07 August 2011

Ideas are cheap - making them a reality is hard

I think that innovation, in and of itself, is over-rated. There have always been people who “think outside the box” and come up with new and interesting ideas. The crucial issue is making these ideas into reality. This is where the challenge lies.

Just look at big companies whose research groups came up with amazing ideas, but the companies were unable to capitalize on them (leaving it to new upstarts to found new empires).

The same thing with countries. There are some countries with LOTS of brain power, and super-innovative thinkers. Yet these same nations are unable to ever harness the brainpower of its citizens into winning commercial franchises. France, for example, comes to mind. I am constantly amazed at the ideas which that nation’s intellectual’s and engineers come up with, yet they rarely manage to build thriving new businesses on those ideas. Russia is another excellent case in point.

You need a vibrant economic and investment environment for innovation to truly thrive and get beyond the garage. I think it is no coincidence that the number of new innovative product introductions tank during recessions and depressions, when investment decreases. In fact, it is my contention that people who look for innovation as an economic driver have things backwards. Innovation doesn’t drive the economy, the economy drives innovation (or at least the successful commercialization of new ideas). Funding more scientific research won’t do much to help if the broader economy is on the rails.

In short, ideas are cheap and plentiful. It is the wherewithal to turn those ideas into reality that really counts.

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