Paul Zane Pilzer, an economist, wrote about patterns throughout history in the distribution of scarce resources. He identified a clear pattern: whenever a resource nears depletion, we humans use our ingenuity to solve the problem of scarcity. He described how traditional economics is essentially the study of limited resources and explained how history is filled with examples where we used our thinking to solve the problems of resources.

For example, in the 1970’s, we were said to be nearing peak oil use and it looked like we’d be running out very soon. Immediately, people went to work to figure out new ways to do things.

We invented technology to help cars get more miles per gallon.

We invented more ways of vastly increasing our efficiency in generating more electricity per barrel of oil.

This quickly extended the horizon of when we’d run out of oil and enabled people to start thinking about how to create new sources of energy that were far more sustainable.

Once humans recognize that a resource is scarce, we either figure out how to extend its longevity or invent something new to replace it. We essentially create abundance where scarcity once was.

The lesson for engineers here is that there is opportunity all around to apply our ingenuity to solve problems and make things better, more efficient. These opportunities are always present, you don’t need to wait for the next oil crisis.

Going back through the history of great inventions, you’ll see a clear pattern: people who used their creativity and imagination to discover, or combine, or integrate things together.

Look for opportunity in your work to take resources from a lower level of productivity to a higher level of productivity. Practice applying your own ingenuity.