I work in green innovation. My job is to take the
complexities of sustainability, find glimmers of innovative brilliance, then
nurture those glimmers until they’re fully formed and ready to change the
With that bias, I listened keenly to President Obama’s
State Of The Union speech. Would there be any ideas that could inspire
revolutionary innovation? Any diamonds that America’s green entrepreneurs could
polish and turn into world-changers?
I believe there were.
The President hammered home the idea that We Do Big
Things. We rally together in times of adversity. We take on impossible
challenges. Innovation doesn’t change our lives–it’s what we do for a living.
I was inspired. And great innovation can’t come without
However, it takes more than just inspiration to create
world-changers. It takes a nation that truly wants to be the best–and is
willing to sacrifice and build together. Do we have what it takes?
No Party Of No
First, innovation takes encouragement. Every newborn idea
is vulnerable, messy and unformed. The ideas need to be cared for until they
can stand on their own feet and assert themselves.
As long as the US political atmosphere is fractured by
parties of no, new idea will die stillborn.
I’m not taking pot shots at Republicans, or even the Tea
Party. I’m taking aim at a system that emphasizes dogma over thought. There is
no monopoly on common sense or brilliant thinking. But those two virtues have
been drowned out in a cacophony of attack politics and WWE-style diatribes.
We Are Not The World
My company has developed a highly prized asset we call
the Global Experts Network.
In essence, we invite the best brains we can find around
the world to help us crack problems. No ego, no silos, no turf war–just a
common desire to push ideas to their potential.
Obama made a number of references to America’s insularity
in his speech. For example, he bemoaned the fact we’re educating foreign
students here, then forcing them to return home. Meanwhile, a quarter of our
students aren’t even finishing high school, and America has fallen to 9th in
the proportion of young people with a college degree.
Sending smart people away while strangling the brains of
our own children are fast tracks to turning off the global tap of ideas. Ergo no global expert network here at home.
Killing Ideas With Righteous Might
Obama touched on the poison of influence lobbying. He
asked for support in cutting off subsidies to big oil that should go to
renewable energy innovation. He railed against lawyers and accountants who help
companies and individuals dodge their due taxes.
These well-known paragons of unfair practices do more
than damage the American ideal of fair play and meritocracy. They also kill
In one of our thought leadership pieces, we start by
saying “Without even knowing it, you might be one of the passionate bull-headed
big mouths who keeps the big ideas from happening.”
To create world-changing innovation, you need support
from all levels–there can’t be powerful lobbyists waiting in the dark for you
with a baseball bat.
Can we dislodge these vested interests and make our
system more fair? Sure. Can we do it quickly enough to catch up to our BRIC
competitors? Not so sure.
What Are You Waiting For?
I hold out little hope for moribund government in the pursuit of global innovation. In fact, I believe government regulation in green innovation will only serve to provide insanely broad guidelines to steer by.
In truth, I am far more inspired by the likes of
Wal-Mart, Dupont and Unilever. Global companies that are not only inventing
green at a furious pace, but legislating their suppliers and clients to do the
same with a power no government could match.
So here’s the ask: what is your company doing?
Are you waiting for our government to tell you how to
innovate for the future? If you answer yes, there’s little hope for you in the
revolutionary global innovation market Obama described.
If, however, you’re charging full speed ahead, failing
forward and pushing to out-innovate, give me a call. We should
plan on doing big things together.