Sunday, June 01, 2008

Invention is the Mother of Opportunity

On a lead from the PSFK blog, I was amazed to find that Daniel Burd, a sixteen year-old kid from Canada, had quite possibly found a solution to a major environmental scourge: the disposable plastic shopping bag.

When you consider that most of these bags are not recycled and thus end up in landfills, and that in the landfills they do not biodegrade, we have a major problem. Moreover, much of this plastic unfortuanately ends up in the ocean, where it endangers marine life, and has even created a shameful mass known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Here's a video posted by Cryptic Moth:

Hopefully, none of us need to be reminded of the problems created by these plastic bags. What I would like to emphasize is how a young man not even out of high school took the irritation of accumulating bags in his house, and set it upon himself to identify which microbes are responsible for degrading these bags, and resultingly found a natural solution for getting rid of them. It turns out that at the right temperature, some yeast for fermentation, and two microbes, these bags can be degraded in weeks.

Things that can be learned from this kid:

1. Do not ignore problems brought to your attention. Instead, challenge yourself to find a solution. Problems are often opportunities in disguise, but it takes passion, initiative, and dedication. Nobody would have expected somebody this young to make this discovery--and yet he did. Why? Because he took the initiative to solve his problem, and methodically and tenaciously devised a solution.

2. Do what other people aren't doing. When Daniel Burd researched what other people were doing to solve this problem and discovered that they weren't doing much, he then took it upon himself to do something. This is the source of invention, innovation, and opportunity. You should always be looking for this sort of opportunity in your life and career.

3. Think big. Daniel Burd could have stopped his experimentation when he identified that plastic in a bacterial culture degraded faster than in a control setting. That alone might have secured his winning a national science fair, but even after winning this fair, he plans to further his study to see if his idea can be implemented on an industrial level. By thinking and devoting himself on a larger scale, this young man made a profound discovery instead of a mere curiousity. The difference may be small, but the results are big.

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