Innovation Swapping

Behind only water, concrete is the second-most used material on our planet. It’s low cost, durable, and beneficial in a variety of construction applications. As our population continues to swell, demand is expected to skyrocket. But there’s a problem.

As useful as concrete may be, the production of this sturdy material is responsible for eight percent of the world’s total emissions. To make matters worse, the water needed to make concrete each year is enough to fill a million Olympic-sized swimming pools. Yet with the obvious environmental concerns of polluting the atmosphere and consuming too much fresh water, concrete has been made about the same way since the Roman Empire.

Enter an everyday innovator named Vahit Atakan. Sitting at the bar having a beer one day, Vahit was mesmerized by the fizzy beverage. Those bubbles got him thinking: If COworks in beer and soda, what if it could be used in place of water in the concrete manufacturing process?

Vahit got to work, eventually co-founding a company called Solidia Technologies. He swapped out water for CO2 which reduced emissions dramatically. In layperson’s terms, he created carbon eating concrete while reducing the demand for fresh water. This substitution is so effective, it can reduce carbon emissions by up to 70%. If Vahit’s technology was applied to the entire concrete industry, it could reduce annual worldwide emissions by over 5%. That’s the equivalent of removing all the emissions from the UK, Italy, France, Poland, and Mexico combined. Talk about a breakthrough innovation!

Yet words like ‘breakthrough innovation’ can seem overwhelming, risky, and out of reach. We all want and need fresh ideas but discovering them is often elusive. As someone who is fascinated with human creativity, I’ve searched high and low for simple ways to demystify the creative process to make it far more accessible to us all.

Vahit used one of my favorite approaches: swapping. It involves deconstructing a product, system, process, or approach into its core components and then substituting one thing for another.  He swapped water for CO2 but you could exchange any compound for another in your own field. Maybe you swap team members’ job responsibilities, or the order in which a technique is performed. Physical or procedural, swapping one component for another is a simple way to open your mind to fresh possibilities.

Coca-Cola swapped out sugar to create the wildly popular Diet Coke. DoorDash swapped the idea of a customer driving to pick up carryout tacos for having them delivered from a mobile app.  Tesla swapped out a combustion engine for an electric one, and Disney+ swapped paying one-at-a-time for movies to a monthly subscription.

In our highly competitive business environment, we must find new ways to deliver value. Try swapping out old components for new ones, and you’ll be well on your way to the breakthroughs you seek.

If you’re looking to innovate, swapping is certainly a ‘concrete’ approach.