Hidden Earthquakes

I was driving home last night from a meeting of the Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce and, as often happens, a few threads of thought came together in my mind.

At the meeting, the Bethany Christian Trust gave a presentation on their work with homeless people in Scotland. Based in Edinburgh but operating throughout Scotland, they support homeless people not only to find accommodation but to work through the personal issues that have caused the person to become homeless. (This blog is not intended to encourage you to donate to them but if you feel that way inclined the website is One figure they quoted was that there are around 70,000 homeless people in Scotland. This caught my attention because I used to live in a town in the west of Scotland called Paisley and, at the time, the population was around 70,000. So, in Scotland, the population of a large town is homeless.

A second though was that there was an earthquake, measured at 3.8, in the midlands of England last week (28th January). Small compared with real earthquakes but relatively large for the UK. However, smaller earthquakes do occur quite frequently. In fact, there is an active fault line in the central belt of Scotland so it is not uncommon to feel an occasional, very mild tremor here in Perth. However, the thought occurred to me, what would happen if there was a major earthquake in the west of Scotland and the town of Paisley was destroyed? The likelihood is that it would be declared a national disaster and aid would flood in, not just from the UK but from around the world, to help the people made homeless. Yet the same number are homeless every day and few people even notice – a hidden earthquake.

The third thought was a comment on a LinkedIn discussion of the meaning of innovation. One of the participants mentioned that they did a lot of work with the National Health Service in the UK and had the feeling that, for the employees of the NHS, innovation meant discovering a new penicillin or a cure for cancer. Individually, they didn’t see how they had a role in innovation.

In my mind, innovation is mainly solving problems creatively but it is often the big problems like resistance to antibiotics and cancer that get the headlines. However, there is a lot of benefit to be gained by identifying and dealing with small problems. For the Bethany Trust this means dealing with homeless individuals on a day to day basis and letting other people deal with the earthquakes. What about your organisation? For companies it could be the problems that are minor irritations, for them or their customers, that cause wasted time or resource. Sometimes people find a work-around or partial solution, but probably they mainly ignore it or complain that “someone” should do something about it.

Are there small problems that you are ignoring because you think innovation is only about the next big thing? Where are your hidden earthquakes?


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