The faltering marriage of hope and innovation

So our brother is getting hitched next year and as we teased his fiancée over Thanksgiving dinner about vegetarianism, Walmart and energy consumption (let’s just say she believes in change), we thought of hope. You know, that crazy belief that if you do something different in the world, something good will follow.

We bring this up because the dour economic news is starting to choke hope in business. Inside marketing and planning circles hope is known as innovation, and the leaders of innovation are starting to falter.

Cutting-edge innovator Tesla, the upstart producer of high-end electric cars, has tapped most of its $150 million of investment and been forced to delay its second sedan model until 2011.

Internet innovator Twitter
, the web communication service that proved invaluable during last week’s Mumbai attacks, still attracts $500 million buyout offers but makes some wonder if it can survive the recession while still in a “pre-revenue” stage.

And old-school innovator GE, the largest producer of wind turbines in the U.S. and one of our best hopes that humanity will figure out how to live on alternative energy sources and clean water, has had its stock hammered down to bargain-basement levels.

It’s worrisome because we don’t want to see electric cars, open communications or alternative energy die. Failing to innovate due to a bad economy is a good way to miss future growth. It doesn’t have to cost a lot; PNC Bank is grabbing market share among twentysomethings with a web site that rebrands stodgy banking to a hip “virtual wallet” — complete with a slick interface that forecasts how much money you’ll have next week after your paycheck clears. A little clever code, and PNC is putting on 4,000 new customers a month.

Sure, innovation requires risk. Johann Gutenberg went bankrupt in 1455 after printing 200 bibles … but within 50 years a half-million books and intellectual revolution had followed. Starting something new is like getting married. You don’t know where the road will lead, and you probably can’t afford it, but the act of faith gives birth to the future.

Photo by Rodney Smith via Maximo.

One thought on “The faltering marriage of hope and innovation

  1. There was a good article in the Sunday Times (UK) today, which served as a reminder of why we shouldn’t yet lose our heads.

    The feature itself was about the Labour Government’s tax policy, but at the end it looked back to the last recession of the early 90s and some of the dire predictions doing the rounds then:

    “According to one summary at the time: “We are heading for an appalling four-year economic depression in which crack-crazed armed gangs will roam the streets, the value of your house will fall to a third of its present level, terrorists will ransom the West with nuclear weapons, anybody worth more than £100,000 will employ an armed bodyguard and everybody else will carry a handgun . . .

    “If you are badly in debt, you’re dead; forget it, walk away, sleep in a cardboard box if you can find one. You are about to be totalled by economic history.”

    “It did not happen. The 1990s, after a sputtering start, turned into what Joe Stiglitz, the Nobel prize-winning US economist, characterised as a “roaring”

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