Innovation might be alive and well, but who really benefits anymore?

Innovation might be alive and well, but who really benefits anymore?

Summary: Access to cutting-edge technology might not be a prerequisite for the next big idea, but geography isn’t the only constraint to fostering innovation either.


Many tech industry followers point to the economic meltdown in 2008 as the catalyst for some of the innovations that spawned the current tech boom -- or bubble, as the case may be.

But as many analysts and investors question whether or not another tech bubble is about to burst, could more innovation -- or a lack thereof -- be one of the contributing factors to a pending downfall?

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Some of the most renowned innovators in business and technology gathered for a debate in tech mecca San Francisco on Friday morning to debate whether or not entrepreneurs have “lost the will to innovate.”

The general consensus was that innovation is still very much alive and well, but who benefits is questionable.

"Entrepreneurs haven’t lost the will to innovate at all,” remarked Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, "I’ve never known a more exciting time for innovation.”

But Branson was the first to point far beyond the mental bubble of Silicon Valley, positing that there is "help needed in many countries to help entrepreneurs get on their feet.”

In the United Kingdom, for example, Branson highlighted government-led programs that offer budding businesspeople with mentorship, funding and loans, further advising other countries should follow suit.

Megan Smith, vice president of the top secret moonshot lab Google X, reflected that there have "always been amazing entrepreneurs in the world doing astonishing things,” citing that American Red Cross founder Clara Barton "didn’t need computers to do her amazing things.”

"There is something wrong with billionaires if they’re not going to use there money constructively,” Branson asserted.

Access to cutting-edge technology might not be a prerequisite for the next big idea, but geography isn’t the only constraint to fostering innovation either.

Leila Janah, director of humanitarian nonprofit CARE and self-described social entrepreneur, outlined gaps between the business sector and social welfare, notably problem spots from poverty to the prison system.

"The way funding flows into nonprofits is so broken. We don’t have enough incentives for people to move into this sector to work on problems," Janah lamented. "It completely prevents innovation from happening. It squelches it."

Smith, who described herself as a “card-carrying optimist," looked toward much younger demographics to argue innovation is alive and well, citing the annual Google Science Fair for middle and high school students worldwide, which has put the spotlight on projects covering the science, technology, engineering and mathematics gamut. Previous submissions and winners have been rooted in cloud and big data for the greater good before these verticals became buzzworthy terms.

“The levels of science and ingenuity that come out of 13- to 17-year-olds is so impressive,” Smith posited while acknowledging there is a divide around the world about people who are aware of these opportunities and those who are not.

In Silicon Valley, Smith observed that serial (and sometimes successful) entrepreneurs are the ones who become angel investors, hinting at a repetitive cycle that keeps innovation alive — at least within the Valley. She suggested that it is necessary to reach out to "places in the world that don’t have alums to lift those entrepreneurs."

"There is something wrong with billionaires if they’re not going to use there money constructively,” Branson asserted. "Capitalism needs to relook. Government needs to relook. These sorts of things need to be addressed.”

Also displaying optimism with a dash of caution, Branson predicted that “we could have a world over the next 10 to 20 years where we could pull the majority of people out of poverty,” but it is going to take a lot of work, dedication, and regulation now to achieve those goals.

Topics: Tech Industry, CXO, Start-Ups, IT Employment, Enterprise 2.0

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  • We don't need innovation, we need the BASICS to JUST WORK

    Item: Microsoft so lost sight of the basics, it rolled out this totally unintuitive interface called Vista, Win7, Win8 -- so people didn't upgrade. Whatever other benefits there were under the hood, were lost because the BASIC FAMILIARITY hard won since Win95, was abandoned.

    They also didn't pay enough attention to getting security basics or migration basics, right. So whatever other innovations they do, are of no value, if we can't use the BASICS.

    Frankly, everyone's chasing after the 'next' thing, instead of focusing on making the BASIC things work right FIRST.

    Can't even buy a computer easily now, because BASIC INFORMATION is hard to find, to make a purchase decision. Same for a car. Same for a lot of things. Silly example: I heard '24' was re-airing for a 9th season, but I couldn't even find WHAT TIME AND DAY it would air on WHICH STATION, without 20 minutes of searching dozens of websites, including Fox and FX themselves, which had the biggest ads.

    Another example: I went to Amazon to find how to get a Kindle. Its basic links on its own Kindle home page, didn't work, so I couldn't even learn what it means to install and how to make mobile connection. Basics like these are FIRST. Whatever innovations afterwards might be great, but for someone who needs BASICS to work, the innovations do not impress.

