Monday, May 3, 2010

Innovation & Mediocrity

Since we are talking innovation, I cannot help but be a bit polemical.

We all have this grand idea about innovation - the genius, the special case, the one that nobody else has. In this world of the mass media, mass marketing and mass production, what uniqueness and orignality are we talking about?

My favourite example is education, because most of us (I presume) have children and we spend too much time and resources worrying about them. We imagine we want them to be geniuses, but in reality, in our heart of hearts, we only want them to be average, to be mediocre, to be the same as everybody else - except only to be the first in line. That could just be the best of mediocrity. I do not imagine decent parents to want their beloved children to be eccentric, to be in a sphere of existence where nobody understand him or her. We want our children to be in the mainstream, if possible, in the upperstream.

In true originally and innovation, it must be out of this world and not be understood by the present and maybe by the future after considerable time, by human standard, say 100 years or two. This is where all the grand sages make their marks.

In day to day living, we are merely contented with marginal improvement because we cannot handle drastic changes without trauma. We want one foot in our comfort zone and the other testing the water. This is called risk management.

Most of us want to live a long and boring life, fearing dead and taxes. We want things to be the same as before, if possible, slightly better but not too much.


walla said...

A nation is built on a system.

This system has many components. When each component does what it is supposed to do, production moves smoothly. When any component veers away from its designed course, or goes slack in performance, production delivers choppy results.

People produce children when they are confident they can afford to upkeep them. Children grow to learn things earnestly when they are confident the things they learn will be useful in their future careers. Markets invest to grow economies and create jobs for grown-ups when they are confident profits can be made. Inventors prime themselves and sacrifice short-term gains for long-term aspirations when they are confident markets will accept their innovations, bankers will fund their work and laws are uniformly applied to protect their ideas. Innovations attract higher prices and bigger profits when the consumer environment is kinetic in confidence and can afford the new experience carefully nurtured in a carefree and happy social environment, and over and above the repayment schedule to funders.

Anything that disrupts the confidence of any component of the production chain of this system starting with babies and ending in innovative products sold with verve in free-flowing markets will dislocate the economic well-being of a nation. Without more money built on real work and fair pay, nations won't develop. Soon, they may not even be able to afford new production chains. Soon, the whole system grinds down to a level below what it was years ago. Then, any improvement to the system will only be an incremental change to backslides, and not quantum increases of preceding achievements. Meanwhile, other nations which are more focused and stirring in their efficiencies will achieve higher levels of performance and earn more to raise the standards of living of their people who will be able to afford more choices because their currency has become stronger in a more stable system.

Take the electronics sector. It is a mainstay of employment and revenue for the country. Yet its firms routinely face interrupted electricity supply, what more increased power rates. Any disruption, even for an hour, destroys everything on the assembly line, and threatens the acutely-balanced relationship between manufacturer and buyer because the buyer depends on the perfectly-timed arrival of the product in order to fulfill his own commitment in his own production chain. Globalization is all about passing the baton in a marathon race.

Take the industry subsectors which support the electronics industry. If there is a dire shortage of trained manpower for them, for instance in specific expertise like how to grind something in five-axes using a numerically-controlled, high-precision, lathe machine, then not only will the production not be able to go one scale up in value-adding, the main user of the parts will stop his assembly line and his own investor will also take his shareholders money to where such expertise is available, and at lower rates. Especially in places where the industry won't be facing a three-fold shortage of engineers in the next ten years.

walla said...


Of course, if a government running such a system has its wits about it, it would have done everything possible to avert such a situation. It would even have pulled out all stops to make sure industries will be comfortably confident they will not have to face such humdrum problems to such an extent that they will be extolling the national efficiencies instead of belaboring its inadequacies. In such a utopian setting, there would, for instance, be an international statute of guarantee on pains of execution by firing squad that performances will be outperformed by comfortable degrees, and human resources will be made available, all ready, able and confident to take up the challenge of the latest production techniques, doing things right the first time so that wastage is avoided, and showing capability to absorb new technologies and ideas, even come up with money-saving suggestions and profit-raising innovations.

Of course to reach such a zen state of acute readiness and ability, governments will need to make sure state money is well spent to eliminate inefficiencies and grow capabilities. So how does a government spending eight billion on armored carriers made by one of its party-linked GLCs for their use to patrol Afghanistan help to stabilize the local electronics industry, a major employer of the people whose well-being has also been promised and protected by hyper-expensive public-relations campaigns by the same party whose members are running the armored-carrier assembling corporation? Is that troubled mountainous country a major buyer of electronics? Will the armored carriers increase by telepathy the ability of engineers to run high-tech lathe machines?

