Get back to the future

Failure, not necessity, is the mother of invention.

As the vacuum cleaner guru James Dyson puts it: ‘Enjoy failure and learn from it. You can never learn from success.’

It seems the disappointments and hardships of the recession are inspiring the Dysons of tomorrow. A poll conducted by Business Link in London shows that 21 per cent of aspiring inventors said they were spurred to start a business because of redundancy.

Similarly, the recession prompted almost half (49 per cent) of the respondents to proactively invent and innovate in the past 12 months.

Some of the inventions include self-cleaning toothbrushes, cooking appliances and brain-teaser puzzles. Interestingly, a large proportion of the SMEs surveyed (71 per cent) are improving existing products or services through innovation.

Cost cutting has been a theme for a lot of companies this year. That’s understandable, but you can only run on empty with skeletal staff and the same offerings for so long. Moreover, what a recession does bring about is a change in market dynamics so it’s important to invest back into a business where you can to exploit any opportunities that may arise. This not only means improving the quality of a particular offering, but also sharpening the skills of staff so that the delivery is better too.

Alan Cristea, founder of the Alan Cristea Art Gallery in London, observes: ‘I’ve known quite a few people in the art trade who are holding out in the recession by depleting their staff and their stocks; then when the upturn comes the camel’s back finally breaks.’

Charlie Mullins, the founder of Pimlico Plumbers, admits he has needed to be ‘meaner with the purse strings’, but he’s also gone on the offensive too: ‘When it’s tough, people cut back on the marketing and we’ve done the exact opposite. We’re spending more money on that and it’s paying dividends as our brand name expands.’

If art gallery owners, inventors of self-cleaning toothbrushes and plumbers can invest for the future, so can you.

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