    Get the basics right, first. Then maybe innovate. Else, your innovations are going to be flawed at the basic level, and you waste your own and everyone else's, time and money.
    • You can't wake up and say "Today I will out innovate"

      The problem is, technology has been designed to REPLACE work. If you have willing workers but no work, or work that - you know - can't pay the bills...

      The macroeconomic paradigm is a little bit more complex than the "waste everyone else's this-or-that", since we are part of everyone else if people truly thought about it.

      We place more value on brainless 99 cent games with in-game hidden markets and then wonder why we pay actors more money than those who no longer want to go into STEM fields because geography spits on everyone (even though we still have borders, war (military, economy, or otherwise), etc, etc...
    • You lose. You clearly dont have a clue.

      My god your an idiot. I almost hesitate to even respond your comments are literally so stupid Im suspecting most people will see through them and I don't really need to even say anything.

      Problem #1 with your silly comments:

      "Microsoft so lost sight of the basics, it rolled out this totally unintuitive interface called Vista, Win7, Win8 -- so people didn't upgrade"

      Firstly, people did upgrade. Everyone knows that. I could not care what you say, EVERYONE with a brainin knows as a fact that people did upgrade to newer OS's.

      What seems clear is they didn't upgrade to your satisfaction.

      You seem to think that if Microsoft had done things "just right" they would have had even more upgrades to newer OS's.

      Again, we ALL know that's basically incorrect and has almost nothing to do with people sticking with XP as long as they have. God what foolish misleading comments you have made. Utter crap.

      We know as fact that people did not upgrade from XP as much as Microsoft would have liked because of two very compelling reasons that had little to nothing to do with unsatisfactory UI's in new Windows OS's.

      Firstly, many businesses had their own software they had no motivation to port to Vista and beyond. After all, XP was still working great, getting updated and there is no learning curve of any kind when you stick with an OS you have already been using for years.

      Secondly, a new OS cost money and does have some, at least some new learning curve along with concerns about new drivers and any other compatibility issues. But the fact is, for home users, most just figured there was little to no reason to pay out money for a new OS when the old one was cooking just great. WE ALL KNOW THIS.

      Its not some mystery.

      I know people have tried their best to make it a mystery that has many suggested implications and reasons, but most people who could care less about biased attitudes towards various corporations, and care mostly about maximum insight in the industry keep finding the reality on the ground bears little resemblance to suggestions of "if Microsoft only made a better UI" most people would have swapped out of XP a long time ago.

      The fact is that when Vista came out there was a bizarre avalanche of negativity due to what was largely some isolated issues with drivers and some, particularly laptops, that were sold by greedy OEM's with sub par components in their PC's. Complain all you want that there was a spec increase for Vista, but quite frankly, our office had quite a number of Vista units in it, bought with half decent non-bargain basement components and we had no in house application or driver issues, so after about 3 days of complaints about some learning curve, we had a few years of no complaint glitch free use.

      This is the problem with so much in IT today. The industry relies on crap spreaders to inform the public about what to buy. Who hasn't seen a movie they thought was great when some myopic critic said it was crap because it didn't meet his particular measure of what makes a movie great?

      Just the same, if you don't like Windows or Microsoft to start with, making your voice very very loud in the most negative way you can concoct when something new comes out can influence people a lot easier against purchasing a $500.+ computer even as compared to the movie critic with blinders on that can influence a movie goer not to purchase a $15 movie ticket.

      There is ABSOLUTLY no sense at all in telling us that this is not what all you pointless carpers and armchair critics are doing. There is countless absolute irrefutable proof that all you types are.

      How many here think Linux is total utter crap that's a waste of time and never hesitate to point out that any OS that's free and cant get 2% market share after years and years is a dead loser? How many think those people don't know what they are talking about and are not even speaking of the numerous other factors at work influencing the lack of Linux lack of success?

      How may here think that Macs are pretty magnificent machines that are incredibly well built and that OSX is intuitive and not only easy to learn and use but contributes to both high productivity as well as high security and reliability and stability and worth every cent compared to the bottom feeding competition, with resale values that are much higher than Windows machines?? How many here think That Macs are not just ridiculously overpriced, they are problematic in that what upgrading that is not incredibly difficult or impossible to do is horribly limited as well as the fact that Apple tends to work harder then anyone else at fencing you into their eco system, while pretty broad for the iPad and iPhone is practically a dead zone compared to Windows desktop?

