Authentic Innovation

Courage for bold experimentation, learning from many failures.

Our world today is in great need of true innovation. What I mean with true innovation is not the designing of a new more colorful toothpaste package, or the fabrication of a new financial derivative to even better facilitate the enrichment of greedy financial speculators at the cost of those who actually produce value. True innovation is what Steve Jobs had in mind when he criticized the Apple executives (who fired him) who were only after making a fast buck for themselves, while he was aiming to make good products: Good products that actually bring value to the people who buy them. True innovation leads to good products! Although even in the case of Steve, we may wonder how good these innovations are or have been for the world in general? True innovation in my mind is fruitful and leads to improvement of our lives and other people’s lives and leads to a better world: A world we can leave with a good conscience to our children and grandchildren.

True innovation however is not easy and not safe. It’s difficult and dangerous!

Many true innovators get in trouble or get caught like their brothers the pioneers from the past, with their face in the mud (nowadays: shit) and an arrow in their back (nowadays: multiple stab wounds): True innovation demands courage!

True innovation requires the courage for bold experimentation:

“Bold persistent experimentation: Take a method and try it; if it fails admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something!” – FDR

True innovation requires the courage to face many failures:

“If you are not afraid of failure, it frees you up to succeed!” – Vinod Khosla

Unfortunately there is not a lot of courage going around these days. Our business and political “leaders” (not really leading..) are mostly looking for short term quick fixes at minimal risk, to cover their distinguished asses  with their own agenda in mind. “hurray for shareholder value!…give me the next quarter results please!”

Where can we still find this spirit of boldness and courage?

Willing to risk great failures in order to reach spectacular results?

Unfortunately not any longer in most of our USA/Western board rooms, and definitely not on Wall Street. Like the other doomed tyrants of this world they are anxiously stashing away any cash they can lay their hands on (“More tax breaks please!”) in safe havens and definitely have no guts left to invest in our future.

Our politicians are just as bad. While in the USA Republicans and Democrats are pointing fingers and whining about the 0.5 Billion US dollars DOE loan lost on an investment in a new solar energy start up called Solyndra, the Chinese government is handing out 30 Billion US dollars in credit into its solar industry. Considering the 90% failure rate of start-ups (Venture capitalist rule of thumb), that is a projected loss of 27 Billion US$ or 50 times more than what the USA politicians are complaining about. But the Chinese understand what is also clear to the experts in the USA: The race for solar manufacturing is a race worth winning. Over the next few decades this will become a global market worth trillions of dollars, and the Chinese are winning it: USA market share in Solar technology dropped from about 40% to 6% since 1997, while the Chinese market share is up at 54%! *

Another area where we are seeing the Chinese boldness and long term vision is in the investment in purified water. Water is already one of the most valuable and scarce resource in the world. The Chinese are building several mega scale billion dollar desalination plants. The water produced costs twice as much as it sells for! Comment from one of the plant managers: “Someone has to lose money. We are a state owned corporation and it is our social responsibility.” In main stream economic thinking this would be an economic lunacy or heresy; In China it is economic strategy!**

The global market for desalination will more than quadruple to about 50 billion US dollars per year by 2020 and growing water shortages worldwide appear to ensure further growth.** And guess who is going to be the next leader in clean water technology?

It seems that these days the “Pioneer spirit of bold experimentation” has left the West and now is taking its domicile in China. Oh yes they are harassing GOOGLE and FACEBOOK (Both suspiciously monopolistic by the way) and they do not respect our  intellectual property, but we cannot blame them for having the vision and courage to invest in the long term in fundamental solutions in the best interest of the common good. At the same time they are beating us (= West) economically with their “economic lunacy”; Now please tell me who is the true lunatic here?

I believe that true innovation, having a long term vision in mind and focusing on fundamental (economic and ecological friendly) solutions is in the best interest of the common good and is the basis for us to (re)build strong businesses. Businesses that will flourish respectfully, by respecting society.

“Good products first!” (Steve Jobs); The profits will come if we continue to focus on the good products first!

The Chinese seem to be pointing us in the right direction. If we want to be inspired to reinvent our future my advice is to stop reading the stale material from the mainstream media like the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review etc. Stop watching the trashy misleading news from FOX, CNN and what have you. Main stream media thinking is dead,….and they know it!

Start reading about what the Chinese are doing, watch alternative channels like Al Jazeerah etc. Look for new ways, new thinking to become inspired again. Try new sources of information, if you don’t like one, try another.

But above all, try something!

  – Paul O’Connor, October 2011 –


*  Source: Navigant consulting

** Taken from the New York Times, Thursday October 20th, 2011.

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