. But I suppose that is what hindsight is for.

Still, someday I’d like to be The One Who Thought of It First, raking in my fortune. Someday.

Afterthought: Lon looked up patents and found this one from 1956, and this from 1949. Looks like the idea had been around for a while before it went to market. There’s a lesson in that, too. If you invent a thing because you need it, others probably need it too. Back in my hard-core programming days, I traveled with a desktop computer, because laptops of the time couldn’t accomodate some special full-slot cards I needed. To facilitate lugging the thing through countless airports, I went to an upholstery shop and had them make me a harness for it. A few years later someone had one like it on the market. It looked a lot like this one. Over the years, I have invented a lot of stuff like that, and have seen it in the marketplace later. So if you have something clever, don’t wait – find a company that specializes in helping get inventions marketed. Maybe you’ll be The One.



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