      Who thinks Windows is an operating system that is not only rife with security risks and instability, but that its created by a company that is so out for its own interest it endlessly shoots itself in the foot by ignoring its millions of users needs and wants by doing what ever it likes? And how many say they have never experienced anything even close to the kind of security problems the anti Windows crowd claim exist and they love its forwards and backwards hardware and software compatibility along with its dead simple ease of use and broad use that make operating a Windows computer a breeze with an endless combination of hardware offerings at affordable prices, along with the fact that although Mac resale's garner higher prices, you actually lose less on a resale of a much less expensive Windows computer??

      We see these and more similar disagreements every day multiple times in posts after every column. And we see them because while one side has legitimate reasons for liking what they like, they usually have very questionable, often ridiculous reasons for hating what they hate.

      Why does liking what Apple or Linux is doing mean you hate Windows or why does liking Windows mean that you cant understand how anyone can tolerate a Mac or a Linux box?

      What a refreshing place this would be if people just stopped saying ridiculous things and accept the fact that one does not fit all, and what one person can live with another cannot and just because some company cant get more then 10% of the market dosnt mean the product is crap, and just because 90% of the people like another OS dosnt mean they have been brainwashed and forced into using it.

      Every one of these arguments are provably wrong and its so senseless to be having them over and over year after year.
      • agree fanboyism is a bad thing

        clearly you were emotional when writing and allowed some ad-hominem into the post.

        Personally, I think use whatever makes you feel good.

        The only additional comment I'd say is that 1% of people use Linux desktops. I've recently gone back to doing this, as if you know what you're doing, and have a use for it, it can be very powerful indeed.
        For example, on a relatively crappy old PC, you can easily use "bc" to calculate Pi (or do virtually any other calculation) to 100,000 digits in a relatively short time. It's not possible to do this on Excel or any regular spreadsheet.

        For most people, raw access to computing power is not important, and accessing the internet for shopping, messaging and the like is what they do, and that's OK.

        Most are happy with Google Android or an iPad. Same underlying OS type, but packaged in such a way that it's harder to exploit some of the underlying power.

        Windows is about the only non-unix/non-linux option and is only really on the desktop, and for that, for most users, it works fine.
    • Basics

      I agree with your intent. Fix what we already have so that it works properly before you tag on more junk that doesn't work. It seems that marketing is driving everything and engineering is ignored. We seem to have entered an age of change for the sake of change. No improved function, just make it look different and call it "new".
      Innovation is necessary, but it should be built on a solid foundation of good engineering.
      • Yes, DKFlorida, that's exactly what I meant

        The examples I used, just came to mind while I was typing. You said what I meant, better. Thank you!
      • So just what is broken?

        Both use all this flowery language with no specifics.
        Sound like politicians.
    • stop making things difficult

      It sounds like you try and make things difficult... In this day of online shopping it couldn't be easier to buy a new computer... Hell do what I tell my friends for 90% of their purchasing - go with the brand you trust - simple. Same goes for cars - unless there is something very specific your looking for, just go with the brand you trust most.

      As for MS - thank god they changed the interface... It had been 18 years with the same interface just given a fresh coat of paint - it was time to move computing forwards, and as the still leaders of desktop operating systems 2 decades on, they didn't take the jump, then no one was going to. Win 7 was Vista was XP was ME was Win98SE was Win98 was Win95 in terms of the UI they just freshened up the icons each time. Behind the scenes they each moved forwards with stability, speed and security.

      And as for TV shows... Try learning to use Bing/Google/god knows how many other search engines.

      P.S. Don't even start on Android for PCs... Cause Active Desktop was a crap idea when MS did it and is still a crap idea aka Widgets and beyond that who really wants a 21" screen full of tiny icons as your basis for launching applications - there's a brilliant idea for killing productivity.
  • Re: We don't need innovation, we need the BASICS to JUST WORK....

    And that is precisely the reason why OS X works so well.
    • Go over to Apple's support forums, macrumors, etc

      The glib generalizations and fanboy nonsense is old. EVERY platform has benefits and drawbacks. Find what works well for one's needs and stop playing the "toddlers in the sandbox" game. Like people who say "veggies" or "tech", it's infantile.
    • Of course 5735guy you can explain...

      ..why most of the public does not purchase Macs if the measure you just describe is all important and it is only available in a Mac?

