Monday, March 30, 2009

It's Adaptive to be Vulnerable

Jack and Suzie Welch said it best when they wrote "Put Your Rage on the Back Burner" for this week's BusinessWeek Magazine.
"It's crazy to think the most profound economic and cultural upheaval of our times will end well if we let ourselves marinate in rage. Rage begets only rage: it often makes people do stupid, short-sighted things that invariably spawn unintended consequences. Rage isn't healing; it's polarizing.

We all have to fight to keep hope alive replacing our rage with renewed focus on the good that are all around us.

Right now there are thousands of geeky, brilliant engineering wonks sitting in their dorm rooms at MIT and Stanford and campuses around the world, oblivious to the weather as they pour their hearts into cool new ideas. Those kids and their ideas are the future of business if we just hang on tight and adapt.

Psychologist, author and artist Robert W. Firestone says that it's adaptive to be vulnerable - that we are more open to opportunity and willing to challenge ourselves and take risks when we're not hindered by rage and other defenses.

Certainly now is the time to stay focused and not get distracted with transitory issues. Ben Bernanke made the analogy of the current financial crisis to the story of the guy next door who smokes in bed. One day his house catches fire. While the house is on fire, it's not the time to place blame. Instead, it's the time to protect your home by pitching in to help fight the fire. When things are safe again there'll be plenty of time to assess blame and provide punishment where it's due. But right now the flames are challenging and it's time to take action.

The Welch article was uplifting to me. I hope you take the time to read it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Innovation will lead the way out of our crisis

The current issue of Fortune Magazine has a story about Obama's difficulties in hiring a new CTO.

It's not just a Silicon Valley parlor game.  The process is being watched all over the country - and the world.  It's a key position: the new CTO will focus on using technology to spur innovation both within the government and the broader economy.  And that innovation isn't just in the area of telecom; robotics needs to have an equal share of the focus.

Scientific advances and entrepreneurship will help lead us out of our crisis, but the process needs focus and direction from the top.  Obama promised that leadership throughout the campaign by his desire to hire and his description of the functions of a Chief Technology Officer.  

Having seen first-hand the success of public/private initiatives in Korea, Japan and Europe with a focus on robotics, I'm sure that similar focus here in the U.S. will yield dramatic successes, particularly in the area of robotics.

It's time for President Obama to choose our new CTO and get the process going.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

President Obama. When will you choose our new CTO?

President Obama, when will you choose our new Chief Technology Officer?

You promised to stimulate the economy with investments in roads, schools - and technology. Robotics is the next transformational technology comparable to the introduction of the personal computer. Inroads in robotics are happening at an ever-accelerating rate in every area of the industry. Yet not one single reference to robotics (except within NASA) appears in any of the stimulus bills.

How can that be?

Robotic-related public/private initiatives are prevalent in Europe, Korea and Japan. These partnerships address important social issues (senior healthcare in Japan and Europe; increased productivity in many parts of Europe; etc.). And these initiatives are making progress. But not here in the U.S.

Again, how can that be? How can we be losing at a field we invented? The first manufacturer of robots was here in the U.S. It has since moved to Japan. In the service sector, robotics is on the threshold of amazing breakthroughs in healthcare, all manner of personal and home assistance, unmanned surveillance (aerial, underwater, on-land), space, defense and security, and in social therapies (physical, emotional, training, etc.). In the industrial sector, they are moving to lower costs, make the devices easier to train, enable more autonomy, and cover more aspects of manufacturing, logistics and process control.

Yet not one single reference to robotics appears in any of the stimulus bills.

We need a new CTO and we need him now.

Thank you for your time and consideration and for all that you've done thus far.

Accelerating Robotic Development Needs an Innovation Action Plan

Thomas Kuczmarski suggested in two recent BusinessWeek articles a need for a Secretary of Innovation - a cabinet-level person to sharpen the focus on changes needed to stabilize and revive the nation's economy, and an innovation action plan to mobilize and coordinate all of our technology resources.  That presently unfilled position is called the U.S. Chief of Technology.  Perhaps the delay in choosing this key player in the Obama administration is because of the prevailing hunker-down mentality, or because they don't see the pressing need, or confuse the position with R&D and sci-fi.
Too many companies are choosing to hunker down, postpone investments in R&D, and avoid risk-taking until the market has stabilized.  The companies that continue to build an innovation culture and make modest investments to keep the innovation pipeline full will be the ones that enjoy a big competitive advantage a few years from now.
The process of innovation can have just as much to do with rebuilding a devastated economy as it does with rebuilding a product line.  It needs someone responsible for leveraging the talents, skills, technologies, and capabilities that we have as a country.
I think his seven-point plan has merit:
  1. Graduated tax credits for R&D investments
  2. Innovation booster grants
  3. Innovation awards
  4. National business incubators
  5. Innovation training
  6. Intellectual property auctions
  7. Innovation index fund
Innovation and robotics are buzzwords that are often misused.  Both words suggest enormous appeal and promise, yet both are also used to imply excessive research and long-lead hi-tech costs with associated developmental problems.

The business side of robotics is not invention; rather it is the result of research to identify needs, wants and problems and then the interdisciplinary turning of those issues into practical, useful, necessary products and services.  But the process desperately needs someone responsible for leveraging the talents, skills, technologies and capabilities that we have as a country.

The new Chief of Technology will help ensure that the full power of the innovation process will be used in the vital work of stabilizing the economy and for advancing technological change and innovation into the future.  He or she needs to be chosen and put to work right away.