Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

We’ve all heard the expression “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” But how did sliced bread originate?

The Anecdote International website provides the story. In 1912, the son of a German immigrant had an idea: People might want to buy bread that was already sliced instead of having to cut it themselves. Otto Rohwedder was 32 when he had his brainstorm, and he spent five years developing the first commercial-grade machine for slicing bread.

Instant success, right? Not exactly. Even though his family and friends were sure it would be a big hit, it took Rohwedder 10 years to sell his first bread slicer.

The struggling Chillicothe Baking Company was the first company to purchase one. However, after using Rohwedder’s invention, sales rose 2,000 percent in a matter of months.

And once other companies saw how useful the bread slicing machine was, it began selling at a brisk pace. Soon every bakery wanted one. Sandwiches have never been the same.

Persistence and determination are what keep us hammering away. I don’t know any entrepreneurs who have achieved any level of success without those two traits. When you have a dream that you can’t let go of, trust your instincts and pursue it.

Author Malcolm Gladwell explained that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in something. 10,000 hours is roughly 5 hours of full-time work at 2,000 hours per year. If you do it as a hobby for 10 hours a week, it will take you 20 years to get to expert level.

We won’t all become experts, but we can all keep hammering away until we can make it work.

Look at some of the great inventions of our time, such as the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell approached American communications company Western Union and offered them the rights to his patent for $100,000, but company bigwigs balked at the proposal citing the “obvious limitations of his device, which is hardly more than a toy.” Undeterred, Bell established the Bell Telephone Company in 1877 and less than a decade later, more than 150,000 people were the proud owners of telephones in the USA. What do you suppose Bell would say about the phone in your pocket now?

Television is another invention that took a long time to get going. In 1926, American radio pioneer Lee De Forest said television was a commercial and financial impossibility. Twenty years later, people were still not convinced. In 1946, film producer Darryl Zanuck said, “People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”

According to estimates, there were 123.8 million TV homes in the United States for the 2022-2023 TV season. And the number of TV households continues to grow.

Personal computers were much the same. In 1949, one year after the world’s first stored program computer made its debut, a mathematician declared: “We have reached the limit of what is possible to achieve with computer technology.” Even as the capabilities and functions of computers grew, there were naysayers like Ken Olson, founder of the computer company Digital Equipment Corp. who said in 1977 “there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Nearly 80 percent of all American households now own a computer. As a business owner I am grateful that their persistence paid off. I clearly remember the old-school methods of ordering, production, delivery and follow-up. I’ll take our office computers any day.

Cell phones also took a long time to catch on. My first cell phone from the 1980s was the size of a brick with a short-life battery. Even Motorola, who pioneered the cell phone, failed to see its potential in 1981. Now we are lost without our cell phones.

Believe it or not, online shopping didn’t catch on for a long time either. In 1966, “Time Magazine” ran an article that claimed: “Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop because women like to get out of the house, like to handle merchandise, like to be able to change their minds.” Approximately 76 percent of U.S. adults now shop online, and annual retail e-commerce sales hit $5 trillion worldwide. Imagine surviving the pandemic without the convenience and selection available from the gazillion websites that we browse daily.

All because someone saw the value in reaching a broader audience and didn’t stop until they figured out how to do it.

As comedian Steve Martin said, “Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent.”

Mackay’s Moral: Good things come to those who persist.

About the Author

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.