Innovation is being comprehensively squashed – but what can we do?

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Innovation is a strange thing. When you think about it, you have visions of lights shining from garages late in the evening, with the occasional flash of a welding torch throwing shadows further into the night.

But when was the last time that image – we think of Apple and Amazon starting that small – instantly occurred to us?

The problem is that now Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Whoever have grown up, and they don’t want real innovation anymore. They want security, growth, protection and political muscle.

Yes, they do all have innovation initiatives, and yes, some pretty cool stuff has emerged from the sofas and bean bags of the Innovation Wing. But it is innovation on their terms, and real innovation is kept at bay if it threatens their roadmaps.

Regulation is making things worse. The big boys spend so much money on lobbying that the small guy, the real deal innovator, is on a hiding to nothing.

It is hard even to imagine what real innovation would look like in the present, increasingly insular world. What new invention is waiting in the wings to become the next Macintosh computer or new way of communicating?

Harsher still is the increasing restrictions of international relations. India is the latest country to tighten the screws on who can pitch for what. Meanwhile, it is looking as if the Biden Administration, far from loosening the ropes and welcoming the world back, is set to maintain the process of suffocating that choice that his predecessor started.

Wherever you look, you are told that innovation abounds. Just look at this (extremely clever) guy who is working on sensors that will finally deliver the autonomous car – in time. Innovation? Well, yes, but an innovation that fits the roadmaps of the vast, profit-led companies who will ultimately benefit from the revolution on the road.

And if you think for a moment that this is what venture capitalists are there for, think again. Venture Capitalists are, well, capitalists. Their investment criteria is the exit, and they do not judge a successful exit on a great and new idea. They judge it on the people. A moderately good idea with a proven team will attract investment. An insanely great idea, without proven people, will not.

And while this is partly because the naïve, unproven people will not part with sufficient equity in the early stages to make it work, the problem still exists.

It is hard to see what the next great innovation will be, mainly because the atmosphere for it to thrive in is being suffocated.

Either that, or we have now innovated and there is nothing left to do except make everything more efficient.

And boring.

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