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both boring and innovative

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Many of us are intrigued by wonders that scream “THE FUTURE” like flying cars. But sometimes the best inventions have more to do with brains than the magic of technology. In my quest to appreciate the ingenuity of the boring, let me give you a few examples.

Consider an apple supply chain and a roof truss.

I was recently introduced to an online grocery delivery company called Misfits Market, based in New Jersey. Many companies have struggled with the cost and complexity of getting bananas and Doritos at their disposal. Misfits know this.

The company’s answer to its history of failed deliveries is to think small. It saves pocket money and tries to eliminate little inefficiencies here and there that can be the difference between failure and success.

Here are some examples of what those small innovations look like. Stores and delivery services tend to sell only the middle chunks of salmon. Misfits buys and sells other equally delicious cuts at discounted prices. Abhi Ramesh, CEO of Misfits, also spoke excitedly about skipping a few steps in the long chain of apple farmers, packers and distributors. He saves time and money by eliminating one or two middlemen.

“A boring problem is a problem worth solving,” Ramesh told me. This man speaks my language. He said that if companies could do the difficult, tedious and expensive things a little better, it would be a competitive advantage.

Other food companies have taken a similar approach, but I’m not sure they will succeed. But Misfits is an example of a tech company that knows its industry well and believes it can do a little better with established practices. This is what technological progress often looks like: novelty, but maybe a twist on what was before.

Roy Bahat, an investor in young tech companies at Bloomberg Beta, uses the term “hot swap” to describe startups that think big by tinkering with the status quo. . He gave me examples like Flexport, which is trying to streamline the process of shipping crates of goods by sea or air, and Newfront, which is trying to do something similar for insurance brokers. (Bloomberg Beta is an investor in his Newfront.)

What makes these companies unique, Bahat said, is that they aren’t looking to make the big changes that Warby Parker did with his glasses, for example. This kind of change can feel scary or intimidating, he said, especially for customers in huge industries like freight forwarding and insurance. I promise you something better.

This doesn’t always look like WOW, but sometimes it does. Aerospace engineer Dan Patt, who recently spoke about delivering packages by drone, told me that a construction company near Boise, Idaho, is using something cool. It’s a robot! — Improving Snoozefest.

A company called House of Design sells a giant machine with a robotic arm that automates several steps in building a house or apartment building, including roof trusses.

I had to google what they were. They are triangular timber segments assembled together to form the skeleton of the roof. Roof truss designs vary, and assembling them is a relatively repetitive and laborious task, Michael Lindley, sales and marketing executive at House of Design, told me.

House of Design promises that its system will be compatible with popular construction industry design software and will allow fewer people to manufacture trusses faster. According to Pat, the House of Design has technical smarts, but what sets it apart is the creativity of the manufacturing process.

My colleague Conor Dougherty wrote about the ups and downs of excitement in home automation. Katerra, a prominent tech startup, filed for bankruptcy last year after trying to streamline all stages of construction, including making light bulbs in-house.

A history of failure shows the arrogance of believing that we can rethink big industries, whether it be real estate or groceries. There is a nature. Plus, inertia is strong, the status quo is often pretty good, and Smarthis technology can’t solve structural problems.

But it is useful to remember what invention is. It won’t always be driverless taxis or new smartphones that make a big difference. A lot of the time it’s just taking a product or process we know and slowly simplifying or making it cheaper.

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Greetings from Mosh, the Red Panda at the Oregon Zoo.

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