The much-abused term “reinventing the wheel” — together with near synonyms such as “shape-shifter” and “pathfinder” — implies a change so significant that the place arrived at is qualitatively different from wherever anyone had been before. Not just a better wheel, but a wholly reinvented one, an undiscovered country, another dimension.

If these terms are not devalued to insignificance, there can be very few reinventors or shape-shifters in a generation. The metaphorical producer of the “better mousetrap” is unlikely to deserve the sobriquet; Kalashnikov’s tweak to automatic assault rifles was commercially significant — which is why the AK-47 has been so successful — but it was hardly a game-changer compared with the invention of gunpowder or the atomic bomb. Real, rather than incremental, change is rare: Gutenberg and printing, Morse and telecommunications, some unknown ancestor and the wheel.

BL Premium

This article is reserved for our subscribers.

A subscription helps you enjoy the best of our business content every day along with benefits such as exclusive Financial Times articles, ProfileData financial data, and digital access to the Sunday Times and Times Select.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00. Got a subscription voucher? Redeem it now