Innovate Durban is a non-profit company aimed at stimulating innovation within the Durban region. Its focus is to support and promote innovation by creating platforms that will build and develop the innovation ecosystem in Durban.
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Innovate DurbanBlog The Chalice that is Opportunity

The Chalice that is Opportunity

Arthur Bloch relates “Every solution breeds new problems.” Every product – especially the one that you are either busy inventing or improving will, throughout its lifecycle, introduce new problems. Off course, it may be that the problem is an opportunity that is immediately solvable. It may also happen in your grandchildren’s time. Consider a human colony on Mars. I thought we should look at a few simple example to illustrate this never-ending cycle of opportunity and challenge. Let’s talk cars precisely because I am not a petrolhead.

Karl Benz was one of the first men to drive a car, which he prototyped in 1886. Intriguingly his wife Bretha invested her own fortune in Karl’s project, demonstrating that spousal support is important to success (the collective power of synergy).
Did you know that Bretha is credited as the world’s first long distance driver (empowering solution). The Mercedes remains a beautiful though expensive car which alas both my wife and I got to sit in just once, on our wedding day (lack of ambition challenge). As the cars became popular in the early days it became a legal requirement that cars be preceded by a person walking with a red flag and the speed was capped at 6km/h (overcoming fear and adoption problem). Consider that we walk at about 5km/h!

Horses were the order of the day before cars reached widespread use (horses were green environmental solution). Each horse, however produced, a lot of manure – about 2.2m kilograms per day. New York, in the 1900’s, alone had 200 000 horses with no waste disposal system. The ensuing mountains of manure proved a haven for disease (introducing a health problem).

Thus cars solved one major smelly problem! They, however, were expensive, (cost of ownership problem), until Henry Ford mass produced and commoditised the automotive (mass production opportunity). Liked all geniuses Henry had one blind spot – the colour of the vehicle by famously declaring to all customers “You can have your car in any colour you want, as long as it’s black” (deciding for your consumer problem).

The cars solved – dare we say – “a crappy problem!” It even created an infrastructure requirement – roads (building new while maintaining existing road opportunity, petrol distribution problem and sales opportunity, car sales and its maintenance opportunity). The road and its opportunity grew exponentially and still exists to this day. Over time, cars became more reliable, affordable (commoditised), much faster which caused accidents and fatalities (convenience solution while sadly increasing fatalities). Thus speed control regulations were introduced which reduced though did not eliminate road deaths.

The regulators then introduced speed traps and fines, ostensibly as a deterrent, which proved a boon for local municipalities (the income opportunity; the problem of alienating motorists). These traps only work where they are deployed (poor solution). Electronic experts innovated and created radar laser guns to measure the speed of moving vehicles creating a roving trap (improved solution). Crackers (hackers are the good guys!) reacted and created radar gun detectors (avoidance problem). This battle is on-going while the death carnage continues.

Meanwhile the engineers created traffic calmers, in the form of speed bumps to slow traffic down particularly in high risk areas such as schools, which did the work well enough. Once again, these only work where they are deployed (location specific solution).

Some litigation-averse corporate vehicle owners introduced electronic governing systems which either electronically or mechanically prevent (govern) vehicles from exceeded a certain limit (litigation solution, speed excess solved). This only works on installed vehicles. If a vehicle is governed at 120 km/h one can achieve this speed even at a 60 km/h zone thereby breaking the law (speed challenge occasionally solved)!

The introduction of the bewildering myriad of brands and types of vehicles allowed for increased product development through innovation and creativity. Now we have to many brands which introduces a supply chain problem (logistics opportunity).

The constant automotive history across brands has been wheels (sustained innovation). One really want to be a wheel manufacturer where business just rolls and rolls, right? Wrong. A disrupter will emerge and roll tyres will be out of business! Consider that this is exactly what Kodak Camera thought even though they dominated photography (obsolescence, refusing to adapt problem). They don’t exist anymore along with 140,000 jobs.

Will roads always be needed in future? Passenger drones may reduce the need for increased rural road infrastructure which may very well be a boon for the environment and developing nations and yes present a different opportunity. What problems will this introduce?

Here is my challenge to you. Consider the innovation that you had in mind. Go back 10, 20, 50 years. How was it solved then? What problem did that solution create? Do this for each evolution of the solution and problem. This may just change the mindset of either you or your customers as you explain why you are where you are.

Follow this link. It speaks on three problems which became opportunities:

Author: Dr Surendra Thakur