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New World, New Economy: Adapting Versus Becoming a Modern-Day Luddite

Change is constant and inevitable. Whether we like it or not, progress happens. But no one could have anticipated the events of 2020. The disruptive nature of a global pandemic has been profound, to say the least. In the process, many have experienced hardships and major life challenges. But likewise, others have seized the moment and embraced creative innovation in an effort to survive. This implies that opportunities to adapt to change and succeed in the midst of these crises are indeed possible. And businesses that embrace such opportunities are the ones that will thrive.

The coronavirus pandemic isn’t the first globally disruptive event to happen, and it won’t be the last either. The Spanish Flu, the Industrial Revolution, the Internet, and the Age of Computing represent similar shifts that suddenly changed worldviews. In each case, some businesses excelled while others stagnated. The key difference between the two is the degree to which they invited creative innovation. With this new pandemic world and evolving Come-to-Me Economy, a similar dilemma faces many businesses today. The question is whether or not they are capable of adapting to change or doomed for failure.

“The disruption of lost jobs and shuttered businesses is immediate, while the payoff from creative destruction comes mainly in the long term. As a result, societies will always be tempted to block the process of creative destruction.” – W. Michael Cox, Senior VP and Chief Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

Modern-Day Luddites in the Making

In modern terms, the label of a Luddite refers to someone who is opposed to progress in automation or technology. But the term dates back to early 19th century England in reference to textile workers and craftsmen. As the Industrial Revolution was unfolding, these workers became increasingly upset about machines replacing human labor. Jobs became scarce, and factories were able to make cheaper products in larger supplies. But rather than adapt to change, these textile workers chose a different route. They decided that breaking the actual machines was a better way to go.

A doctor purchasing a fresh bag of Bold Business
Creative innovation in times of change require adaptation – and that’s especially true of business.

The 19th century Luddites clearly had a shortsighted perspective on things, which is often what gets us into trouble. When change events occur, it’s easy to focus on short-term effects and try to prevent them. After all, adapting to change can be painful. But creative innovation demands a long-term perspective and a broader point of view. Businesses that are able to cultivate these environments will be more resilient and meet changing demands. But those that don’t, will tend to stagnate at best and fail at worst. This tends to be the fate of the modern-day Luddite.

“Societies that try to reap the gain of creative destruction without the pain find themselves enduring the pain but not the gain.” – Richard Alm, Economics Writer, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

Creative Innovation Comes from Creative Destruction

Economist Joseph Schumpeter coined the phrase of creative destruction more than a century ago. Like a phoenix rising from its ashes, creative innovation often comes from destructive circumstances. No one would argue that the pandemic has been destructive in a variety of ways. And it is this type of major shift that has the greatest potential to invite creative innovation to take place. However, this requires adapting to change and suffering through the transition. Thus, Schumpeter astutely recognized that resistance to this change would occur with the demise of those resisting.

In examining the current landscape, businesses and societies around the globe are reacting in a manner to avoid such pains. Protectionist policies attempt to preserve jobs in an effort to keep employment figures high. But in the process, these same policies constrain creative innovation and progress. Likewise, businesses can engage in similar practices that attempt to avoid risk and play it safe. But adapting to change demands intellectual bravery and experimental risk-taking. Indeed, these are the pains that creative destruction causes. But they are essential in encouraging the kind of creative innovation needed for businesses to excel.

“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.” Henry Hazlitt, American journalist

Cultivating a Culture of Creative Innovation

For businesses, it’s important to foster environments that invite creative innovation. Such environments are those where disagreement and experimentation are rewarded and not punished. Organizational teams must have the license to disagree and ask challenging questions without repercussions. By allowing constructive dissent, creative innovation will thrive. Likewise, bureaucratic obstacles should be minimized since these are kryptonite to the process of creative innovation. Through these efforts, adapting to change will not only be less difficult but likely more productive as well.

