22 February 2018

Necessity's Second Child

Parenting ain't easy, especially when you're a single mother and you happen to be the mother of invention. What a gig, eh?

Well, guess what? You've been given another child: Innovation. It's an ill-tempered brat but, er, congratulations, good luck and all that...

It's widely accepted the same principles hold true for innovation as invention as they are both driven by a need to make things better.

Need itself is a commodity, and it faces the same demand and supply cycle that everything else does, especially in my home province. Invention and innovation are not stocked on shelves, they're not readily available when they are called upon. Invention and innovation come from a mindset which is created out of necessity and sometimes it takes years to cultivate a collective mindset and culture around being innovative.

When I look at Alberta, where currently there has been a huge focus to innovate as a means to stimulate the economy, I see a huge dilemma; our demand for innovation is not timed with our supply of necessity. I mean it appears as though it is, but it's not. When necessity arises, the mindset isn't there until months or years after - the result is invention and innovation ship late, because they're behind schedule.

The energy sector, where pressure to innovate is mostly being placed, goes through boom and bust cycles. The world oil price dictates the success of many and when things are booming necessity vanishes as there's no need to change anything except the oil in your Bentley and therefore no demand to innovate. But when the price drops below production costs, necessity shows up, there's a flurry of activity and a renewed focus on how to innovate and drive production costs down. I have witnessed this several times during my career.

Innovation is born of necessity but there is a sometimes a lengthy gestation period before we celebrate the birth of a new invention or innovation. You know what happens when you have a newborn... you have to raise it, nurture it and groom it before it becomes independent enough to be useful in its own sense.

So, even if an idea is conceived, there's a period of time before it is put into practice. Most ideas need to be tested, piloted, analyzed and only then are they implemented - this can take years as well.

The solution? Business leaders can control the commodity of need, they alone, can create the culture where necessity is built into their plans. Leaders should make necessity a part of every company's day-to-day mantra and of ongoing operations at all times. This takes time, dedication and a focus on the future.

If necessity is ever-present, so too should innovation, right?

Of course, the other parent to innovation is the inventor. The inventor requires enablers, encouragers and funders by keeping necessity top of mind and to make it an important, integral part of every company and industry.

Happy parenting!

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