Innovate, cultivate or evaporate

Embedded Intelligence columnist, Jeremy Pollard, CET, wonders if we're forgetting to farm our own business infrastructures, processes and workers for help because we're too busy putting out fires.

Embedded IntelligenceBy Jeremy Pollard, CET, Columnist

WE'RE BOMBARDED with warnings to prepare for the bird flu, and also have contingencies for business continuity and disaster recovery. You’ve witnessed me passing along this information before. But are we forgetting to “farm” our businesses because we’re too busy putting out fires most of the time? It is planting season, you know.

By farming, I mean readying our soil or foundation (infrastructure and processes), seeding (brainstorming, idea generation), fertilizing (supporting the worker bees), and watering (delivering pats on the back, innovating, and basically taking care of business).

It seems that watering the crops typically is left to the gods. However, taking this step for granted might be the biggest mistake we can make.

Why is it that a money-losing company can hire a new boss, who finds the secret solution, and turns that company around? Maybe he’s just a good waterer.

Watering makes a business and/or an idea grow for the right reasons. I think this is part of the innovation cycle I’m always harping on.

"Once an innovation is farmed, where does it go to grow? It seems there’s a lot of fear that it won’t be in North American soil."

Enter Innovate America. This is what they say about themselves: “a must-see resource for innovation-focused legislation, key innovation and competitiveness reports, studies and links to many of our partner organizations, and up-to-date news and hot topics." Their catch phrase is “Innovate or Abdicate.”

If you give up the reins for driving the horse, you become a passenger or, worse—a spectator. You become obsolete, dry up, and blow away.

At an investor night I attended recently, I was introduced to some up and coming technology. I’m not supposed to openly discuss this technology, but I can tell you that in less than five years, suppliers of competing products could be licensing this technology, and the way we used to do things will change—again.

Imagine an industrial device that doesn’t have a mean time between failures (MTBF) except for a tragic encounter with a forklift or the like. Is this something that you would want to have as a competitive advantage? Probably so.

Though this technology is a Canadian development, my fear is that Japan will grab it so tightly and so quickly that we will be the consumers. In fact, its major investors are Japanese. North American innovation may once more land in the lap of others more willing to exploit it.

We do a lot of R&D on this continent. The most pervasive innovation, in my opinion, was the personal computer. IBM lost the battle with everyone, particularly the innovators in the industry that watered their fields better than everyone else. One of them was Michael Dell.

Once an innovation is farmed, where does it go to grow? It seems there’s a lot of fear that it won’t be in North American soil.

The emerging technology I spoke of involves LCD touchscreens. Elo Touch developed and patented this technology in the early 1970s, but it’s the inexpensive, offshore materials and labor that are used to build what we use today.

The core benefit of this technology’s newer version that I see is the lack of maintenance required, and that you can have multiple “touch points” simultaneously. It also senses pressure. No more 2-D touch. This technology has improved, and while Elo remains a market leader, this new Canadian version probably will be bred in Japan, and will likely eat Elo’s lunch.

That’s what is afraid of. Without innovation, America cannot and will not be successful, according to the website. While that might be a bit premature, I think there is some truth to this position.

There are many smart people in this world. Bill Gates now is finding out how many skilled software people live in India, who are willing and able to work for less, and be just as creative.

Many of our core skills have been born from immigration. We’re a young continent, but we accelerated to the top because of our innovation. Those immigrants are now North Americans, and all contributed greatly to our success.

So where are our new immigrants going to come from? I hope they’ll come from within. So does the committee. Since they formed their Council on Competitiveness, they believe that we need some guidance.

I really think that maybe we need it to rain.

  About the Author
Jeremy Pollard, CETJeremy Pollard, CET, has been writing about technology and software issues for many years. Publisher of The Software User ONLINE, he has been involved in control system programming and training for more than 20 years. Browse to or e-mail him at