I traveled to Japan last year with some friends, and was astounded by the differences there. Everyday things from trash cans to doors to conveyerbelts were just… better, let alone the high-tech things like trains and computers.

I couldn’t help but compulsively photograph seemingly mundane things, awestruck by their design. I did get some quizzical looks when blabbering on about a straw or ladder. But there’s a few lessons:

  • Unimaginative people ask “why?” when confronted with a new idea and sit there, lifeless. Instead, ask “why not?” and do something new.
  • Not every invention pans out, and that’s fine. At least you are trying to improve things.
  • Several minor, 2% improvements add up over time (see the rule of 72). Everyday efficiencies are great — you don’t always need a breakthrough to make a difference.

Browse the photos below and read my comments at flickr to see what the fuss was about. In upcoming posts I’ll expand on why these examples of innovation made me shriek with delight and what we can learn from them.