Archive for December, 2009
In the game of chess, experienced players know that a move that looks tempting can often open up fatal weaknesses that deliver swift defeat later in the game. With experience, discipline, and solid strategic skills, good players can look several moves ahead and be aware of broad patterns and principles that can give one an improved position with options for success in endgames too far away to calculate in advance. Novices look for easy fixes to threats and quick attacks based on looking just a few moves ahead. Many times they are surprised at how their moves to solve a problem or gain an advantage make them easy prey. Their style of playing is fraught with moves that bring unintended consequences later in the game.
One of the great tragedies of human decision making is the pernicious inability to consider far-reaching implications of an action. To avoid harmful unintended consequences of a decision, there are two possible solutions: 1) get assistance from experts providing guidance from many difference perspectives and do the best to consider new areas and issues that were previously overlooked, and 2) follow proven principles and strategies that increase the odds of success in spite of the impossibility of calculating everything. Both of these principles can be and probably should be used.
Innovation, for all the voices hyping it, is one of the least considered factors when policy makers start shaking things up. Whether it’s a new law, a tax policy, a regulation, or corporate policies, decision makers easily overlook innovation–real innovation, not just money spent in the name of innovation–because they tend to overlook the individuals who are the source of innovation. Real innovation begins in the minds of individuals with a vision and must be nurtured to succeed. The voice of innovators, including the voice of entrepreneurs, inventors, university professors post-docs, corporate R&D staff, etc., is rarely heard. The voices of CEOs or other top leaders from big companies may be heard. The voices of direct reports to a CEO may be heard. The voices of celebrities and activists may be heard, but who actually seeks out and listens to the real innovators or prospective innovators in our economy? Who considers what impact a law or policy will have on those individuals and their incentives to innovate or their ability to succeed? They are among the voices that should be carefully considered when making policies to avoid unintended consequences that might crush innovation and economic growth.
There are several general principles that should also be considered by policy makers. Innovation at the personal level, which is one of the themes of Conquering Innovation Fatigue, requires personal liberty. It requires a system in which individuals and companies are motivated to take on the high risks of innovation because there are incentives to succeed. These incentives for many require a form of government in which intellectual property rights are respected as well as property rights in general. When property can be seized capriciously, or when the fruits of one’s innovative labors can be taken on a whim or taxed to death, why bother innovating?
Every law, every policy, every act of government should be constrained by general principles, such as those espoused in the US Constitution, and done with care to avoid harming the economy with unintended consequences that trample on the delicate flower of innovation.
Guy Kawasaki correctly notes that a lot of innovation success can be achieved in small baby steps. A few minutes a day of effort can lead you to innovation success if you know what you are doing. On the other hand, it’s important to note that would-be innovators face some very dangerous streets that must be crossed, and baby steps or even toddler steps can get you run over in a hurry. Weeks of progress can be erased when you are hit by a vehicle in a DUI accident (DUI = Don’t Understand Innovation). In other words, many hours of baby steps toward the next block on the journey to innovation success can be wiped out with a momentary exposure to an “innovation fatigue” event. Theft of an invention, corporate “Not Invented Here” syndrome, painful surprises with intellectual property or regulations, and many other factors can stand in the way of success.
Those who wish to achieve innovation success or support innovation in their corporation or sphere of influence need to understand the nine major innovation fatigue factors and their many variations. They need to understand the work-arounds and energizing factors that can give them a chance. Innovation is still risky and hard work, even when you know what you’re doing, but crossing streets without a map and without knowing the risks and what to look for can give you a painful DUI encounter that can erase all those baby steps you’ve been making for so long. Sometimes baby steps are no longer appropriate, and you need to take big leaps of have someone else carry you over an accident-prone crossing.
That’s what Conquering Innovation Fatigue is about. A guide to help get you safely across some of the biggest hazards in your way. Take a look at the Overview and some of the free excerpts, and let us know what you think.
Ultimately, innovation in an organization works best when people are intrinsically motivated to innovate. The spread of an innovation–which is what innovation success is all about–also requires that target customers have an incentive to adopt and spread the innovation. FUN can be one of the most exciting incentives. Is your innovation sytem fun? Is your product fun? Have you considered how you can make it fun to drive interest and adoption?