Any good system in the modern world runs on good money. And money is good if put exactly, precisely in fact, where it can do the most good for the system. Owning the key to the national bank does not qualify one to do whatever it takes to save the fortune of one's favorites at the expense of millions of the faceless.

walla said...


A system that is bad will be like a python squeezing the life out of productive resources and lowering the confidence levels of all the components of the production chain of nation-building. In such a situation, even bankers will give excuses not to give out money to innovators because they think if the people running the whole system themselves don't care, why should they risk their own heads doing something that is only nationally given lip-service? In that case, how can innovation take root? In which case, how can high-income economies be achieved in ten years in tandem with increasing the number of engineers by threefold? And in all cases, how can confidence levels not go down? People will not invest. Domestic investors will park their money elsewhere in fresher systems which avoid such malignancies by injecting growth-promoting hormones of money taken from taxpayers and used where it can help grow their future the most.

So that when domestic investors do that, and they are people who also produce babies, the production chain of a nation gets duplicated in a parallel chain. Then one system becomes two. But there is a catch. If there is only one system, all the resources are channeled to achieve critical mass of capability to achieve quantum leaps of performance. If there are two or more systems, the national pool will be split, resources will spread away and national targets will not be achieved. In the absence of confidence, backslides will accelerate. Then it will make sense to send armored carriers to Afghanistan. Because by then there will be no difference one economy from the other. Thereby achieving the impossible - exactly what empty-tincans self-prophecize will happen - the marginalization of their community in a social environment of their own creation. And when this finally happens, politicians using the ideas of others without due credit will find those ideas worthless. Because the confidence has evaporated in the reality of real production chains.

Leaving behind only mediocrity. And innovative backsliding.


walla said...


Mediocrity has its benefits. In the field of mediocrity, there are no dreams and thus no longing, no hopes and thus no despair, no strife and thus no stress. The mediocre live within their means all the way through humdrum lives. Not having something to miss, there is no pain in missing something.

But to remain mediocre requires the same spirit of stubbornness that assails the innovative.

The mediocre must be steadfast that it is all an illusion when seeing the innovative surge forward and gain material progress in much the same way the innovative forego present comforts to invest effort, time and funds to make something new.

One fights to stand still, the other fights to change but both are imbued by the same spirit of stubbornness. Just that it is moving in opposite directions.

But it is asymmetric. Life wants choices. The first axiom. How else to explain the differentiation and variegation of life? For instance, so many types of mosquitoes.

Mediocrity breeds limited choices. Innovation multiplies choices. Therefore insurance premium for being innovative is lower than for being mediocre. More money is saved by being innovative. Which adds to more choices.

Everything has a price. The air if not paid to be cleaned will clog the alveoli of the lungs and cause respiratory sickness whose treatment needs money whose cost is amortized into the air breathed.

Moving from mediocrity to innovation costs money too. Maybe eighty percent of innovations don't work. But over time and with wisdom, observation and knowledge, it is possible to reduce that failure rate. So that more innovations can succeed so that the world will have more choices.

But in the end...after the cycle of life is winding down, one finds that simplicity can actually be a breath of fresh air. What one doesn't have one won't miss. What one won't miss one cannot crave. What one doesn't crave one will not be displeased with. What one will not be displeased with one will have peace. And in peace, all differences, even those between mediocre and innovation, recede into the background.

But society is built of family units. And family units are made of people. And different people have different rates of life cycles. Some are just starting. Others are about to end. Each needs the dignity of going through his or her own life order to realize higher truths hidden in the dark caves of the mind or the deep recesses of the heart. To let go is easy to say but hard to do.

So one must innovate for choices and leave mediocrity behind. It is more logical to go for innovation in order to have the choice to slide down to mediocrity from it, than to remain in mediocrity and then wonder through the entire lifecycle what innovation could have done.

In all that is the above, eccentricity hasn't come in. Only the electricity of insight cooked by another hot afternoon in dry weather without interesting company.

Godel starved to death because he had a phobia of being poisoned and so only trusted his wife's cooking but she was fatefully hospitalized at the very moment when his phobia was raging. He had proven that maths truths cannot be absolutely proven.

If only the exotic instruments innovators had remembered that, who knows how many would have been saved from the rest of their lifecycles, now collectively consigned to mediocrity?

walla said...


Everyone's an innovator. An innovator is a creative problem-solver.

Someone finishes her housework. She has time before cooking. She reads a bit... is boring; she looks for an empty box to write something...

Innovation is just about finding a smarter way to solve a problem.

Everyday, everyone is doing innovation. Including housepersons.