2020, The Year of Innovation.
2020 has been an incredible year for innovation opportunities and possibly a wakeup-call or reset of complacency or standard thinking. Yes, it was a strain on our patience, wallets and a significant change to our daily lifestyle. But let’s not forget, with adversity comes opportunity.
So, what happened in 2020? Most of the world had our daily lives turned upside-down. Many people lost their jobs due to COVID-19’s evisceration of your company or industry. Careers, individual livelihood, and the financial impact on the economy are the most talked-about. However, consider the effect on education, medicine, social services, religious services, job hunting, and even the ever-popular happy hour with friends and co-workers. Perhaps it was not as urgent as our ability to pay the electric bill, but important, nonetheless. Unable to meet face to face, or at least discouraged from doing so, has changed us all whether we know it yet or not. Some examples: Crime has dropped in some areas and categories (PMC statistics on crime and environment changes during COVID-19). You will find plenty of interesting reading on the changes in crime, air quality, and other unexpected positives from this pandemic. Let’s look at some of the opportunities as well.
I won’t say there is a silver lining to a global pandemic. There may be, but it would be in poor taste to say so. But there are some potential positives I think we should consider. You have probably seen at least a variant of the social media jokes that may hit a little close to home, such as ordering a $2 ice cream sunday and having it delivered for $12.99. Cooking less and eating more may not be suitable for our waistline. Still, it has spurred new industries or at least bolstered existing ones—delivery of everything from food of any kind to groceries, prescriptions, and more. Some of these services were already available. But now are commonplace. How might your business benefit from the “new norm?”
Go virtual or go home. Or more accurately, “Go virtual AND go home” has become the standard. Services such as medical visits, counseling sessions, and myriad other “things” we used to do face to face went virtual to one degree or another in the second half of 2020. Many corporate networks were caught off guard and unable to handle the increased network traffic. So, new views of infrastructure emerged and were implemented faster than they would have otherwise. What innovations are brewing now that we will start to see in 2021 and beyond? What good will come from all this bad?
First, let’s agree on our understanding of a few types of innovation. One of my favorite professors at Harvard Extension School was in my “Innovation with Block Chain” class to pursue my master’s degree. During this class, I learned there are different kinds or levels of innovation. GOOGLE “innovation” and you will probably find these and other terms to describe the concepts, but, here are some of the basics.
Small improvements in existing products and services. Think features added to smartphones, back-up cameras on automobiles, and other new tech on new cars. Tiny steps to make an existing product or service a little better each time.
Improvements on current overall systems and products, but slightly more impactful and could be classified as inventions of their own. Fuel-injected engines bring far more power and efficiency to internal combustion engines, GPS on phones for navigation, solid-state memory, and storage in computers. These are new branches to existing products and services.
Innovations that change how we do things entirely. The first cell phones to smartphones, giving us computing power in the palm of our hands, personal computers, and the internet allowing for business and exchanging information in milliseconds rather than days.
The Steam Engine allowing locomotives to transport people and products across the country in days rather than months. Electricity sparked, no pun intended, entire industries of products, or, antibiotics that cured diseases that were previously death sentences.
In what group each of these innovations falls is a subject of some debate. Let’s agree that there are different levels of innovation and that while necessity may be the mother of invention, innovation is usually the child’s invention. So, what will 2021 and 2022 bring to your business?
1. A continued and growing boom in virtual living. School, shopping, business meeting, medical diagnosis, etc. In 2020, every aspect of our lives had been touched by virtual livelihood by video appointments, interviews and school for your kids. We’ve already seen huge leaps in adoption and improvements in all these areas and more. Think of the revenue and profit to be made and money and time to be saved by the consumer, the business owner and entrepreneur! But, this isn’t news to us, is it? Virtual reality has been in games for a while now.
2. Relationships will go global in a way we may not yet comprehend. Business relationships, friendships, scientific and medical collaboration, governmental negotiations and new ventures facilitated by virtual living being thrust upon us. E-mail, the internet and social media have reconnected families and friends for years now.
But we never depended on these digital “tools” as we have in 2020 and now 2021. Who will take that to the next level by establishing more virtual offices, more collaboration over borders? How much cost can you eliminate from your business structure by “visiting” clients screen-to-screen in a video conference? What new forms of security will be required and evolve from these new avenues and increased dependance of connectivity? Many telecom companies have invested heavily in 5G network infrastructure being the next big thing. I believe it’s almost outdated already. Think of how quickly the world changed from VHS to CDs to DVDs and now Streaming.
3. A stronger global communication shift. This is not just words and pictures, but invention and products created remotely by Additive Manufacturing (3-D printing on a commercial scale). Again, GOOGLE “additive manufacturing” to see what I mean.
Think about the possibilities of specifications being sent to print a new specialized tool or surgical instrument at your local UPS or FedEx location from designs minutes old from 5 different countries. Sounds a lot like science fiction. However, it is already in use, (Najmon, Raeisi, Tovar, (2019)). Additive manufacturing was described as items designed piece by piece in different countries by PhD’s, engineers, civilians, farmers, and now you, that can fit together to make something completely new, all transmitted to each other, consolidated into one product and constructed via Additive Manufacturing with new materials, computers, lasers and plasma to build it thousands miles away or in the next room.
New items are constructed in a small and completely different location from where their inventors and experts live and work. Just by transmitting the specs to the right machine anywhere on earth, a new product is formed. Talk about “Zero Inventory” or “Just In Time” logistics!
So, what has all this got to do with you the business owner? The vast majority of innovations today are in the incremental category; small steps to improve what you have, what you do and how you do it. And, they are profitable! How often do you upgrade your smartphone just because you want the latest and greatest features?
Think about it this way, with the computer on your desk; you can increase your business relationships by having a video call with a client! It’s easy and inexpensive and can be done on a phone, tablet computer or your desktop computer. Reaching out is easier than ever before out!
Share quotes on-line, discuss terms, see the face of the person you are talking to and read their emotion and body language. Let them see who they are talking to. It can be personal and effective. Incremental innovation is in your business TODAY, and can save time, expense and increase sales. They say nothing can replace person-to-person communication, a handshake or lunch together. Maybe not. But can video meetings and chats with your customers and other business locations help your business today and into the future? I’m betting, YES.
Review of additive manufacturing technologies and applications in the aerospace industry. Joel C. Najmon, Sajjad Raeisi, Andres Tovar. (2019, Additive Manufacturing for the Aerospace Industry, Pages 7-31)