We have reached an innovation crisis. Innovation has been squeezed out of our world much like juice out of an orange as its being forced into a juicer. During the past three years the United States has lost its competitive edge. Our dismal economy has forced the failure of many emerging technologies. Without these new technologies to rally around, the rest of the world has caught up.

The rest of the world now knows how to program the way we program, only cheaper. The rest of the world now knows how to manufacture the way we manufacture, only cheaper. The rest of the world now knows how to run communication systems the way we run communication systems, only cheaper. Without our ability to stay on the cutting edge we have to compete on price, and that is a battle that we are rapidly losing.

Prime jobs are moving overseas in record numbers. With all other factors being equal, price wins out, and foreign markets can easily win the price war.

The heart of the problem is the insane system we have for bringing new technologies into the world. Better put, we have no system. Innovators are continually being handed the “Sorry pal, you?re on your own” placard with each new company they meet.

And at the core of this failure is the money system necessary for fueling innovation.

Innovation is messy. Things break. Nothing works as well as it is planned. Sometimes it’s even dangerous. And it is very expensive. But these are all the components of a good innovation program.

These are also the things that management tries to manage against. They manage against failure. They manage against cost overruns. They manage against things breaking or exploding. The mantra of the modern day manager is to “do it right the first time.” But with innovation, that can never happen.

And the ultra left brained mindset of the people running our financial institutions have no way of understanding the “you must continue to fail until you succeed” attitude that must serve as the underpinning for a good innovation program. This includes the freedom to be reckless and stupid. The freedom to fail and fail and fail again and again and again. The freedom to not only think outside of the box, but to live outside of the box.

Innovators often times do not always have the social graces that our society expects of them. Many have little understanding of when they offend others. They have great difficulty following management rules. They work when they want to, they write on walls, they wear odd clothing, they stare off into space, and they continually test the limits of their work life, their family life, and their play life. They don’t center their lives around eating their meals on time, getting to work on time, or paying their bills on time.

But these are the people that are the foundation of innovation on which we must build. These are the people who will become our future heroes.

Much like our national defense system which relies on seedy characters in undesirable places for information, the world of innovation must encourage the non-traditional, empower the abnormal, and fund what is currently un-fundable. We need to test out some of the extreme notions and reinvent our own thinking about what’s possible and what’s not.

By Thomas Frey

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