Lessons of the Square Watermelon

One of my best friends passed along a story that is a great reminder of the power of creativity and innovation.  The story revolves around the growing of square watermelons in Japan (a confirmed true story from Snopes).  Below is the email he passed along:

Japanese grocery stores had a problem. They are much smaller than their  US counterparts and therefore don’t have room to waste. Watermelons, big and round, wasted a lot of space. Most people would simply tell the grocery stores that watermelons grow round and there is nothing that can be done about it. But some Japanese farmers took a different approach.  “If the supermarkets want a space efficient watermelon,”  they asked themselves, “How can we provide one?” It wasn’t long before they invented the square watermelon.

The solution to the problem of round watermelons wasn’t nearly as difficult to solve for those who didn’t assume the problem was impossible to begin with and simply asked how it could be done. It turns out that all you need to do is place them into a square box when they are growing and the watermelon will take on the shape of the box.

This made the grocery stores happy and had the added benefit that it was much easier and cost effective to ship the watermelons. Consumers also loved them because they took less space in their refrigerators which are much smaller than those in the US  – which resulted in the growers being able to charge a premium price for them.

What does this have do with anything besides square watermelons? There are a five lessons that you can take away from this story which will help you in all parts of your life. Here are a few of them:

1.) Don’t Assume:

The major problem was that most people had always seen round watermelons so they automatically assumed that square watermelons were impossible before even thinking about the question. Things that you have been doing a certain way your entire life have taken on the aura of the round watermelon and you likely don’t even take the time to consider if there is another way to do it. Breaking yourself from assuming this way can greatly improve your overall life as you are constantly looking for new and better ways to do things.

2.) Question Habits:

The best way to tackle these assumptions is to question your habits. If you can make an effort to question the way you do things on a consistent basis, you will find that you can continually improve the way that you live your life. Forming habits when they have been well thought out is usually a positive thing, but most of us have adopted our habits from various people and places without even thinking about them.

3.) Be Creative:

When faced with a problem, be creative in looking for a solution. This often requires thinking outside the box. Most people who viewed this question likely thought they were being asked how they could genetically alter water melons to grow square which would be a much more difficult process to accomplish.  By looking at the question from an alternative perspective, however, the solution was quite simple. Being creative and looking at things in different ways in all portions of your live will help you find solutions to many problems where others can’t see them.

4.) Look for a Better Way:

The square watermelon question was simply seeking a better and more convenient way to do something. The stores had flagged a problem they were having and asked if a solution was possible. It’s impossible to find a better way if you are never asking the question in the first place . Always ask if there is a better way of doing the things that you do and  constantly write down the things you wish you could do (but currently can’t) since these are usually hints about steps you need to change. Get into the habit of asking yourself, “Is there a better way I could be doing this?” and you will find there often is.

5.) Impossibilities Often Aren’t:

If you begin with the notion that something is impossible, then it obviously will be for you. If, on the other hand, you decide to see if something is possible or not, you will find out through trial and error.

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* Credits – This email was passed along to me by Bryan Radtke at P&G and in the body of the forward, Alistair Johnston appears to be the author.  I want to give credit where credit is due so if you know who originally wrote this, please let me know!

Comments

  1. says

    This is awesome! Truly testing one’s thought process, habits, and perspectives! What an innovation! I wonder if it tastes the same, or is affected ‘genetically’?! What’s next, square apples, oranges, and bananas? Breaking away from habits and storage bins of how you think and traditional assumptions are the first step to ‘break away innovations’. Thanks for sharing this fun Eastern ‘capacity building’ model. I wonder how long it took to decide to proceed with this innovation due to their ‘collaborative’ culture.

  2. says

    Square watermelons are only the tip of the iceberg. Try this: http://pingmag.jp/2007/07/12/strange-watermelon/

    And according to the Japanese press, the square ones will be available in Canada this summer.
    (link is in Japanese) http://www.47news.jp/CN/200806/CN2008063001000152.html

    Oh, and Brian, you might want to be more careful how you fling around those stereotypes – the common myth of Japanese “collaborative” culture is actually a little different to the reality. peace.

  3. Shaun says

    I have to be the annoying one, and point out that putting things in boxes isn’t “thinking outside the box”. They were clearly thinking inside the box. for once!

    I know. I had to. Sorry!

  4. misc100 says

    Nice article. Don’t forget also that finding solutions to vexing problems is often more about applying knowledge that has already been found in other arenas than about having to come up new science. When I saw the news about the square watermelons, I wondered what was the big deal, since shaping gourds and fruits as they grow isn’t exactly new – IF you are familiar with certain niche agricultural traditions.

    Check this out for example (scroll down to the section on “shaping”):
    http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/hil/hil-29.html

    “Shaping – Many gourds are prized for their interesting shapes. You can create new shapes by tying soft string or bands around young fruit. Long, slender types can be formed to look like snakes by frequently and gently bending the fruit, or by tying the fruit to keep it under slight bending pressure. The young fruit is sometimes inserted into a glass container, and the fruit will take on the shape of the container. When desired, the container can be removed by carefully breaking. Avoid scratching the fruit if possible.”

  5. says

    Made my day! As a fruit fanatic and a watermelon lover that is hilarious! But you couldn’t play the pool game that my swim club used to play… You rub petroleum jelly all over a round melon and drop it into the center of the deep end of the pool (it floats) while two teams of swimmers try to push it to the other side, plus you drop it on the cement to open it up and eat it when you’re done!

  6. blakemp says

    I really wish I could get my hands on one of those for my family’s big July Fourth bash — just for the stares I’d get when I took it out of the refrigerator.

  7. take J says

    The original post from Snopes should have mentioned the whole story. This square watermelon is not for edible use, but just for ornament. You may eat one, but it tastes poor according to the Japanese media. What’s more, it costs over US$100.. I don’t get the idea. Your tips are still great though.

  8. says

    Simply incredible.
    This may be the first lesson I learned from a watermelon…who knows what I other fruits and vegetables can teach me. Great story guy. thanks.

  9. bill says

    Almost every use of this story leaves out a major fact. The cost of the mellons in 2001 (US) dollars is $83 each and out of reach of the normal consumers in Japan.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/1390088.stm

    Those lessons only apply if we assume that trippleing the price of an object is appropriate. Pricing things out of the reach of consumers
    Better solutions:
    Grow and sell appropriately sized round mellon.
    Grow and sell larger mellons but cut ends off.

  10. Bijaya Singh says

    This quest of human being to create and innovate has now resulted in interfering with nature in every possible wrong way that threatens to wipe out our earth one day. I am not saying we need not be creative, but hope we really don't change the way the nature runs itself. I hope we don't decide one day to put our kids inside a box, because we want them to grow in a certain way (six/eight pack abs & 24 inch biceps)

  11. Sandeep Jain says

    I read this article in a marketing magazine and had the opportunity to use the same in a presentation at a corporate seminar. It floored everybody and created a platform to relook into many traditional strategies of our organisation.

Trackbacks

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  4. […] Lessons of the Square Watermelon « Hard Knox Life: A Brand Manager Blog by Dave Knox Great reminder of the power of creativity and innovation. The story revolves around the growing of square watermelons in Japan (tags: watermelon story innovation technology inspiration japan) […]

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