Innovation is often the result of searching for a competitive advantage. This makes perfect since - we specifically are looking to see what innovation can put us ahead of our competition. As we explained in our post on Innovation as a Competitive Advantage, innovation can be a great tool to get ahead. Innovation, however, can also be an excellent tool for solving a problem.
Problems in the world are ever increasing, and innovation can be used to solve many of these. It is just a matter of realizing the potential opportunities. For example, let's consider two different problems.
PROBLEM 1: On a recent visit to Chicago, I had the opportunity to spend some time downtown. One thing I observed was the challenges that dog owners face in an urban setting. There really isn't anywhere for dog owners to "walk" their dogs. The result? Dogs must do their dirty business right on the busy sidewalks and the owners must bag and carry the waste with them.
PROBLEM 2: For the second problem, we can consider the rising levels of methane gas emissions. The problem with methane is that it can potentially act as a green house gas, meaning that when in our atmosphere, it can create a heating effect. While the main source of methane comes from natural gas, methane also comes from additional sources, such as from the waste of humans and animals.
The way this problem was solved is a perfect example of innovation.
Just down the road from MIT in Cambridge, MA, artist Matthew Mazzotta created an innovation that solved both problems: what to do with urban dog waste and a way to avoid methane emissions from this waste. His idea was to turn dog waste into an energy source. The result? Park Spark.
The Park Spark project is a collaborative art project that "brings together visual art, technological research, city planning, and community organization." The process works so that dog owners deposit their dog waste into a methane digester which utilizes the byproduct of the waste, methane, to burn a light in a lamp post. Yes, dog waste is being used to light a streetlamp.
Following the lead of Park Spark, several other cities around the world have begun to follow suit. This innovative project brings to light an amazing opportunity that could potentially solve more than one major problem we face today.
What problems have you seen solved through innovation?