This past week, I had a pair of experiences that painted in inspirational relief the power of innovation to change the world for the better.
The first was first reading the cover article of the most recent issue of BloombergBusinessWeek, featuring Tesla’s and SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk and his new “Boring Company, ” and then traveling to SpaceX’s headquarters just a short drive from my Los Angeles office to see for myself what all of the hubbub was about
The Boring Company is Musk’s and fanciful idea to build giant tunnels under the congested freeways of Southern California.
Musk and his team have already started digging, along with calculating the reduction in tunnel cost per mile, currently at $1 billion / mile(!), to make the economics of the project work.
This, like Tesla and SpaceX, is innovation on the grandest and most inspirational scale.
My second experience last week was one of innovation on a smaller and yes much more “boring” scale.
Through my firm’s advisory practice we are in the process of developing a business and marketing plan for a team of executives with a lifetime of experience in reducing workers’ compensation costs in high injury prone environments like large construction projects.
Sadly, for many of these projecs and work environments injury and workers compensation costs amount to as much as 12% of the total project cost.
This statistic is probably not surprising to any business person with first hand experience of workers’ comp, especially in ”pro-labor” states like New York and California.
At the heart of the problem is the adversarial relationship that has traditionally existed between management, labor, and the insurance company before, at and after when a worker gets injured.
Our client’s key innovation is to “flip” this traditionally adversarial dynamic to one of partnership and collaboration.
While the details about how they do it are confidential, suffice to say they are able to effect workers’ comp savings of as much as 80%!
The “aha” connection I immediately made was that it was the smaller, “boring” innovations like workers’ comp reform that make possible the larger, headline – making ones like Elon Musk’s giant tunnels.
Yes, we all need the Elon Musk’s of the world to dream and make happen very big ideas like the Boring Company…
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But just as much so Elon Musk needs the smaller process and relational innovations to make his big ideas economically feasible and possible.
Very importantly, for the vast majority of businesses and entrepreneurs, it is almost exclusively through these “smaller” innovations where real money can be made.
This simple fact is more true today than ever, as the modern economy is so dominated by a relatively few number of societal-changing giant technology companies like Apple, Samsung, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Uber, Tesla, SpaceX, et al.
Odds are very long that any of our businesses will grow to their size and impact but…
…if we plan and act right, odds are very short that we can devise, build, and market new business models that thrive off of their big innovations.
So hopefully, the next time you are driving in Southern California, rather than crawling along on one of the region’s painfully congested freeways, you are instead whisking to your destination through a safe and state-of-the art giant transportation tunnel.
I hope you do so with a big smile on your face, both from awe and excitement for this new mode of transport.
And because you had made your business thrive by finding and pursuing opportunities that handsomely profited from the big changes and innovations around us always.
No matter how small and boring they might seem.