The Genesis of Invention

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Wishing thinking, wanting and wondering often lead to innovation, but not without action or effort. Finish the job.

March 01, 2004

 

Heather McCune, Editor in Chief

 

Builders crowded the aisles in record numbers at the recent NAHB convention in Las Vegas. They walked the trade show row by row and booth by booth looking for the elusive product or tool to help improve business operations front end and back, the desirability and durability of homes built, and communications with customers and trades.

In short, these 100,000-plus building industry professionals sought solutions to their problems. At the most basic level, the appeal of every innovation is the buyer's belief and hope that the product will solve or make simpler what no other did or can do. That belief intoxicates the customer in much the way the "what if" infatuates the inventor.

We've all sat at a desk or on the job and wished for a better way, a better tool to complete the task at hand. "If only I had ..." most often floats through our minds, slips through our lips and leads nowhere. But sometimes wishing turns to action and results in a new invention - the proverbial better mousetrap.

This month, we marry inventor dreams and user wishes in our special report, "Invent This, Please!." We interview builder after builder, asking each for the solution to his most pressing business problem. Their answers differ much as home builders differ.

One of the most intriguing suggestions comes from Virginia builder Craig Reed. He describes his most-needed innovation as "builderware" - a far-reaching hardware/software package that would demonstrate his professionalism and capabilities to customers on the front end, smooth communications with trades and clients during construction, and serve as a customer database during warranty and beyond. He then goes a step further:

"It would be worthless if it didn't have networking capability. What would be accessible through the laptop would have to be the same information as through the office. It would have to be basically a mobile desktop."

What Reed describes isn't revolutionary - the software and hardware exist to build such a system today - but it would revolutionize his business and the many more like it. Countless other executable ideas are in this article and in the head of every builder who has uttered the words "If only I had ..."

As intriguing as the products that are possible - though a lot more frightening - are those that fall into the magic-wand approach to management. Let me explain. Who in the past few years hasn't wished for a way to squash liability insurance costs? Skyrocketing rates and rigid renewal policy standards have burned many a builder's bottom line, but wishing for a different future won't make it so. What a builder can and must do is become his or her own "high-impact insurance press."

How? Take the steps to prove to your carrier that your business is different from the industry at large and therefore exposed to less liability. Collect the documentation that proves you use quality products to build a well-engineered home that will result in satisfied customers with no reason to think litigation.

In a similar vein, wishing for rationality when it comes to community support and zoning board approvals for new developments is the builder equivalent of spitting into the wind - you'll get hit in the face. To avoid the smack, work for a different outcome. Blunt the CAVEs - citizens against virtually everything - and their impact on zoning commissioners with a good offense. Invest the time, energy and dollars upfront to communicate your vision for a project and then actively listen to their feedback, suggestions and concerns. Gathering the input and ideas from those who would be your enemies might not change the outcome, but it will give you the information necessary to make it a fairer fight.

Wishful thinking, wanting and wondering often lead to innovation, but not without action or effort. Finish the job.

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