As we start the second decade of the new millennium, innovation is understood as a critical driver to overcome the economic malaise plaguing the global economy. Economic stasis and political factionalism has made it increasingly evident that faltering economic and social institutions cry out for sweeping reform. These reforms can only be achieved with innovative approaches in policy and practice. Innovation is realized by giving flight to uninhibited thought and the clear application of ideas with decisive action. Though most agree that we badly need reform, we remain at painful odds as to what those reforms should be and how to implement them. The destructive legislative debates on health care and the ugly political theater of town meetings that occurred in the United States over the summer accomplished little in regards to meaningful reform. The exercises only served to drive a deepening wedge into the ability of a democratic culture to form a transformative consensus.
Our society is a complex ecosystem comprised of many competing interests. The classic definition of politics, “the means to decide how limited resources are allocated to disparate interests” is clearly a truism that must be applied if we are to realize the reform that we desperately need. In a post scarcity society that definition may seem a bit crude or antiquated. America’s history is marked by a culture of innovation and the incubation of industry. Innovation and its commercial expression in entrepreneurialism is a national asset that tempers the hard edges of stringent allocation or resources and has been the source of our great social wealth. Democracies continually require citizens to arbitrate how competing interests are reconciled and converge. As a self professed democracy the United States must break down the barriers that inhibit innovation by confronting the challenges posed by convergence.
Convergence has been the watch word in the tech industry for the past few years. Convergence aggregates, joins and aligns discreet trends, competencies, technologies and missions to spawn innovation and progress. Masters of business innovation understand that a precondition of convergence is the ability to collaborate. Collaboration requires extended conversations and dialog to understand how competing interests can be reconciled and brought together so that innovation and progress can be achieved. Marketeers invent neologisms like coopetition to brand the idea and lend heft to its thrust. We believe that innovation borne from convergence is the path to rebuild our economy, heal cultural wounds and take a step toward political maturity the United States needs to sustain the great experiment of our democratic republic.
With that in mind we offer a list that outlines the inhibitors to innovation. It is hoped that our nations leaders and people can begin an earnest conversation to address these barriers to growth. Maybe I’m wrong with offering this modest list but I remain willing to discuss it, hopeful that people of good will with a different viewpoint will be open to correct my thinking and contribute to my enlightenment.
1. War: War is inherently wasteful. The current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are grievous examples of waste and national distraction that hampers the United States economic recovery. At an Ecumenical Memorial Service held at Yankee Stadium following the 9/11 terror attacks a Buddhist Monk stated that he believed “it was wiser to drop refrigerators on Afghanistan then bombs”. Almost a decade later and two wars on I can’t help but to think what a meager $100 billion investment in Afghanistan would have returned to the United States tax payers. More importantly it would have shown the world that above all else America values the sanctity and preservation of life. It would have also minimized the rising toll of casualties of both citizens and soldiers. We developed some great bunker buster bombs but we can’t figure out a way to stop a suicide bomber with exploding underpants. We succeeded in stirring up a hornets nest of angry insurgents and failed to build innovative pathways to peace with steadfast bridges to secure allies and pacify combatants.
2. Politics: To be sure politics is omnipresent but the politicization of faith institutions and government functions is a great separator of people. When politics infects faith institutions their ability to breach the social divide and join people together is seriously compromised or downright destructive. The Catholic Church’s practice of denying the Eucharist to parishioners based on political biases of the communicant places politics at the center of the Lords alter. The recent occurrences of radical Islamists burning down Christian Churches in Malaysia is tragically ironic. The violence, a response to the Christians appropriation of the word Allah as a name for God; is a violent rejection of language convergence of two great faith traditions. It would seem that unity is a threat that God cannot abide and is a growing threat that must be abolished. In the secular world government agencies were instructed to withhold scientific climate change research of the National Science Foundation because it did not conform with the politics of the party in power. The extent of the politicization of the judicial branch of government under the Bush Administration was a seditious move worthy of dictatorships. Innovative application of constitutional law in defense of civil liberties is one of the greatest challenges the war on terror poses to this country. The creation of kangaroo courts to support the politics of the ruling party would undermine our system of justice. It would transform our judiciary into a repressive apparatus of the state, our laws into stale dogmas ill suited to meet the legal challenges of our time and a justice system that is indistinguishable from the justice offered by our opponents.
