Consider the brick. It’s timeless, right? You can’t improve on it. It’s so fundamentally simple. So basic. Austere, even. It’s just a brick. That’s all it is.
The saying goes: If you build a better mousetrap, the world will flock to your door. It means that it’s all but impossible to improve on something as clean and simple as a mousetrap. The mouse grabs the cheese. The trap clamps down. The end. Beautiful. Elegant. Trying to improve on it would be reinventing the wheel.
But making a better mousetrap is exactly what architect Ginger Krieg Dosier did when she reworked the brick. As a little girl growing up in rural Alabama, she was always fascinated by the beauty of seashells and collected them obsessively. Inspired by their beauty and construction, she decided to apply the same principles to our building blocks. She consulted a multitude of microbiologists and chemists to mix sand with a solution of bacteria and other compounds to create the first ever lab-grown bricks.
Now, the bricks produced by this process would be essentially the same as normal bricks. So why did she go to all this trouble, you ask? This is where thinking outside the box comes in. If there’s nothing to be improved on with the brick, there’s still two other things that can be looked at. How it's made and how it’s used.
Dosier went with the former. She realized that the process to make a brick left one hell of a carbon footprint. Clay or shale has to be mined, then fired in a kiln at temperatures of over a thousand degrees. This is horrifically bad for the environment. Her process, on the other hand, has zero environmental impact.
She is now a professor, teaching in the United Arab Emirates at the American University of Sharjah. She is confident that her bricks will replace the current ones very soon, helping to reduce annual carbon emissions by hundreds of thousands of tons.
What does this story highlight? What does it tell us? It tells us the paradox of creativity. We think that creativity is in exploring uncharted territory, finding something completely new and unexplored, going where no one has ever gone before. But in fact, many times, creativity is about refining what is already there, making it better. Many times, we may not get as far on our own as we would by standing on the shoulders of the giants who have come before us. No matter how perfect something seems, remember, there’s always room for improvement. Well, unless it’s chocolate.