On Innovation and Path Pollution

Some people think that issues like Net Neutrality and DOPA are confined to the US, and don’t understand why I (and many like me) think this is a global issue, and that everyone should get involved.

Let me try to explain why:

  • The internet, whatever you define it as, is global
  • The internet allows us an opportunity to innovate on a grand scale, and make a real impact on issues ranging from poverty thru healthcare thru education thru climate change thru to many other things important to all of us, including business
  • The value of innovation is derived primarily by consumers
  • US consumers are critical to the global innovation process, regardless of where the innovation is  “created”
  • Anything that pollutes the path of the end-to-end internet stifles this innovation

Now that may sound altruistic-pinko-utopia to some of you; when you read the rest of this post, I hope to have changed a little bit of your mind.
The latest issue of the Economist referred me to a fascinating paper, via this article. [Oh frabjous day calloo callay, the article has not been DRMed to death].
The article refers to a paper presented by Amar Bhide at the CESifo and Centre on Capitalism and Society Conference in Venice (I shall resist the temptation to add Italy as a suffix :-) ). You can download the entire paper yourself via this site.

I quote from the Economist article:

The most important part of innovation may be the willingness of consumers, whether individuals or firms, to try new products and services, says Mr Bhide. In his view, it is America’s venturesome consumers that drive the country’s leadership in innovation. Particularly important has been the venturesome consumption of new innovations by American firms. Although America has a lowish overall investment rate compared wih other rich countries, it has a very high rate of adoption of information technology (IT).

Read the article and the paper for yourself. There are a few things I’m not sure about, there’s much I don’t know enough about, but one thing’s for sure. Innovation is about consumers and not innovators. This is not new, it’s been a while since I first heard Michael Schrage say it. What Schrage actually said was:

Innovation isn’t what innovators do….it’s what customers and clients adopt.

The US is the biggest capital market in the world. It has the most “venturesome consumers”. It is critical to global innovation, particular web-related innovation. Global innovation is critical to our attempting to solve many of the long-standing problems we face. [Before you say it, I agree. Innovation is necessary but not sufficient to solve these problems, we have political and philosophical and spiritual and economic and cultural barriers as well. Or maybe I should just say Fear and Greed and be done with it).

So that’s why I care about doing everything I can to make sure that people understand the problems in the Net Neutrality Bill(s) and DOPA. And why we should all care.

These are not easy issues. But the consequences of getting them wrong don’t bear thinking about. So get involved.

4 thoughts on “On Innovation and Path Pollution”

  1. I am reasonably aware of the democratised innovation work done by von Hippel and by Benkler, but felt this was something more. Opensource communities tend to follow some sort of power ratio, for every 1000 visitors to an opensource hosting site, you will have around 80 activists and a hard core of about 20.

    What I was trying to do with my post was to raise the importance of the other 920, the lurkers who experiment and implement and feed back. They are the consumer part of the innovation process. And it is there that we need the participation of the US.

    Make sense?

Let me know what you think

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