Sunday, March 3, 2013

Innovation-America's Path to the Future

The headlines this past week have been crowded with all manner of fearful predictions of the effect that cutting back federal spending by 1.5 trillion dollars over the next ten years. America seems to have reached a point where a growing majority of the population is reliant on the government to provide entitlements, which on its face reveals a tipping point where those who are successful, are asked to kick-in an even greater share of their success to fund those entitlements. It seems the only areas of real job growth in the United States is in the number of government workers; ranging from IRS agents, down to county social workers, who help struggling families that can no longer find sustainable work, or don't want too; get benefits, paid for by a shrinking pool of middle and upper class taxpayers.

Both Congress and the President trade broad-sides on who is to blame for what the White House warned was an end of America as we know it. Why? because as a country we are asked to again tighten our belts, and those making more must reach in their wallets for a few more bucks?

Last week everyone watched the Academy Awards, but how many realized that they were investors in films like Argo, Lincoln, Silver Lining Playbook and Dejango Unchained?

Those of you in California who paid state income tax should take a bow and get a sliver of the Oscar for providing $6.2 million in tax credits for the best picture winner Argo. Ditto for millions in tax credits given to Lincoln and Silver Lining Playbook, and a whopping $8.4 million in tax credits from Louisiana to the makers of Dejango Unchained. It seems beyond irony that most receiving such benefits, will stand before a public forum and lecture those who create sustainable wealth in small to large businesses, that they need to pay more taxes, as they themselves, reap the benefits of a cozy relationship with those in Washington.

After this rant, I would turn to what America can do to find her way to a sustainable path to the future. Regardless of the previous paragraph, the future is not to turn the country into a huge movie lot, benefiting a new class of oligarchy. It will only happen when the traits that made this continental island nation, the world leader of innovation and invention. America stands on the brink of the next industrial revolution as noted by Steve DeAngelis in this excellent post where he delves into 3D printing, and notes that even the President, regardless of Washington's fascination with Hollywood, sees the future lies with this technology.

In his most recent State of the Union address, President Barack Obama stated, "Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There’s no reason this can't happen in other towns. So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Department of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made right here in America."
Steve's post has an excellent graphic that explains 3D printing, as well as explaining how it will affect America's future.

Read the whole post: The Future of 3D Printing

Getting America ready for the future is more that a few innovations like 3D printing, it is the trait of innovation that Americans have excelled in for the past three centuries of growth and discovery. Steve's blog Enterra Insights posted two excellent articles that examines the road to innovation and what America can do rediscover this essential trait.
"Innovation is a particularly sticky problem because it so often remains undefined," writes Greg Satell. "We treat it as a monolith, as if every innovation is the same, which is why so many expensive programs end up going nowhere." ["Before You Innovate, Ask the Right Questions," If you have read many of my posts about innovation, you will know that I'm a big believer in the notion that good solutions begin with good questions. Satell is also true believer in that dictum. He quotes Albert Einstein who stated (perhaps apocryphally), "If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would spend 19 days to define it." I'm also a big believer in conducting experiments and using prototypes. Thomas Edison failed to find the right filament for his light bulb a thousand times. Edison didn't see this as 999 failures, but 999 steps in a 1,000-step process to success. Asking the right questions and being willing to conduct numerous experiments are surer paths to innovation than sitting in a room with a group hoping somebody comes up with a bright idea. In this post, I'll focus on the first of those methods -- asking good questions.
Read part one: The Road to Innovation is Paved with Questions and Experiments, Part 1

In part two, the process to innovation is examined.
In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the importance of asking good questions at the beginning of the innovation process. Once good questions have been asked and the problem framed, serious work needs to be done to answer those questions. Although this post focuses on why experimentation and prototyping are important for the innovation process, they are only some of the tools available to answer questions. I agree with Tim Kastelle, who asserts, "I am always suspicious of one-size-fits-all solutions. They are very easy to sell in a book or a blog post, but they rarely work in the real world. There's too much variation." ["There Must Be Forty Ways to Innovate," Innovation for Growth, 5 November 2012] Too prove his point, Kastelle offers a list containing forty ways to innovate:
Part of the list is below:

Idea Generation

  • get to the edgeHearing aid
  • scratch your own itch
  • be a genius
  • blue sky R&D
  • applied R&D
  • ask your customers
  • watch your customers
  • ask your people
  • brainstorm
  • gamestorm
  • think outside the box
  • think inside the box
  • co-create
  • scenario planning

Read the whole article: Part Two-Innovation

Can Americans pull out of this slow glide to to becoming a fragmented shell of what was a great nation, fragmented into regional countries in a reincarnation of Europe EU style? That question remains to be answered. What America needs now, is a reincarnation of someone with the voice and foresight of a Washington, Lincoln, and the Roosevelt cousins; to inspire Americans to rediscover their national treasure of innovation and place as a continental maritime nation. My Boomer generation's national leadership has squandered much of the previous generations advances in maintaining a national narrative. It is up to the next generation to find the future.

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