Innovation

An article by David Brooks on June 22, 2009 (Updated: July 30, 2018)

I was venting one day about the number of telephone wires and electrical cables that block the view of every road, everywhere. It seemed like a simple idea, and a money-saving one, to put those obtrusive wires underground. A novel concept, I though. They’re out of the way, people won’t hit them with cars and the power won’t go out during storms. But my dad followed that up with a story.

Years ago he was working along side one of the major electrical companies when the same idea came to him.

“Why don’t you just bury the wires or put them in tubes instead of stringing them from telephone poles?” He asked the guy in charge.

“Then what would we do with the rest of our time?” the man replied.

I was dumbfounded, one at the brevity of the response, but also at how the response wasn’t technical. It wasn’t even a cost issue; it was an issue of job security or a risk of potential boredom.

What would they do with their time? That, I don’t know. But it seems like you would still need occasional maintenance on the lines, as well as in cases of upgrading power structures, etc. It just wouldn’t be the same type of maintenance they were used to doing. I would also hope that the transition would be made from regular “maintenance” personnel to a diversification of responsibilities.

That conversation happened back in the eighties or nineties. Now people want “Green Power” or just alternate power sources, and a lot of people are starting to do things that are going to impact the power company’s income, such as putting in solar panels, windmills, etc. If the electrical company had been thinking, they could have started into a more aggressive production scheme where efforts were spent to stay ahead of the competition and trends.

You could probably argue the same for the auto industry. Why spend time, effort and money on the prevention of things like electrical cars or alternate fuels that aren’t petroleum based? If the people calling the shots have the ability, it seems that the right thing to do is to chase innovation rather than making an attempt to squash it. That’s how Henry Ford made it big, by applying innovation. It may seem counter-intuitive to embrace something that isn’t your main product, but if you don’t it’s a gamble on whether or not that single thing can keep you afloat over time. (You obviously won’t want to chase every opportunity that comes your way either.)

It’s the same in technology, though it’s more exaggerated because of the quick evolution. We’re still in conversation as to what we should do about Internet Explorer 6 and probably will continue to use nearly extinct languages, archaic code and structures simply because “it’s cheaper” than making the switch to something modern. But, maintenance and coaxing add up over time.

It may mean that you have to do something about legacy code or past mistakes right now, but it may mean that your final product is something much more stable, cost efficient and a better return on investment than you could have hoped.

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David Brooks is the owner of the small creative studio, Northward Compass, based out of Orlando, Florida. He writes electronic and ambient music as Light The Deep, and fantasy stories about a place called Elerien.

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