Here’s a little video from The Fun Theory that shows how engineering fun can bring exciting results on the street. (Hat tip to inventor Fung-jou Chen.)
The road to innovation fatigue is paved with good intentions embodied in laws, regulations, and even corporate policies. Leaders at all levels must be aware of uninteded innovation-killing consequences that may follow from their good intentions. Staying in touch with the “voice of the innovator,” as we advocate in Conquering Innovation Fatigue, is vital in avoiding such pitfals.
The Wall Street Journal from Dec. 4 offers two columns with examples of innovation fatigue factors that can be introduced by well-intended actions. The first article I wish to mention is “Near-Zero Rates are Hurting the Economy,” an opinion column from David Malpass, president of Encima Global, LLC. He argues that the artificially low interest rates created by the Federal Reserve Bank in the name of rescuing the US economy have actually been driving capital overseas and starving small companies–the leading sources of most innovation, economic growth and job creation, as studies from the Kaufmann Foundation and others have shown. Here is an excerpt:
[M]ore than a year after the heart of the panic, the Fed is still promising near-zero interest rates for an extended period and buying over $3 billion per day of expensive mortgage securities as part of a $1.25 trillion purchase plan. Capital is being rationed not on price but on availability and connections. The government gets the most, foreigners second, Wall Street and big companies third, with not much left over.
The irony of the zero-rate policy, coupled with Washington’s preference for a weak dollar, is a glut of American capital in Asia (as corporations and investors shun the weakening U.S. currency) and a shortage at home. For gold and oil, the low-rate policy works, weakening the dollar so commodity prices go up and providing traders with ample funds to buy into the expanding bubble. Those markets are almost daring the Fed to try to break out of its zero-rate box.
But for small businesses and new workers, capital rationing is devastating, spelling business failures and painful layoffs. Thousands of start-ups won’t launch due to credit shortages, in part because the government and corporations took more credit than they needed (because it was so cheap).
Already countries with higher interest rates, Australia for one, are viewed as less risky because they have room to cut rates if there’s another emergency. This wins them capital and jobs that might otherwise be ours.
According to International Monetary Fund data, U.S. GDP has fallen to 24% of world GDP from 32% in 2001. And as U.S. capital escapes the weak dollar and high tax rates, the U.S. share of world equity market capitalization has fallen to 30% from 45%. This leaves the U.S. alone with Japan at the bottom of the monetary heap, with rate expectations so low they repel investment.
When single individuals or organizations make policies that affect millions, it is far too easy for good intentions to translate into new problems, unless the decision maker is essentially omniscience. Failing ominiscience, perhaps market forces should be given a try, allowing the invisible hand mediated by the mechanism of price to determine the right allocation of resources. But even with a reluctance to use market forces to set interest rates and allocate capital, wiser decisions could be made by policy makers if they understood the personal side of innovation and the barriers faced by the innovators seeking to propel our economy forward. Unfortunately, the real innovation engines of the future aren’t likely to be powerful, highly connected people today, but may be a lone entrepreneur or president of a small company today that could grow and create many thousands of jobs, if only given a chance. Giving credit and bailouts to well-connected dinosaurs can be based on good intentions, but it may be a misallocation of resources that only makes things worse for the most important prospective innovators and job creators out there.
A second article in the Dec. 4 Journal is “Sarbanes-Oxley on Trial” (p. A24), an op-ed piece that briefly mentions the economic burdens this 2002 law has imposed, and urges government to modify its implementation to be more accountable. There is much more that could be said, some of which we discuss in our book. Sarbanex-Oxley is especially burdensome on small, innovative companies and has driven many innovators to look outside the United States in launching a start-up. Intended to make businesses safer and more accontable, it has slowed job creation and economic growth, in the eyes of some experts. Unintended consequences. It’s something every policy maker and business leader needs to be worried about. Are you listening to the voice of the innovators who have to live with your decisions? That could be the difference between success and innovation fatigue.