Maintaining a technical edge

Over the past few decades North America has enjoyed a technical edge, leading the world with inventions that outer countries have been scrambling to copy and improve. We have started to see this change, but we seem to be able to stay just one step ahead of the competition. The competition continues to improve however and I wonder how long it will be before we loose that edge.

Many things come together to create an innovative mind. Life experiences determine how we look at the world and that plays a major role. The society in which we live contributes and there is definitely a random element. If I had not met my wife and adopted her passion for excellence, it’s hard to say where I would have ended up.

The percentage of innovative people in any given population is effected by the size of the population in the same way that sports teams are. If you are a major city, you have a larger population to draw on for talent and the end result is a better team than the outlying areas. Every now and then a star player can upset the balance, but on the whole strong teams come from larger populations.

If we consider the worlds population, we find that China and India are the major cities so to speak and although we have managed to stay ahead with a few stars, they will continue to have the stronger teams. As their wealth grows, they will become also become major markets. China and India understand that they are currently the underdogs but unlike North America, they are making changes and learning. They will soon lead in areas like stem cell research and the tables will be turned.

Post world war two we saw “Made in Japan” and we questioned the quality of what we were buying. That is no longer the case as Japan has established itself as a world leader and innovator in the automotive industry, electronics, musical instruments and many other things.

We have seen similar things happen in Taiwan and Korea and I would suggest to you that China and India are poised to shatter our expectations. Neal Stephenson’s book “Snow Crash” painted a picture where all that was left for North America to excel at was Pizza Delivery. I hope that we can avoid that outcome but the numbers are not in our favor. The Internet and the associated free flow of information is leveling the playing field.

So what do we need to do to maintain a technical edge? How do we insure that we continue to produce star players with innovative talents that can’t be copied?

One of the things we can do is pay attention to things that are unique to where we live. It is very hard for non-local companies to understand the needs of local schools, businesses, people and governments. If the product development involves talking to the customer, it is easier for us to do that then someone far away. It still means that we have to work hard and deliver a quality product, but we do have an advantage.

We could always “take our ball and go home”…translation: become protectionist, promote buying locally, close our doors to trade. It’s not something that I would support, because I believe that I can compete on a global playing field and I play fair.

I really don’t know the answer to this question and would appreciate feedback from readers… Please comment on this post.


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