May 11, 2012
Chopsticks were invented about 3,000 years ago. There’s not much you can do to improve on the utensils; tinkering with the chopstick would be akin to reinventing the wheel. So why was Jae Lee, owner of Georgia Chopsticks, profiled in this month’s Fast Company? He hasn’t changed the design – but chose an innovative location to set up shop. Americus, Georgia.
Why Americus? Because that area has an abundant supply of poplar wood and China doesn’t. China can’t harvest enough domestic wood to produce the billions of pairs of disposable chopsticks used there annually, so Georgia Chopsticks ships more than 80 million pairs of chopsticks to China — every month! According to Lee, he is the only chopsticks manufacturer in the U.S. Not one to rest on his laurels, Lee plans to soon produce toothpicks and tongue depressors made from scraps leftover from chopstick production.
Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean a new product or service. Savvy innovators can find new ideas and new markets in unexpected ways. In Lee’s case, he focused less on the “what” and more on the “where.” The next time you’re brainstorming, aim to match Lee’s creativity. Opportunities abound!