Business innovation is a hot topic all around the world at the moment. Unfortunately, the heat is restricted to the relatively small circles of players discussing investment, technology and government economic development.
Word has filtered down from academia that businesses, and by extension their host countries, can enjoy increased productivity by investing in research and development for business innovation. The promise is: innovation provides an advantage over competitors, which leads to more jobs, which creates higher living standards.
At the country level, governments are churning out new national programs and tax incentives designed to spur investment in research and development. Canada is no different. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty just released a new budget bristling with these so-called economic levers. As Carol Goar in the Toronto Star points out, though, it's just the same old same old.
"The trouble is, he is following the same course as his predecessors – Michael Wilson, Don Mazankowski, Paul Martin, John Manley and Ralph Goodale – cutting red tape, lowering corporate taxes, handing out research grants, putting money into higher education and subsidizing leading-edge science."
And there's more legislation sure to come. But, just as surely, there is more to come from Canada's competitors too. They are all doing the same things as Canada - the same things that have been tried for years. More and more, the game looks like a futile arms race. Increasingly cash-strapped taxpayers give the wealthy tax breaks, trying to bribe them into risking more of their discretionary cash on the innovators: the entrepreneurs and inventors.
Nevertheless, it all boils down to neanderthal motivation: carrots and sticks. Carrots in the form of R&D tax incentives for business and education subsidies for the public. Sticks in the form of economic predictions of disaster. Well, doing the same thing and expecting different results is insane. At best it will only help us to keep pace with the other nutcases.
Canada ... we need a game changer. Dammit, we need to turn to our families and to our neighbors and beg them to understand this is war.
It`s too important to leave to the politicians and lobbyists. It`s more important than hockey and gold medals, more important than the petty entitlements and comforts of our personal lives, and now that our war in Afghanistan is ending, more important than democracy in distant lands. As Goar concludes in her column,
"Our standard of living is slipping. Our kids won't be able to earn a good living in a static economy. Our country won't thrive unless we raise our game."
Our best hope for a game-raiser is to make the issue personal in our social networking. With social media, each of us today who recognizes the threats and opportunities has a handy weapon to confront the innovation challenge - not by turning to government but by sharing our passion with our friends. Urging them to invest their attention, time and money in the battle. To raise their own game with learning. To forsake consumer credit for business investment. To invest in Canadian innovators. In short, to make sacrifices for Canada.
If we can only find the courage to risk ridicule for being vocal, to honestly reflect on the sustainability of the game and, with that, change our own values, we will eventually outflank our government-addicted competitors. Or perhaps show them a better way and engage them as allies.
At the very least, by engaging our friends and families in open government (as envisioned by David Eaves), we can make the tax incentives and government programs more accountable and effective.
I don't think it is an exaggeration to reframe the innovation issue as a war for Canada's future. However, as far as wars go, this could be a good one.