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From the Editor: The new innovation conversation

February 5, 2024  by  Bree Rody

Time for an embarrassing story. A few months ago, while visiting family, I looked at an old photo album. I came upon a particularly interesting picture, but couldn’t make out all the faces in the crowd. I placed my thumb and index finger on the picture and proceeded to try to zoom in.

Yes, like I was on a touchscreen phone.

Assuming most people got their first smartphones around the height of the Blackberry or the introduction of the iPhone, smart mobile technology has been a part of our daily lives for about 15 years now. Cars now come standard with on-board computer screens. For two years, technology helped us play Scrabble and have movie nights with our friends and family in other states. And although we are still working out some of the kinks and determining best practices and use cases, AI is undoubtedly dominating the cultural discourse. Essentially, tech that was once considered fanciful or frivolous in our own lifetimes is now considered so normal that, well, some of us try to pinch real pictures to zoom in. 

Perhaps that’s why it now feels like a different tone is required when talking about innovation. In previous years – this is my fourth innovation issue – I’ve tended to discuss innovation as though it is a theoretical and faraway thing. But it’s 2024. It’s time to accept that innovation is the present. All the things we dreamed up and wrote thinkpieces about and watched SNL skits about are here now.

The big question with innovation has always been “what can we do with this?” But with the technology already here, and their use cases already largely agreed upon, there are more important questions remaining. For example: “What should we evaluate before investing in this?” “How quickly until this pays off?” “What does ROI on this even look like?” “What are the implications of this?”

Take, for example, digesters. In my very first innovation issue, our cover story was about a Connecticut digester. That story – which went on to win a gold Canadian Online Publishing Award – still framed digesters as the future. But it’s now time to talk about digesters as part of the present. Instead of simply discussing digesters as a theoretical solution, in this issue we discuss the nitty-gritty reality of digesters once they’re on the ground and in the community – including why some are well-received and some aren’t.

We also discuss the innovation involved in manuresheds – the complex but necessary process of moving manure from where it is, to where it’s needed. Manuresheds have been in practice for some time, but given that manure is still applied to less than 10 percent of American crop fields, their necessity has become all the more urgent – and pros are optimizing on the ground.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to discuss innovation as though it’s a matter in the present and not the future.


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