Can resource restrictions improve workforce skills?

“When you don’t have resources, you become resourceful,” says Dr. K. R. Sridhar, co-founder and CEO of Bloom Energy, the Silicon Valley fuel cell company that began as a spin-off from NASA’s Mars program and now seeks to make clean energy for everyone on earth.

Tom Friedman quotes Dr. Sridhar in a recent column in the New York Times. With Taiwan as an example, Friedman notes that a workforce gets smarter and more capable because fewer resources demand greater creativity. Since Taiwan has virtually no natural resources, Friedman points out that “this barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea” has created the fourth-largest financial reserves in the world through developing people skills. He backs up his thoughts with a study from the O.E.C.D. that shows that the knowledge and skills of the high school population in different countries rise where the GDP is less dependent on natural resources. Those countries tend to honor and support education, which is increasingly the “global currency” of success.

I found a similar thought in the defense realm, where concern looms that huge budget cuts may stifle necessary innovation. In the March issue of National Defense, Lt. Col. Mark Ward, a USAF acquisitions officer, deployed in Kabul, discusses the correlation between restricted funds and more innovative technology. He lays out advantages of “austere innovation” not only for military organizations, but also for the industry. His conclusion seems especially relevant to most organizations: defense and civil government, defense contractors, technology firms, even consumer companies: “…we find that operating in a fiscally austere environment tends to result in affordable, simple products that are available when needed and effective when used. As an added bonus, the work force gets smarter and more capable. Everybody wins.”

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Thomas Delorme
Written by Thomas Delorme

VP, Digital Products & Strategy

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