A Chinese phrase advises that you "borrow a corpse for the soul’s return." This metaphor points to the fact that we tend not to dig through garbage. Once we’ve thrown something away we mentally label it "trash" and so we stop wondering if it is still useful.
But this is the strategy of "embracing the abandoned," and many of the companies I’ve reviewed in The Outthinker have followed this approach, including PetMD and Kumon. The company I introduced last week, Husk Power Systems, is also applying this tactic.
Husk Power Systems’ cofounder Manoj Sinha realized that the solution to India’s power shortage was sitting in the piles of rice husks that villagers in Bihar, India left as waste. He saw that these husks could be burned for energy. But he also saw that after the husks were burned, they left a waste that could be valuable to concrete manufacturers.
The situation is more than ironic, and Manoj truly grasped the idea that there was a family sitting in a hut without electricity while just down the road there was a pile of husks that could be used to provide electricity.
So Manoj and his engineering friends developed the technology needed to turn rice husks into electricity. As they developed this technology, they reached an astonishing conclusion: there are enough rice husks to get electricity to anyone who wants it.
Bihar produces enough rice husks to power about 215,000 villages, yet there are only 125,000 villages that need electricity. By digging through the garbage, Manoj and his team found enough fuel to light every dark house in India.
As Manoj’s partner Chip Ransler describes, "We design, own and operate power plants that run on rice husks, which are a waste product of the rice mill process, and we provide them in a decentralized manner to villages in India. We provide power directly to consumers, directly to businesses, directly to farmers, and we save them a lot of money on what they were spending on diesel fuel or kerosene fuel because both are expensive, both are bad for the environment, and some are very bad for your health."
Husk will have 20 plants by the end of 2009, and will have 70 by the end of 2010. Each one is serving about 3,000 to 4,000 people, and changing all of those lives.
Ask yourself the questions below to see how you can change some lives:
1. What strategy have I discarded in the past that might work today?
2. What waste do I see that could be valuable to someone else?
3. What is my customers' biggest need, and is there a way to use something I already have to fill that need?