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article imageOp-Ed: Noble cause in progress- CNBC takes up the baton for Innovation

By Paul Wallis     Jun 8, 2008 in Business
If there’s an obscenity in this world, it’s obsolete thinking running humanity. Exorcising obsolescence from American business culture may seem an oxymoron, but CNBC is trying. So are some of America’s corporate heaviest hitters.
The word is “Innovation”. The sad fact of business is that business people are simply not trained to recognize the process of innovation, let alone the need for it. Even with new products making up the vast bulk of America’s gigantic technological businesses and intellectual property, the concept of ideas having value has had a hard time getting recognition.
The bizarre museum full of ancient methods of production, and what could only be called archaeological methods of administration, has become a dead weight on America in particular.
So people like Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, the biggest corporation on Earth, his wife Suzy, and Gil Cloyd, Chief Technology Officer of Procter and Gamble, among a cast of other non-neophytes, have taken up the cudgels.
CNBC, to its eternal credit, is running a series on the whole idea of innovation. The sharp end of the series is some pretty hard nosed business sense, as well as some very clearly painstaking efforts at explaining the value of innovation.
The great irony here is that modern America was founded largely on innovation, particularly industrial and technological innovation. It’s where America’s capital was derived.
Starting with Edison, through Ford, and the rise of the monster corporations, innovation was the life blood of America’s economy.
People had to innovate, because most of what they were doing had never been done before, in many cases, not even previously attempted.
America was good at picking up other people’s innovations too. It was just as well that American capital was there to develop some of the technologies which were languishing unfunded in their own countries. The silicon chip is a case in point.
This, however, was pre-1980s, before everything became a form of legalistic accountancy, and before “user pays” found a way of pretending to be profitable by simply adding costs to everything on that basis.
(Previously, to be profitable, you were supposed to become more efficient in your production to improve margins. Your competition was also supposed to keep you on your toes by being actually competitive, not a fellow member of a cartel-based sector.)
The Innovation idea promoted by CNBC is based on developing innovation as a vital part of the fundamental dynamic of business and industry.
It recognizes the need for a much healthier approach to ideas. That’s been appallingly lacking in a social structure which seems to be staggeringly long on moral values but infinitely short on understanding of the realities of social and commercial needs.
America cannot exist on a Stone Age technological and commercial basis. No innovation, and the investment capital will have to go elsewhere. Investors can’t afford to buy into things that just don’t even relate to modern commerce.
The old business model just doesn’t work any more. Business is based on ideas, productivity is based on ideas, and profits are based on better ideas. The business concept has to be totally overhauled, and the value of ideas and innovation has to be given priority over mere bean counting.
Ideas are capital, incarnate. There are patents worth more than whole countries. There are trade marks worth more than some of the Fortune 500.
Most of the old systems and methods have long since overloaded, crashed and burned. American technology and science have spent more time fighting accountancy issues than doing their real business.
Whole industries are rotting away on spreadsheets because, like NASA, they’ve been afflicted with people who don’t even understand the idea of what they do.
Even revenue, the sacred cow of all sacred cows in any bureaucracy, is suffering from methods of taxation that even the Pharaohs would have thought was cumbersome.
Regulation has been running in the opposite direction to its intended functions, and is now trying to reinvent itself as something useful.
Health systems are crashing on cost structures that the most over the top builder of a house of cards would think were absurd. Education is being plowed under to grow another crop of under-educated, disadvantaged, kids, even with the best information systems in history available at a click.
Where’s the innovation?
It has no inputs. Welch and friends aren’t kidding when they say it’s vital that innovation is able to breathe in the culture.
Innovation is still seen as a threat. Lack of ideas, somehow, and a doormat-like acceptance of the status quo, however lethal, is the norm.
Innovation is the only way of even trying to get things working properly. These are new problems, involving whole new issues that have never existed before. There's no "traditional" methodologies, and no script full of precedents, any more.
I don’t know where this CNBC series, and the very good ideas and strong support will go with this idea.
I do, however, suggest that it’s compulsive viewing, because it’s a way out of the mess, for America, and the human race, generally.
There’s always some hope… somewhere…
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