Innovation: Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom – and then Wither…?
Roger Needham, who was a major figure in computer science, said that one should not judge the quality of the flowers in the garden from the quantity of manure used to cultivate them. He was referring to research output and the funding that is used to drive research. It’s clear that the benefits of research are their own reward for society and for the individual. From another vantage point, those who allocate funding, maybe ultimately the taxpayer, have every right to know what is derived from the nitrous deposits.
Let’s look at the flowers. It is not a bad thing to countenance a thousand flowers blooming. It is super important too to cultivate the rare and ever so valuable specimens. This is what the French call the orchidean scholarly disciplines, the orchids among the flowers, which in the long run make us proud to be earthlings.
With these floral thoughts in my mind you can imagine how dismayed I was to see an enormously crass view expressed recently by Chris Horn, whom I generally admire.
“If Ireland is to become a world centre for innovation and one of the best smart economies, then it is important to understand why Irish innovators and entrepreneurs would want to stay here in Ireland, and why overseas innovators and entrepreneurs would want to start their companies here in Ireland: the basic reason is to get rich, by building a company to sell it.”
Ouff, is that all?
“Failure is expected. It is critical to fail early … Failure is common, but so are retries: investors and management learn from mistakes and anxious to use this wisdom to become rich by trying again.”
Let a thousand flowers bloom, let them wither and decay and out of the nitrous substances more flowers will spring up. Maybe, but I am thoroughly dismayed by the short-termism of it all, by the personal and unsociable (maybe even unsocial) aggrandizement, by the crudeness of using whomever is at hand to make a quick buck, – in a word by the striking amorality of all of this.
I have noted before (see next post on “Intellectual Property, Innovation and Globalization”) how we in Europe have a real problem with consolidating and growing companies of scale and stature. It is clear that if not consolidated and growing, if companies have no future, well, yes, they should become manure. But there must be a belief in what we are doing, in our engineering of systems, and in our provision of products and services.
Content and substance must be what counts in the end. Building in order to exit is a bad way to pursue any initiative. We may be – all of us – nitrous stuff in the end, but being spectacular in between times is what makes it all worthwhile.
My hope is that our Irish and our European ambition, in engineering, science and technology, are as high as they can be, and stay that way.