It is tough to design a vending machine that will handle a banana gently. The temperature needs to be 57 degrees, a 4 foot fall to the consumer should be gentle, and they have to remain ripe for as long as possible. It gets even trickier when celery, which requires 34 degrees, is nearby. (It must have been even more difficult to make this vending machine for live crabs.)
The first Post-It Note also was a developmental challenge. The problem was the adhesive. But when Art Fry, in new product development at 3M, heard about a temporary adhesive, the “sticky” was born.
The Economic Lesson
The private rate of return–the net amount a business gets from an investment–tends to vary considerably and can ultimately be nonexistent because of competition. Moving beyond its origin, as the impact of the innovation ripples through society positively and negatively, it creates a social return. Both are tough to calculate. Edwin Mansfield, a University of Pennsylvania economist (1930-1967) who studied the impact of innovation concluded that smaller innovations such as new industrial thread had a much greater social rate of return than products and processes that sound more dramatic.
Maybe the banana vending machine will have more of an impact than we suspect?