The connection between gas prices and innovation – share what you learn for every trip

The current US pain at the pump in the form of high gas prices impacts innovation. Let me explain how.

Even with all the social media and Internet that last bit of crucial understanding and "feel" for something does happen by being there. This has a lot  to do with the "sticky" nature of knowledge. Just think of the number of times you actually see something or do something and change your earlier assumptions. This change of assumptions happens when you are "there" and gain a completely new insight, a new lead, a new way of looking at something which opens completely new and exciting vistas.

When you have high gas prices, you cut business trips and  tend to miss events and meetings that don't seem worth the expense, you can always talk on the phone or email- you rationalise. The latter can have a huge downside because you loose out on the picking up of sticky knowledge that leads to innovation. My favorite example of this kind of sticky knowledge is from the book Knowledge Creating Company by Nonaka and Takeuchi who recount the development of a bread making machine  by Matsushita where they have a difficult time in getting the bread to come out soft from the prototype machine. Tanaka the engineer, becomes an apprentice with the head baker at Osaka hotel and observes that during kneading of the dough the baker seems to twist and pull the dough. Tanaka tries to program the baking machine to replicate the baker's kneading technique and the baked bread comes out great ! The baker had provided all the information about ingredients,temperatures,process,recipe  but had  not realized that the "secret" was the kneading style he used. Since Tanaka was already struggling to solve this "hard" bread problem she was able to pick up the baker's technique being "ready" to "see" what she had been missing working on the software of the machine.  And it is this "seeing" freely that is hugely impaired when travelling costs soar. You simply cut out "non essential" travel and that tends to become all kinds of travel.

Today companies have cut travel budgets that involve  air travel and attending a meeting and claiming frequent personal reimbursements is not considered a smart practice  for an employee  who is reluctant to come across as "expensive".  Companies must  continue to encourage employees to travel by road to customers,suppliers and professional meetings to keep up the  capture of elusive sticky knowledge in their field.

To appear "productive" the employee can try and  share "one insight" he/she picks up from such travel by a simple email/ social media update  to colleagues and the boss. This way the company paying for gas will find it  less painful and driving for meetings will seem less like a crime! Innovation will get a chance…..

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