Thursday, July 28, 2011

It's up to you and I to help America reclaim its innovation edge

Innovation has always been fundamental to the success of any organization. But as our country remains mired in an economic slump -- one that could worsen should the federal government fail to raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2 -- innovation is taking on increased importance.

While no analysts are saying America is losing its innovation edge, it's clear that the gap between America and rest of the world is narrowing fast. Take China for instance. For us to remain competitive, we need to accelerate innovation beyond what the country has been able to organically sustain.

As a recent NPR article makes clear, some economists believe innovation of new technology is crucial to creating new jobs and boosting our economy, which grew at an annualized rate of only about 2 percent during the first half of the year.

Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein was quoted in the article as saying, "Without innovation, not only would you be stuck at 2 percent -- we might be lucky to get 2 percent growth."

The article goes on to note some challenges that might come with this innovation imperative, including time and other resource requirements, and fear of failure. To that I'll say this: Many ideas were considered novelties or too far ahead of the curve when they were introduced into the marketplace. Some technologies once considered radical are now commonplace, and are in their next stages of development.

Consider the Windows operating system in the 80s. The Internet and cell phone in the 90s. The iPod in the 2000s. The iPad in the 2010s. And who could forget Ken Olson's well-known line from 1977, "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home."

Or how about Nikola Tesla, one of the greatest inventors of modern time, who saw a world that would be powered by wireless electricity in the late 19th century. Fast forward 120 years. Just this month it was announced that researchers at Utah State University's Energy Dynamics Laboratory operated the first wireless power transfer system for vehicles.

The life sciences industry alone also has claim to many game-changing technologies. Penicillin. Chemotherapy. Artificial organs. Stem cell therapy. Genetic testing.

The list goes on and on. Yet as they have crept into everyday life, these technologies have proven or are proving that they are essential threads in the fabric of our national livelihood -- arguably for the better. How many times have you said, what did we do without cell phones? What did we do without computers?

Now more than ever, innovation is needed to help pull our economy out of the slump. New ideas should be embraced and a culture of creativity, sharing, and collaboration should be fostered in organizations. Leave no stone unturned, and hopefully we'll turn our economy around together.

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