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Inventing Your Way Out of a Recession

(February 2011) posted on Thu Feb 03, 2011

Using research and development to thrive during economic downturns.

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By Craig Miller

For the past decade, I’ve had a “mad scientist” vision of creating two inventions for our industry: a time machine and an anti-gravity machine. We all could use the time machine to satisfy customers who want their prints yesterday, or to travel to the future to see if that six-figure piece of equipment we plan to buy will be obsolete in six months. And, because we are all painfully aware that trouble (among other things) flows downhill, we could use the anti-gravity machine to reverse the flow and deliver it back to those who created it in the first place. If any of you would like to collaborate on these inventions, I am taking on investment partners.

If you’ve been around our industry for any amount of time, you know that R&D projects can take many forms. Yes, they can be as grand as inventing a time machine or “the next big thing.” But they can also be as simple as combining existing materials and processes in a slightly different way to create something unique.

As with many other companies, we responded to the recent recession with cost cutting, downsizing, and eliminating expenses for almost everything that wasn’t essential. One category, however, was not only spared our accountant’s red pen, but enjoyed a dramatically increased budget in 2010: research and development.

Now, even in boom times, embarking on an R&D project is fraught with risk. And an inventive initiative is certainly more difficult to justify in a recession. But I would argue that a downturn is the perfect time to “invent your way out” of an economic downturn.