3. Ideology: Only good ideas need apply. Deng Xiaoping said it best “does it matter if its a communist or capitalist mouse trap. The question is, does it catch mice?” Seeing this as a threat, Mao Zedong unleashed the cultural revolution and routed the capitalist roaders as a threat to the Great Proletarian Revolution. After the death of Mao, Deng would be rehabilitated and play a key role in China’s adoption of a market economy and its current ascendancy as a world economic power. In my mind there is a striking resemblance to the debate about heath care. Socialized medicine is bad. Do you want to turn into France? Canadian health care is too expensive. UK heath care system is overloaded and can’t cope with demand. These problems would be solved however after the death panels had a chance to meet and decide who shall live and who must walk the plank.
4. Entrenched Commercial Interests: Though we are ardent believers in capitalism as an engine of innovation the dictatorship of ROI, entrenched concentrations of capital and an unwillingness or inability to adopt longer term investment horizons hamper innovation. The failure of the United States automobile industry to develop fuel efficient vehicles is a good example of market intransigence. The development of junk bonds by Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert dismantled the manufacturing base of the US economy accelerated the countries decline as a net exporter of products creating the foundation of a debtor nation. During the presidency of Jimmy Carter solar panels were installed on the roof of the White House. The succeeding administration had them removed. Imagine where the alternative energy industry would be today had it developed this leading edge idea and capitalized on this first mover advantage.
5. Unbridled free markets: The economic carnage of the banking meltdown is a startling example of the excesses the pursuit of profit will create. The boom in commercial and residential real estate construction created massive stocks of unused inventories that misdirected and wasted enormous resource. The energy and capital expended on these wasteful endeavors misdirected funds and created huge social hazards that requires massive amounts of capital to mitigate. Also worth mention is the development of video gaming. Lots of energy and creativity is being expended on the best techno music to use while your Mafia Avatar bashes open the head of your opponent with a baseball bat. We are not suggesting censorship or a prohibition of video games nor centralized economic planning. Its a compensation and social value issue. Perhaps a communicants denial of participation at the Lord’s Table lead them to leave the church and miss the message about social values.
6. Technology: It may seem odd to include technology as an inhibitor to innovation but technology for technology sake may inhibit the development of innovative applications solutions that are not technological in nature. The technorati of the world is transforming technology into a religion. Deprived of its human dimension it can become a dogma that grows in an antagonistic relationship with its human masters. The United States continues to trumpet its technological prowess as the deciding factors in its war in Afghanistan. But that paradigm was explored during the war in Viet Nam where pungi sticks ultimately trumped napalm bombs. The power of an idea and how it connects and motivates people is force that is mightier then the sword.
7. Fundamentalism: The Pharisees once asked Jesus, “is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?” Jesus answered that it was always the right time to heal those who are sick. The world recoils in horror at the capacity for destruction fundamentalism regularly visits upon the world. The denial of equal civil rights to LGBT people creates a bifurcated system of citizenship. It is an ugly stain on our democratic heritage. The gravest peril to democracy is the abridgment and denial of civil rights to any group of citizens. Democracy necessitates that all republicans enjoy equal access and rights in order for it to function. The denial of that right based on a fundamentalist reading of religious scriptures makes it particularly abhorrent because civil rights of citizens in a secular democracy is not an issue that is decided by theologians or the adherents to a particular theology.
Tolerance and consensus are both antithetical to the precepts of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is not the sole province of religion. It has its secular and ideological adherents as well. Fundamentalism is a pillar of dictatorship; either of a political or theocratic nature both are enemies of secular democracy. Secular democracies require tolerance to respect the diverse ideas and competing viewpoints require in the democratic process. Secular democracies require the trust to converse and hash out the best ideas that serve the greatest good. This is only possible if consensus can be achieved. It is how “out of many becomes one”. It is the true genius of America. It is a worthy innovation of governance that every freedom loving citizen should jealously guard and consciously pursue.
