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Be lean, don’t build a Chindogu

In 1995 Kenji Kawakami published a book called “The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions” or Chindogu. A Chindogu is a perfectly logical invention made to address a real problem. Yet Chindogu always miss the mark, leading to bizarre and often hilarious inventions. It is precisely the tension between the not-quite-important-enough problem and the solution that give Chindogu their appeal, the very same tension that can make seemingly innovative products fail (though not nearly as amusingly).

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One-cut clippers:  ‘Don’t like cutting your nails? One snip and it’s all over.’
Image and description from ”The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions,” by Kenji Kawakami

Whenever I speak to young entrepreneurs, I can’t help but be on the lookout for potential Chindogu. To help them avoid this trap, I try to get three critical points across:

Ideas become great, they are not born great

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you need a Eureka moment. What you need is a problem to solve, then you need to iterate your way to a suitable solution in the form of a viable business model. If you  stick to the notion that your idea is already fully formed, you will fail.

Never fall in love with your ideas

Markets evolve, customers change, technology pushes forward. You need to adapt to your market. Fall in love with solving customer problems, not with your visionary ideas. You will need to change course periodically, accept it and become great at it.

Dogged determination can kill you

As an entrepreneur, you must be hyper focused. This is not the same as relentlessly pursuing a bad idea. Learn to recognize a dead-end before you actually get there.

So what could happen if you fail to heed this advice? Instead of building a solution to a real problem, you just might build a Chindogu: a perfectly logical solution to an unimportant problem. In fact the very best Chindogu create more pain than they solve, that’s what makes them funny. They make total sense, have universal appeal, yet are utterly unviable (like too many startups).

Chindogu has been elevated into an art form by Kenji Kawakami in his book The Big Box of Unuseless Inventions. Here are some more examples from the book:

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Hay fever hat: ‘The all-day tissue dispenser.’
Image and description from ”The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions,” by Kenji Kawakami

 

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Baby mops: ‘Make your children work for their keep.’
Image and description from ”The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions,” by Kenji Kawakami

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Butterstick: Why dirty a knife?
Image and description from ”The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions,” by Kenji Kawakami

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