Everything that can be invented, has *not* been invented

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11 Jan 2022
5 min read
Everything that can be invented, has *not* been invented

In 1889, Charles H. Duell was the Commissioner of US patent office. He is widely quoted as having stated that the patent office would soon need to shrink in size, and eventually close, because, according to his perspective:

— Everything that can be invented has been invented.

Most of us would agree that many things have been invented and discovered, therefore we tend to believe that any new inventions will need to be more extraordinary, advanced, and innovative than those which preceded them. This is not entirely true. Although many prior advances were indeed revolutionary, an invention need not be revolutionary or even unique, to be significant. Many “new” inventions are evolutions of their predecessors.

Innovation comes in many forms and from many directions, often right under our noses. Nothing is so basic, or so great and perfect that it cannot be made better.

Artificial satellites were invented1 almost 70 years ago, and they are far, far from being perfect. Satellites are still largely manually operated machines, require industrial amounts of human attention, and are still designed and built as luxury cars, with many parts especially crafted. The trend is changing with massive new constellations calling for more modularity and shorter cycles between design and deployment. But the job is far from being done.

Tom DeMarco stated long ago in his evergreen Peopleware: “The major problems of engineering are not so much technological as sociological in nature”. Invention and innovation have sociologically shifted in the last hundred years. The individualistic, eccentric inventor in a lab coat working alone is an outdated cliché. Innovation comes from teams. But, while every team is a group, not every group is a team. Jelled teams are the ones making the difference, and jelled teams are nothing but networks of brains working together for a common goal. That’s what we’re building at ReOrbit: a network of people fueled by gray matter. To ensure this network of brains blooms, we pay attention to:

  • Equality: Companies face a dilemma; if totally flat, it’s tough to achieve consensus. If totally vertical, they go full autocratic. Knowing this, at ReOrbit we plan hierarchies carefully. We don’t treat titles as vacuous chains of adjectives and nouns; they reflect what people do. We actively fight elites from forming.
  • Diversity: Heterogeneity is a team asset and is, according to research2, linked to better team performance, and reduces the risks of groupthink. Nationality, race, gender, political diversity enrich the workplace and provide different perspectives for problem-solving.
  • Trust: It means dependability among team members. It is grown with time and effort by keeping promises and leading by example.
  • Open Communication: No secrecy, no compartmenting of information, no hiding.
  • Shared aversion to nonsense: A company-wide appreciation for the truth. Prevalence of evidence versus speculation. Prevalence of valuable discussions instead of pointless meetings without clear agendas.  
  • Humor: Last but not least, startup world can be hectic, so cheerfulness and a great sense of humor is an asset. We try to have some fun while we do what we do.

If you share these views, and you think you have something to contribute to an industry that needs to be perfected, consider the idea of joining us and making a difference.


1 In fact, using the word ”invented” is tricky, because what we did was small-scale imitation of natural satellites. Luckily, nature does not go around suing us for plagiarism

2 Hackman, J., & Oldham, G. (1980). Work redesign. Addison-Wesley



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