The Innovation Deficit


The death of one of the great innovators of our time, or any time — Steve Jobs — brings a question asked by Pete Seeger in another context. To paraphrase: Where have all the (creative) people gone; long time passing. Jobs and fellow computer innovator Bill Gates represent if not a vanishing breed, then at least one that might be classified, were it an exotic animal, as endangered.

In a country that used to encourage, promote, honor and reward innovation, why does there now seem to be far fewer innovators? In our past, they propelled us to higher standards of living and made life more enjoyable and comfortable. If you missed them while studying sex education in school, try Googling “inventors and innovators” and see what pops up.

Once we applauded innovation. Now, politicians like President Obama, denounce the successful, maliciously labeling them “millionaires and billionaires,” as if success were a flu virus that we needed an inoculation to protect ourselves from. If we penalize and stigmatize success we are likely to get less of it. If we promote and encourage the principles that can lead to success, we are certain to get more successful people and the entire world will benefit as a result.

Instead of admiring the principles that propelled people to become successful and encourages others to follow the example of a Steve Jobs, President Obama and so many in the liberal political establishment, treat them like shoplifters who have stolen what rightfully belonged to others, even though others may not have worked as hard, taken as many risks or invested as much capital. For one of many examples, look at the “Wall Street occupiers” who are clogging streets and buildings far from Wall Street.

When you plant, water and fertilize a field of seed corn, you get a bumper crop. When you deny the field these basic elements, you get nothing. It is the same with inventiveness and innovation. Benjamin Franklin noted, “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good at anything else.” We make excuses for failure and mediocrity and get more of both. Celebrity and sex occupy more and more of our time and attention, as opposed to hard work and commitment.

Thomas Edison, another great innovator, observed, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Or, if you prefer Auntie Mame: “Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

Why work when you can get a government check for doing nothing? Why be motivated to achieve when blaming someone else for your lack of achievement makes you feel better? Whatever happened to that little phrase I was taught as a child, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”? Today, the failure to succeed just once can lead to a discrimination lawsuit.

Instead of persistence when we fail to accomplish a task or satisfy a desire, we call a lawyer to sue someone for blocking our way. Accountants and bankers too often focus on quarterly earnings, not the long haul that sometimes requires spending on projects that don’t work until one stumbles upon a project that does.

Alexander Graham Bell failed many times while attempting to transmit his voice over a wire until he finally succeeded. A quote attributed to Bell: “When one door closes another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the ones which open for us.”

Sometimes doors must be broken down, but, today, breaking down doors is more likely to get a person’s business success regulated and taxed to death by government.

Steve Jobs was an innovator and pioneer in the grandest American tradition. He was a descendant of forward-looking people more common in America’s past, but in shorter supply today.

Long time passing; long time ago.

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