In essence, creative innovation requires space in which to flourish. Therefore, leadership plays an important role in fostering a culture conducive to change. Innovation leaders achieve this by encouraging new ideas and perspectives by criticizing or responding negatively. Likewise, innovation leaders role-model constructive risk-taking behaviors and intellectual bravery. They also invite inclusion and participation while providing members with collaborative tools. With these techniques, leaders support adapting to change in a positive and exciting way.

“Flexibility for individuals [when working at home] obviously can create some collaboration challenges as well. We know from a lot of research that creativity and innovation largely happen through collaboration” – Michael Parke, Assistant Professor of Management, Wharton School of Business

Adapting to Change in the Midst of a Pandemic

Encouraging creative innovation in the midst of a pandemic isn’t supposed to be easy. Businesses must pursue new strategies and techniques in dealing with a disrupted world. But resisting the change is futile and will only lead to inevitable pains and possibly major setbacks. By being proactive and adapting to change in an assertive way, businesses will be in a much better position to succeed. It’s a new world and a new economy with rapidly changing consumer preferences and demands. The business Luddites of the world are not likely to fare well in such an environment. But those prioritizing creative innovation will be well-positioned for today’s changes as well as those down the road.

 

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Nuclear Engines and Space Travel – A Potential Game-Changer in the Race to Space

Many advances have occurred in relation to space travel as of late. Despite years of delays, recent developments include the expanded use of the International Space Station. Likewise, private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX are accelerated successful space launches. But when it comes to rocket engines and long-distance space travel, there remain some significant barriers. The same rocket fuel used today is essentially the same that it was when man first landed on the moon. For many space engineers, the time for innovation in the field has been long overdue.

In this regard, it appears that there has now been a tremendous breakthrough in rocket engine technology. Nuclear engines have now been designed that could greatly improve long-distance space travel. In fact, nuclear engines could reduce travel time by more than half in most cases. This new development opens the door for potential space exploration of Mars and other destinations. And with both NASA and SpaceX planning long-distance space travel to Mars by 2024, the timing couldn’t be better.

“…We’ve been using the same damn rocket technology since Apollo, and it’s time to grow up and say the magic term: nuclear. There I said it; nuclear.” – Daniel Goldin, NASA’s Administrator from 1992 and 2001

Nuclear Engines Versus Traditional Rocket Engines

In space exploration today, rocket engines primarily utilize chemical fuel to propel rockets into outer space. But chemical fuel, like liquid oxygen, has its limitations. The primary one involves its barriers to long-distance space travel. Using traditional rocket engines with chemical combustion, it has been estimated a trip to Mars could take nine months. While this may seem feasible, in reality, it’s not. Live space crews in space that long would be exposed to significant cosmic radiation. Since cosmic radiation causes brain damage and memory loss, safety concerns represent a major hurdle using chemical fuel.

A second-stage space craft disengaging from its stage one
Long-distance space travel might be science fiction for now, but nuclear engines could soon make it a reality.

Nuclear engines, on the other hand, have the opportunity to drastically reduce the time of long-distance space travel. In essence, nuclear engines use thermal energy to propel the rocket instead of chemical fuel. As a result, the time of travel is much shorter, and thus, exposure to cosmic radiation much less. Of course, the idea of using nuclear engines has been around since the early 1960s. But developing nuclear engines that were light enough and safe enough has been the primary challenge. But fortunately, one company now reports that an effective nuclear engine design now exists.

“Our engine maximizes the use of proven technology, eliminates failure modes of previous NTP concepts, and has a specific impulse more than twice that of chemical systems.” – Michael Eades, PhD., Principal Engineer, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation (USNC), Technology Division

USNC’s Innovative Breakthrough

USNC is based in Seattle, Washington, and it has two divisions…technology and power. Its power division is involved in the use of nuclear engines within energy facilities. Its technology division is more concerned with developing advanced nuclear technologies. Fortunately, the two divisions share a great deal of information about design and safety. And this knowledge led to USNC-tech’s ability to design a thermal nuclear engine that has great potential for space travel. Being able to overcome issues related to both weight and safety, its Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) engine is truly innovative.

