For those of you unfamiliar with classic American TV shows, between 1964 and 1967, a popular comedy show called “Gilligan’s Island” aired. The show’s plot was simple. Seven people from different spectrums of life go on a three-hour tour by boat and end up stranded on an uncharted desert island when the boat runs aground during a sudden storm. The castaways were Gilligan (the ship’s mate), the Skipper, the Millionaire and his wife, a movie star, the Professor and Mary Ann.

Most of the episodes dealt with wacky attempts to get rescued that always end up in failure. Other episodes just concentrated on issues and interactions between the castaways. Sound familiar? Don’t confuse this show plot with the current TV show “LOST”, which is more a drama and mystery. Gilligan’s Island was just plain silly.

I grew up watching this show in the later years and catching it on re-runs. I found the show funny, however it was all the amazing gadgets that caught my attention. Despite the limited resources on this deserted island, the Professor always managed to build cool gadgets out of the materials found lying around, like coconuts and bamboo. What great examples of creativity before capital thinking!

Here is a short list of a few of those miraculous inventions made from mainly coconuts and bamboo:

  • A bamboo lie detector
  • A coconut shell battery charger
  • A bamboo telescope
  • A bamboo xylophone
  • A Geiger counter
  • A bamboo sewing machine

In addition to these machines, the Professor was a “brilliant” chemist that Eli Lilly would love to have called their own. He concocted some pretty wild potions, antidotes and extracts to make jet pack fuel, spider cider, shark repellant and even nitroglycerine.

That covers the coconuts and the bamboo, but what about pedal power? Well, guess what handy resource was available on the island for power? Human power. It was common to see Gilligan, the Skipper or even one of the other castaways pedaling away on a stationary bike type contraption to operate fans, washing machines, water pumps or even a telegraph.

Unfortunately, the castaways did not understand the concept of policy deployment, so all this ingenuity was not focused on more important projects – like say fixing the hole in the boat or building a raft. Too bad Tom Hanks was not one of the castaways.

Overlooking the fact that Gilligan’s Island was only a make-believe TV show, the same spirit of innovation and imagination on the show can be seen in real life. Take, for example, a 39-foot tall windmill generating power to run 10 6-watt lightbulbs, a TV set and a radio. This was built from blue-gum trees and bicycle parts by an ingenious 20-year-old in Masitala, Malawi. Or, for example, a team of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology devised a creative way to power a supercomputer for 20 minutes by pedaling a stationary bicycle hooked to a generator.

And, then there is the first-ever Innovate or Die Pedal-Powered Machine contest, where participants are challenged to create a pedal-powered solution for offsetting climate change. More than 100 Earth-cooling inventions were submitted.

Maybe the castaways on Gilligan’s island were really onto something with their gadgets?

About the author:

Mike Wroblewski started his lean journey with instruction in quick die change from Shigeo Shingo. Mike is currently the lean sensei at Batesville Casket Company in Batesville, Ind. He also writes a blog called “Got Boondoggle?” featuring lean and Six Sigma topics. Check it out at http://gotboondoggle.blogspot.com/.