Innovations: Why are we always so passive?
Tuesday, 11 October 2016 | Posted by: Jan Gesthuizen, Vincentz Network
Whenever innovations are discussed in the coatings industry, it’s striking how often the talk centres on how we can comply with new regulations: replace chromium (VI) here, reduce VOCs there, eliminate isocyanates everywhere. Yes, these are all important, but am I the only one missing something?
What these examples have in common is that they show an industry which is mostly in reactive, not pro-active mode. I’ve been working in this industry for all of seven months now – so I’m a newbie and will be for a while yet. And you can go right ahead and accuse me of not knowing what I'm talking about. But then, again, you might appreciate an outsider’s perspective.
Re-actve, not pro-active
In my almost eight years as a journalist, I’ve experienced the energy transistion in Germany and on a professional level I’ve had the pleasure of dealing extensively with the digital transformation. It strikes me that these two industries are much more pro-active, driven by a real sense of adventure. They don’t just re-act, they go on the offensive, attacking the great problems of the world.
And lest we forget: they too have to comply with rules and regulations. In fact, the energy industry is just as regulated as the chemical industry, perhaps more so. Yet that regulation hasn’t prevented solar energy and wind energy from coming along and turning the market on its head. There are even greater disruptive forces at work in the digital industry, foremost among them are Facebook, Google and their ilk. And contrary to popular opinion, the internet is not devoid of regulation. Indeed, quite the opposite is true.
So why not save the world?
The coatings industry, by contrast, often seems paralysed with lethargy. Yes, there are exciting developments, such as this innovation from the USA, which can help to combat climate change. But, to my mind, they are few and far between and those which have seen the light of day have not been marketed particularly well. Meanwhile, other industries are inspired by the idea of saving the world (e.g. the energy turnaround in Germany) or of completely revolutionising how society functions (e.g. social media and the sharing economy).
Herein lies an important clue to the shortage of skilled labour. The younger generation wants to do more than just make money. The skilled workers of today and tomorrow seek a career which gives meaning to their lives and, where possible, helps to make the world a little bit better.
There's no doubt that the coatings industry is probably a hundred years further down the line in terms of development than the new industries. It therefore can’t keep coming up with huge leaps of innovation. But maybe it’s time to reflect on whether or not the only great thing about your great product is that it complies with some directive or other. If a product can do something fantastic, tell the world! There are lots of ways to do this: good public relations work, professional marketing and – not to be sneezed at – conferences and symposia. Nothing beats word of mouth.
And why not try using the internet properly? The following YouTube video is a great example:
When I see something like that, it leaves me wanting more. What about you?