Invasive Principles #7: Exploit Under-Utilized Resources

Invasive weeds often take advantage of under-utilized and overlooked resources.  Native plants typically gravitate towards the most nutrient-rich soils and towards the places with their preferred level of light and water.  In other words they tend to exploit the low-hanging fruit, the resources that are the easiest to get to.

Would-be invaders are therefore often forced to take advantage of the resources that have been left behind.  If they are successful in doing so they find that they have no competitors, at least for a while, and so can succeed in their new surroundings.  For example, barbed goatgrass, which is native to Europe, thrives in California on soils that are low in nutrients and water but often high in toxins.  Barbed goatgrass can grow profusely on these soils, overwhelming native species that have not adapted well to growing there.

In the business world resources can mean anything from raw materials and energy sources to partners and employees, as well as to customers and other revenue streams.

Some innovators have focused on under-valued customer segments and other sources of revenues.  Enterprise targeted the occasional renter rather than the business traveler, their home rather than the airport, and the insurance company rather than the corporate expense account.  In doing so it left Avis, Hertz and others to fight it out for the same customers and became bigger than any of them in the process.

Similarly, Southwest Airlines operates largely out of regional airports as they had been overlooked by the major carriers and thus offered lower costs.  It moved from Houston international to Hobby field in 1972, its second year of operations, and never left Dallas’ Love field even after DFW was built.  Starting with a fleet of four planes, it is now the largest domestic airline in the USA in terms of scheduled passengers served (source: IATA).

In this new era of climate and energy awareness we can expect waves of innovation to disrupt entire industries and create brand new ones.  Significant innovations have already occurred when organizations have looked at their energy consumption and byproducts and have joined forces with other companies in what is known as closed-loop manufacturing.  Byproducts can be a cheap source of energy.  Even animal dung is not to be sniffed at.  The small village of Juhnde in Germany is almost completely independent of fossil fuels for heating and electricity, instead using the dung from its cows and pigs to produce methane gas which powers the village’s generators.  Though currently on a tiny scale it provides at least one model for cheaper, more sustainable energy.  Solar, wind and water energy sources are also significantly under-utilized.  The opportunities for innovating to reduce costs and/or differentiate and/or be responsible citizens are still enormous.