America prides itself for being a nation of innovation, but are we really?
Indeed we are a nation of innovative technology and commercial ideas. Silicon Valley is the birthplace of some of the most innovative high tech and social network concepts turned into realities in the world. We still have a commanding lead in new and commercially viable products in this global economy, but the world is catching on and catching up so our lead may not be sustainable.
But in terms of innovative infrastructure: effective education; an equitable tax system; functional government; effective medical care system, etc. we lag far behind much less developed and affluent countries. Broken infrastructures are blatantly prolific throughout our governments, commercial enterprises, economic policies, and transportation systems. We are among the most conservative nations in the world, unwilling to try new innovative ideas, unable and unwilling to change in spite of the fact that almost everyone complains at how broken we are. We are better at creating infrastructure than maintaining them. Infrastructure must be sustainable in order for it be have long term viability. It must be improved to adapt to future needs.
One big problem is that our political leaders are unforgiving about failure. We are so paranoid about guaranteed success that failure is not an option and becomes the central focus of campaign bashing and criticism. Some of the best lessons learned are learned from failures. Instead of making corrections when a failure occurs for a new idea we often abandon the entire program as being wrong instead of making mid-flight corrections. No complex program or idea is going to be completely right the first time. There are simply too many unforeseen circumstances that need to be adjusted for. Take any good idea like the car. We would still be driving one cylinder buggies if we did not permit the numerous trial and errors (failures) that have led to the modern and safe car of today. The same can be said for almost all but the simplest innovations such as the paper clip. There is always room for improvement but unfortunately or perhaps fortunately part of the learning process is to make mistakes along the way and learn powerful lessons from them. Some of our best ideas have their origin in mistakes in the past. This is definitely the case with me.
So in spite of the fact that the US remains one of the most innovative commercial countries on the planet, we are also one of the most stagnant and socially conservative governments in the world. We make claims to inviting innovative solutions for our many problems and broken infrastructure, but harshly criticize any new and innovative solutions put forth as being too risky or dangerous and demand guaranteed wins. Yet we all admit that the current system is not sustainable and may eventually lead to disastrous results. So I claim that Americans have a very narrow view of what innovation means and need to change their perspectives. Innovation should be an outlook in life that extends to all aspect of it, not just to the narrow commercial application of it. I believe that true innovators are people who are prolifically creative in many areas of life. They simply think out of the box about everything.
Innovators come up with as many bad ideas as they do good ones. But they are not afraid to admit their errors and lean from them because no bad idea is a total failure. It is based on good concepts that have not been adequately developed or have flaws, but there are many elements of failures that could be the seed of the next great idea. Innovators are very logical thinkers because for innovations to work they must be based upon very logical building blocks. I say this in the broadest senses and inclusive of all disciplines that man participates in or should participate in. The biggest lesson to teach our children as they grow and mature is that it is okay to make mistakes as long as you learn some kind of lesson from it in addition not to make that same mistake again. They need to be taught to analyze their failures to understand why it failed. These lessons will lead to future successes. But failure is a side effect of innovation and must be tolerated and even embraced. One must be willing to take chances and be willing to fail for innovation to be turned into a reality. I’m sure that if you had had the opportunity to ask Steve Jobs if he ever had a bad idea, he would readily admit that he had many bad ideas and failures. He was just very persistent and focused in turning other good ideas into successful commercially viable products, a key to another element of innovation.
Turning an innovative idea into a reality is also an essential part of innovation. Having creative ideas are of no value to society if they are not used. Great innovators have been very active at promoting their ideas. They are stubbornly persistent, highly focused, and often ruthless manipulative in getting their ideas turned into reality. They have to fight hard against a skeptical and conservative society to turn their idea into a social, political, or commercial reality. There are many innovative thinkers, but there are very few successful innovators. It is not good enough to be at the right place at the right time with the right solution. You must convince a skeptical world that your solution is indeed the right one for the occasion.
But there is much need for more political and social innovation in this country. I think the Affordable Care Act is an innovative program to address medical care in America but it will need further development and mid-course corrections. I think that if Obamacare survives it will be the single thing that Obama is remembered for, his legacy to America. But there is room for more innovation. We have serious social and economic problems as well as failing foreign policy. We are the most powerful nation in the world in terms of military might and economic influence. What we do as a nation has significant global consequences whether intended or not. We need to be far more responsible by thinking thing through from different points of view when taking actions but we should not let the fear of failure inhibit actions. They just need a lot of thought from different perspectives regarding consequences. If doing the same old thing over and over again does not seem to work most of the time we should be open to doing it another way. We need more political innovators in government who look at things from different perspectives, not more experienced people who continue to make the same mistake over and over.
Among the greatest innovative thinkers in American history lived 250 years ago. I cannot cease admiring the thought, creativity, innovation, and human understanding that our founding fathers expressed and put into words and laws in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights that endure in relevance up to this day, perhaps more so now than then. Some like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were even innovative inventors and scientist. Historic events played a key role in them not wanting to make the same old mistakes made by the Crown. Why can’t we have such wise and enduring innovators in government today?
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