The company’s NTP engine uses a reprocessed variant of nuclear material as its fuel source. This fuel is labeled HALEU, which stands for high assay, low enriched uranium. The uranium is enriched to only 20 percent, and then it is packed into small coated fragments of zirconium carbonate. These ceramic microcapsules enable nuclear material to work at higher temperatures and be much more efficient. At the same time, these encapsulated fuel products are much more stable, offering greater safety. And best of all, they result in more rapid propulsion which dramatically reduced long-distance space travel times.

“Key to USNC-Tech’s design is a conscious overlap between terrestrial and space reactor technologies. This allows us to leverage the advancements in nuclear technology and infrastructure from terrestrial systems and apply them to our space reactors.” – Paolo Venneri, CEO, USNC, Technology Division

Just in Time for Long-Distance Space Travel

Over the last decade, the race for space has heated up significantly. While NASA has forged public-private partnerships in this regard, other countries are making progress as well. China’s space exploration program is advancing rapidly with some fearing they may overtake U.S. dominance. Likewise, the European Space Agency is investing significant resources in space travel. And even countries not typically known for space exploration, like the United Kingdom and India, are involved. Understanding this, not only is there a race toward long-distance space travel and exploration. There is also a race to develop the technology needed to do so.

As noted, NASA engineers have been pursuing nuclear engines since 1961. The Nuclear Energy for Rocket Vehicle Applications (NERVA) was organized that year. But progress has been slow because of the technology barriers described. However, NASA has announced it has plans to send a live crew to Mars by 2024. Elon Musk has cited the same year for SpaceX to do the same. But both organizations acknowledge that nuclear engines may be essential to achieve these goals. If USNC-tech’s thermal nuclear engines are safe and effective, this would be a game-changer. It might be just enough to launch U.S. space exploration well out in front of the competition.

The Reality of Long-Distance Space Travel

Planned space explorations of Mars with live crews likely represent how nuclear engines would be utilized in the near term. But advances in this area of technology could impact space travel in many ways. Thermal nuclear engines could allow space exploration beyond Mars. Recent discoveries concerning Venus potentially reflect other long-distance space travel pursuits in the future. And space installations beyond earth’s orbit might also benefit from these recent technological advances. If USNC’s prototypes are eventually approved, this indeed could usher in a completely new era of space exploration.

 

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The Future of Restaurants Lies in the Past – The Return of the Automats

Since March, the restaurant industry has struggled. Lockdowns suddenly forced many restaurants to close or rapidly shift to delivery services. When re-openings occurred, most allowed limited capacity only, which continued to handcuff revenues and operations. And of course, consumer concerns about exposure to the coronavirus further reduced patronage to many restaurants. Over the course, many have invested in restaurant innovations like QR codes for menus and sanitizing systems. But these new strategies have only taken restaurants so far. But one new concept may prove to be an answer to these ongoing challenges: automats.

Automats are automated restaurants that allow customers to order a meal from a vending-machine system. Naturally, automats have some appeal during a pandemic because it greatly diminishes human contact exposure. Throughout North America, more and more of these automats are popping up. And investors are beginning to see the tremendous potential these recent restaurant innovations have. But what’s even more surprising is the fact that automats are new. In fact, they’ve actually been around before for over a century, dating back to the late 1800s.

“At the end of the day, people eat in restaurants for an experience, and we’re moving away from that because we have to.” – Stephen Zagor, Consultant and Professor at Columbia Business School

The Intriguing History of Automats

You might find it hard to believe, but automats were first introduced in Berlin in the 1880s. Rows of cubbies with glass doors were constructed much like an old post office. Within these cubbies, a variety of sandwiches, hot meals, and beverages were offered that were made to order. Customers simply deposited a coin, collected their food, and they were on their way. The remarkable convenience and low-cost of these restaurant innovations eventually led to their presence in the U.S. It wasn’t long before they appeared in Philadelphia and then New York City, much to the delight of many customers.

