Column: Innovation with a Lowercase T

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Many read “Tech” and feel excluded. Today, technology seems synonymous with coder languages, apps, AI and smart gadgets. Some would-be entrepreneurs wonder if the world of innovation left them behind long ago.

But you know, I bet every generation feels this way. Twenty-five years ago, the word “technology” meant computer software. A decade before that when people thought of technology, they thought of hardware, circuit boards and microchips. Before that, it was television or the space program, penicillin or mass production. Further back still, technology meant the printing press, row planting, marine navigation or the yoke.

Innovators innovate. The true innovator sees gaps between what exists and what might exist and positions ideas accordingly. In small towns and all over the world, plenty of innovators thrive without ever learning a line of code. In Sikeston, both the SEMO extension and the Three Rivers campus play host to students and professors who explore unanswered questions in Bootheel agriculture. Can drones be used to irrigate a field? Might a camera on the tip of a sprayer allow its driver to accurately and precisely apply herbicide to a weed without spreading chemicals through the air and into the crops? Can no-till practices and the growing demand for free range livestock benefit each other and create healthier, happier farms? Innovators tackle questions like these every day, and many become entrepreneurs in order to deliver their answers to the world. They may not get to ring the NASDAQ opening bell, but they do build companies and invent products that better the lives of their neighbors, families and friends.

The innovators we think of at any given time in history are the ones who innovate in the field that most captures the public’s interest at the time, but plenty of others dream on the periphery, changing the way we live and work and building a future the rest of us do not imagine until it arrives. Those who live outside of the Capital-T Tech world may not appear on the cover of glossy magazines or deliver keynote addresses, but their technologies shape our daily lives.

If you lay awake at night dreaming of a solution to an unsexy problem, know that you are necessary, and you are wanted. Your innovation may be the world-changer we take for granted for generations to come. Please, keep dreaming.

Colby Williams is the co-founder of Parengo Coffee in Sikeston, Missouri. His new book “Small Town Big Money” debuts Jan. 8.