Preserving food in cans was invented in 1772 for the Dutch navy.

Fifty years later, it began to get popular in the UK.

Instructions were printed on top of the cans.


What was all that about?

Why didn’t they just use a can opener?

The answer is the can opener hadn’t been invented yet.

In fact the can opener wouldn’t be invented for thirty years.

Not until 1855, eighty-three years after the can was invented.

That seems incredible, surely they were invented at the same time?


Progress is about solving problems.

There was a problem keeping food fresh, so they invented cans.

The problem of opening cans didn’t exist before then.

It was only after a few decades that the problem of an easier way to open cans needed solving.

So they solved it.

We don’t know what we don’t know until we find out we don’t know it.

Then we know it.

Then we can’t believe we didn’t always know it.

In 1897, Marconi invented radio.

He thought the main use for it would be to bring Church services to

people who lived in hard-to-reach areas.

People who couldn’t get to Church for whatever reason.

He didn’t think it would be used for disc-jockies playing pop music.

In Marconi’s day there were no disc-jockies because there were no records.

There were no batteries, so there were no portable radios, or car radios, or personal headphones, or jogging.

A whole system of behaviour was created by radio that didn’t exist before then.

An answer can’t exist without a problem.

In 1440, Gutenberg created books printed with movable type.

Until that point all books had been handwritten in script.

The letters in each word joined together to signify a word.

So when Guttenberg first invented his type, each character had a head and tail, linking it to join onto the next character, like writing.

The idea of separate characters (as typed here) didn’t exist.

It didn’t exist because people didn’t write that way.

It only existed much later, when more people began reading printed books and there was no need to copy handwriting.

And that’s exactly how it is with the Internet.

All the experts are keen to tell us what the Internet is for and exactly how it will be used in the future.

‘Futurists’ are like that.

They always know exactly what the future will be, and they’re usually wrong.

Did you know ‘futurist’ is now a job?

I see people describing themselves that way on TV.

Every ‘futurist’ is about as accurate as Marconi’s theory of radio, or Gutenberg’s joined-up type.

All we really know for sure is whatever they say, it won’t be that way.

Because the future is always about solving problems.

And you can’t solve a problem until you’ve identified a problem.


As Einstein said “The problems we create cannot be solved with the level of thinking at which we created them”.