8. Public Education: The public education system that the United States built is the true arsenal of democracy and the nations source of wealth and its many contributions it has made to the world. Without the vast network of learning institutions built and supported by successive generations of Americans the worlds great experiment in representative democracy would have long ago perished. The public schools sole charter is to create an enlightened citizenship with the skills to discuss, discern and decide in a civil and constructive manner the ever evolving dialectic of a democratic consensus placed at the service of the republic. It is one of the true geniuses of America and remains her enduring strength.
Today public schools are under attack by forces whose agendas are the pursuit of parochial goals that first and foremost seek their enrichment and interests at the expense of the greatest good of the republic. The charter school movement is a trend that threatens the public school system by privatizing some of the systems assets and draining away much needed resource and financial support. It forces public schools to dispense with curriculum offerings like music and arts, sports programs and civic excursions that will convey an understanding of how institutions interact and support the greater social good. This aspect of the educational experience is supplanted by an exacting examination regime that destroys the love of learning. Secular learning is also being threatened through the introduction of theological precepts like creationism into the science curriculum of public schools. Religion and faith are important precepts to offer in a public educational curriculum; however theology that masquerades as science is an ideological stricture that has no place in public schools. These trends are pose great challenges to the public schools mission to form enlightened citizens free to think and free to act in the sole service of liberty and participatory democracy. Innovation and progress is in danger of becoming a secular sin a disease of the soul that needs to be eradicated from the public schools as its threatens to infect the greater body politic.
You Tube Music Video: Louis Armstrong, I Get Ideas
Risk: innovation, convergence, progress, tolerance
I was the Warden at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church when the then Rev. Gene Robinson was being considered to become the 9th Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. At a vestry meeting the then Rector of St. Alban’s asked vestry members to sign a letter in support of the candidacy of the Rev. Robinson. I in good conscience stated that I could not sign the letter as it was written. Though I knew of Rev. Robinson I did not know him. Though I supported his right as a Gay man to be considered for the position of Bishop, I did not believe that his sexual orientation automatically qualified him for the office. Nor did it allow me to sign a letter advising the electors of the Diocese of New Hampshire that they should vote for Rev. Robinson because I new little of his experience and background and how he would benefit their Dioceses.
I suggested that we incorporate language that we believe that Rev. Robinson’s sexual orientation should not be a consideration of his candidacy. We also stated that if the Diocesan electors understand Rev. Robinson to be qualified and suitably gifted to meet the requirements of the position then we wholeheartedly support their decision to call him as the 9th Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Thankfully God moved the electors to call Rev. Robinson. His consecration as Bishop has removed another barrier for the denial of civil rights for Gays.
I believe that my opposition to the letter as it was originally presented was in full conformance with Dr. Martin Luther King’s admonition that we should judge a person by the content of his character, not the color of his skin, or in the case of Rev. Robinson his sexual orientation. This teaching is central to my understanding of the ministry of Jesus Christ. I believe Jesus practiced a ministry of inclusiveness that calls everyone to his table. By doing so Jesus asks us to see the divinity in one another, unencumbered by earthly prejudices and predispositions. Jesus asks us to see each other as God sees us by looking at what is written in the heart of a person. By recognizing that we are all children of God, equally endowed with the gift of grace and apportioned an equal amount of divine love.
The Constitution of the United States is a political document that parallels that idea. We are all equal citizens under the law. No law will abrogate or abridge the civil rights, privileges and protection of our laws for any citizen based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
Bishop Robinson’s Benediction will speak to this issue on many levels. His benediction will ask that we be mindful of the call for inclusiveness and to engage in the work to bridge the cultural, political and racial divide that is always a clear and present danger to a democratic republic. The shameful thrust of Proposition 8 that seeks to codify the denial of equal civil rights to Gay people denies them a place at the table of democracy. I don’t believe Jesus would approve. But we must take heart and be content in the understanding that children of God like Bishop Robinson walk and teach among us. Asking us to be ever mindful of those who suffer the injustice of exclusion and to set a place at the table so that all may eat the bread of life and drink from the cup of liberty.
You Tube Video: San Francisco Gay Men Chorus, “Oh, Happy Day”
Risk: civil rights, democracy