Thursday, June 01, 2006

Search for Scarce Resources Drives Innovation

When we see ingenious inventions that make our lives easier, little thought goes into pondering how they came into being. It may be surprising to learn how often innovations are developed not by choice, but because of a distinct lack of them. Stephen L Sass calls attention to our innovative ancestors in his article, “Scarcity, Mother of Invention,” from The New York Times.

Iron may have been the stuff of kings’ weaponry and bronze the raw material of choice for the masses, but it wasn’t until tin resources, essential to making bronze, dried up that artisans developed smelting and were able to provide iron to a majority of 12th century BC consumers.

In 17th century Britain, there was such a hunger for wood for energy, as a raw material for ships, and smelting that the country produced a timber famine. Coal was a natural alternative, but ran into problems when it was used for smelting because sulfur would make iron weapons brittle. A process was developed to extract the harmful ingredients from coal in 1709 and the end result was called coke.

Coke became cheap enough for mass market use and people began to acquire cast iron pots and pans.
But coal mine shafts are very deep and were vulnerable to flooding. The steam engine was developed to pump water out of coal mines, a device that would become the driving source of power for the Industrial Revolution.

When your business runs into obstacles, take the time to research new ways of overcoming these challenges. You’ll build a stronger business by taking a pioneering approach.

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