Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Mantra for an Innovation Reality-Check

Whether it involves blue-sky policy statements from President Barack Obama or the Kool-Aid of choice when the rich and mighty gather ever year for the World Economic Forum in Davos, there continues to be an obsession with innovation providing the key to solving all of the world's problems. We can be talking about new toys that create the need for new manufacturing jobs, automatic check-out that allows merchants to cut back on their staff, or driverless cars, that will allow anyone who can afford the car to feel as if (s)he acquired a chauffeur as part of the bargain. Whatever the promise, the mantra that needs to be learned is a simple one:
It works when it works.
(Come to think of it, the founder's of the European Union should have been taught that mantra.) The problem arises when the innovation does not perform as expected, usually because of one or more unanticipated consequences; and, as I have previously observed, "consequences" no longer seems to be part of the working vocabulary of those with the power to make major decisions. The reason I enjoy that Kool-Aid metaphor so much is that we now seem to be in a world in which decision-makers think only about assets, almost as if liabilities no longer enter the mindset. In previous centuries people who thought that way were quickly recognized as delusional. Now they are regarded as prophetic. Go figure it.

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