Roger Cowdrey - International Business Consultant. Writer & Motivational Speaker
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Does innovation really need another war?

I recently read an article about a new book that suggests that innovation is drying up in the West and that peace is the cause! The author reckons that wars cause an acceleration of innovation in order to create  competitive edge in battle.

While computing took a great leap forward in the Second World War thanks to the need to break Nazi codes, and World War One gave us air traffic control, much of what came out of the two wars was an improvement in weaponry that fuelled the continuance of war around the world.

One thing it did do, of course was to increase the participation of women within the workplace because of the necessity of using female labour to replace the men at the front. However, that was a short term fix rather than a major step forward for women's rights and most cases of famous women of the two wars involved pretending to be men and taking on men's roles.

I don't feel the ' lack of a war ' reasoning holds water given the amount of armed conflict since 1945. Personally I believe that there are a few more insidious reasons for the general decline in entrepreneurial activity in the West.

Most importantly I feel that education mitigates against entrepreneurship. We have created a system where success is everything and failure is deemed bad rather than a step on the road to success. We have also reduced education to a set of right answers rather than something to explore and discover and we have lauded academic achievement over business achievement even if it is a media studies degree rather than engineering.

Secondly, we have created a society that has become risk averse, reducing the desire to take risks with entrepreneurship. Playing safe is the order of the day and woe betide you if you risk and fail; the no-win-no-fee lawyers will be on to you in a flash.

The other important issue comes from creating a material society. The West is so engrossed in creating wealth for wealth's sake that an idea will be tossed away unless it is likely to create big bucks. 

Prior to these three changes in the West we had people that were natural problem solvers. People that would find a problem and discover a way to overcome it. People that would enjoy experimenting more than playing computer games.

Could we really imagine someone today putting water and torn up paper in a blender and coming out with correcting fluid after countless attempts? Certainly, if Edison had lived today he would have given up on the lightbulb long before attempt 10,000.

No, when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship in the West we don't want such people in our environment. We don't want them to challenge the status quo. We want people all conforming through education and into work, assuming there is a job out there!

However, in taking this approach we not only deny ourselves potentially good innovations, we destroy the fundamental characteristics that made men and women different to all other species.

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