A wide array of food offered in an automat
You may decry the automat as a glorified version of the vending machine, but it’s a safer dining option.

Horn and Hardart opened the first of their automats in 1902 in Philadelphia. They then expanded their operations into New York a decade later in 1912. The fast-paced lifestyle of these cities meshed well with these restaurant innovations. For 5 to 10 cents, workers could grab a quick, hot meal, pay no tip, and be on their way. At their peak, the company had 80 automat locations, gaining in popularity after the Spanish Flu and the Great Depression. But by the 1950s, inflation and the rise of fast-food chains like McDonald’s ushered in their decline.

“We think [automats are] the next big thing. It’s going to grow really big, really fast over the next five to seven years.” – Dan Rowe, CEO of Fransmart

Automats Version 2.0

It’s not surprising that the automats making a comeback today look a bit different than those of the past. But the concept of these recent restaurant innovations is essentially the same. Most automats take advantage of smartphone ordering or touchless kiosks. Likewise, many employ misting sanitation systems and/or ultraviolet light for food cubby disinfection. And several are employing automated robotics to facilitate food order preparation and cubby placement. All of these features not only offer convenience and affordability but consumer safety as well. And during a pandemic, customers are willing to pay a premium for this.

In the last few months, several new automats have appeared. In fact, some were already in developing before COVID struck. The Brooklyn Dumpling Shop utilizes artificial intelligence and robotics in its automats. It has also recently signed with Fransmart, a franchising development company, to expand to 500 franchises over the next decade. Box’d is a Middle Eastern food concept automat chain promoted by Paramount Fine Foods. And Dark Horse Coffee Shops in Toronto are fully automated operations offering premium coffee and pastries. These are just a few of the companies investing in these types of restaurant innovations.

“We’re not looking to replace our cafes. We still believe in cafes, and we still believe people will want to come back to cafes in the long run. We believe in innovation, too, especially during COVID. And so, this is something that can exist alongside our cafes.” – Max Daviau, VP of Retail, Dark Horse Coffee

Lasting Innovation or Temporary Trend?

Notably, investing in these restaurant innovations has some risks. Should a coronavirus vaccine or other effective COVID therapies be developed, automats may lose their appeal. But many in the restaurant industry do not see this as likely. Many companies had already begun advancing the concept of automats before the pandemic with some success. Likewise, both the availability of robotic technologies and the lower expenses of automats are attractive. For these reasons, some foresee automats as being simply a new restaurant option for consumers.

An additional concern is whether automats might replace human workers in the restaurant industry. Many restaurants have been forced to cut staff in light of the pandemic. Therefore, adding robots to provided automated meals could impact this further. However, many see automats not as a replacement but as an addition to existing offerings. Individuals who enjoy the dining experience will still indulge in the restaurant experience. Automats simply provide an additional option that might be attractive to some consumers at certain times. Likewise, even with full automation, a human touch is needed. In all likelihood, restaurant workers will embrace new roles, but they aren’t likely to be replaced.

Coming to a Location Near You

As noted with Fransmart, major investors are banking on the growth of automats over the coming years. Like many pandemic-driven businesses, these restaurant innovations will attract consumer interest now and possibly shift dining behaviors in the future. If this is the case, then automats will begin appearing everywhere from coast to coast. With easy access and convenient efficiency being their main selling points, automats do have notable advantages. Combine this with automation and quality offerings, it’s quite likely automats will find their own niche in the restaurant dining landscape.

 

Want to make 2021 a better year than 2020? Then check out PROJECT BOLD LIFE: The Proven Formula to Take on Challenges and Achieve Happiness and Success.