Doyle%2C%20Denzil-120X185.jpgThe wheel turns but nothing moves
From SCAN's Print Edition

At a recent conference in Ottawa, I was flattered to hear a deputy minister for the province of Alberta attribute the following statement to me: “If a Canadian had invented the wheel, he or she would likely have put it on a sled to go sell it” I don’t believe I am its originator, but I have used it frequently in speeches over the years to express the opinion that marketing is the weak link in Canadian entrepreneurship ─ my apologies to the true originator, whoever he or she is.
It is interesting to speculate about what other things would have happened if a Canadian had indeed invented the wheel. The first step would likely have been an application to the government of the day for some R&D funding. The inventor would likely have arrived at it by increasing the number of sides on a square or a polygon and then connecting each of those sides to a central point that became known as a hub. A ramp was likely built to see how well the thing rolled downhill and it turned to be kind of noisy because the inventor had not yet replaced the segments on the rim with a continuous element. It was a polygon with as many sides to it as there were spokes. The purpose of the research grant would be to analyze the noise and come up with an algorithm that could be used to determine the optimum number of segments and spokes in terms of noise reduction and load bearing capacity.

The government of the day would have been very intrigued with the new device and would have decided to really “put its shoulder to the wheel.” It would have established an Institute of Circumferential Technology and encouraged partnerships with Canadian industry – such as it was at the time, still in the era of cave dwellers. The institute would be expected to recover some of its costs by performing research work for its industrial “partners”.
At least a couple of trade associations would have sprung up and a commercialization task force would have been established.
What would not occur to either the inventor or the army of cheerleaders is that the wheel by itself is a pretty useless device. What needs to be done was to drill a hole through the part where all the spokes come together and put a rod through it so that the combination becomes what we now know as an axle.
Let us suppose they got through that step but it now became clear that some form of lubricant would be required or the axle would burn up. It was obviously time for more research. It would have to be determined whether bear oil or whale oil would work best. This would require a whole different skill set and maybe even a new institute ─ and a new set of industrial partners and more demands for cost recovery.
What the inventor and the managers of the institutes failed to notice was that one of their neighbours on the other side of the mountain had taken a keen interest in the project because he was in the process of enlarging his cave and felt that there must be a better way of disposing of the earth than dragging it on a sled to a point where he could dump it over the side of the mountain. He made his own version of the wheel, put an axle through the hub, attached two arms to that axle, and mounted a tub on top of the arms. He called it a “cavebarrow” because the term “wheel” had already been trademarked by one of the institutes.
His excavation work proceeded at such a pace that it attracted the attention of other cave dwellers and he agreed to make a few for them in exchange for some wild game meat because he had become too busy to do his own hunting. The wheel inventor and his army of cheerleaders got wind of these transactions and decided to turn up their promotional activities. They put the prototype on a sled and proceeded to visit all the cavebarrow users.
The rest ─ as they say ─ is history.
Guru in one guise, angel in another, Denzil Doyle is a member of the Order of Canada, a professional engineer, former CEO of Digital Equipment Corp. in Canada, company director, mentor, consultant, investor and author of the best-selling ‘Making Technology Happen’. He can be reached at ddoyle@doyletechcorp.com.

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