      This is why we have so much nonsense around here.

      Its friggin pitiful.

      Whos buying this crap, and please Mac users, please tell me that you don't live by this nonsense. You like what you like and that's cool. I've never met a Mac user who didn't think their computer was great, mind you, that absolutely doesn't meaner I ever met a Mac user who didn't run into a problem.

      I think Macs are good machines. The fact that they don't appeal to all does not mean those who like a Linux computer or Windows computers are wrong at all.

      To each their own.

      For example, Ive been using and building Windows computers for myself and friends for years and as far as Im concerned, in all honesty, Windows is performed simply marvelously for me endlessly. And Im not just lucky because as you know, Windows is broadly used and its become obvious to a fault over the last decade that claims of Windows instability and security breakdowns are vastly overstated.

      Sorry, but true.
    • Hahahaha...

      Oh yes, now, who was it in another discussion claimed to
      NOT be an Apple Fanatic! We need better trolls...I should
      bookmark this one to refute your other claim.
      You might fool a few people, but you don't fool me. You are
      worse than the typical Apple're also a liar!
      ZDNet Moderator
  • Mr Branson would seem to be a bit (a lot?) shortminded...

    because, it's the billionaires and millionaires, who are heavily invested into the economy, via companies and their own spending.

    Even Mr Branson is doing his part, by owning companies and re-investing his billions into the economies.

    A billionaire or millionaire doesn't have to be directly involved in "innovative" projects or products. Their wealth flows through the economy, even as they themselves sometimes don't realize it, like Mr Branson.
    • Companies have NOT been reinvesting

      Well they haven't been for years now. Some have only recently begun. Why do you think the recovery has been so damn slow. Because instead of keeping "currency" flowing, it has been stagnant. They have been slow to hire and slow to invest. Yes I agree that if they do, yes things will get to moving quickly.
      • Companies have been reinvesting and even growing, and that's why you have

        companies such as Apple and Google and Microsoft and many others, with sales and profits at historically high levels.

        What companies are not doing, is hiring as much. What they're also not doing, is re-investing as much as they would, ordinarily, in the U.S., because of the hostile business environment which overtook the U.S. in the last 5+ years, with the Obama administration, with it's high taxes, and massive number of new business-stifling regulations, and especially the massive new wealth extraction program known as Obamacare.

        You are right in a way, where the major corporations and even some mid-size companies, are keeping their wealth overseas and in banks, rather than pumping that wealth back into their companies and into the economy. Estimates are that, they are keeping between $3-4 trillion dollars away and out of the economy. That is what always happens with wealth destruction policies by government.
  • Innovation will continue and spread despite artificial hurdles

    There is something wrong with billionaires if they’re not going to use there money constructively,” Branson asserted.
    It may be wrong for billionaires to not use their money constructively,
    but is worse for trillionaires to use their money destructively.

    Branson predicted that “we could have a world over the next 10 to 20 years where we could pull the majority of people out of poverty,” but it is going to take a lot of work, dedication, and regulation now to achieve those goal.
    The world will come out of poverty by force of the overwhelming technological avalanche, whether some people that think of themselves as significant like this or not.
    Tbe world still has poverty not because of technological deficiencies. Political and financial monstrosities still exist and wish to pass themselves as legitimate. It's just that technology is still not strong enough to erase from the map those that want to limit or to completely destroy science and technology. Their resistance is of course futile and they know this very well; that's why they panic; this is why we see impossible "crises" emerging every day.
    • I know of billionaires and millionaires, but, can you point to any


      If you're talking about countries, then, it's a whole other issue, and not a subject for discussion here.

      BTW, you'll always see and hear of millionaires and billionaires paying lip service to issues, while not really doing anything to actively change things. It's about PR for themselves and their companies. The best that the super-rich can do for economies and countries, and to help out the poor, is to keep their money invested in companies and flowing throughout their corresponding economies; that is where they're most useful.
      • Good point adornoe

        "If you're talking about countries, then, it's a whole other issue, and not a subject for discussion here"

        Your so right. Once you get into the "country trillionaire" as opposed to the individual person billionaire, your talking about such a different dynamic you might as well be talking about the difference between a white shark and an ocean.
      • Governments dont have any money.

        They don't sell products, etc...
        They only have the people's money.
        They should only do what the people that own the money want.
        There are other priorities.
        • You're being cute. Right?!?

          My points was not about governments, per se, and not about what they do with "the people's money". Nobody understand the point better than me, when it comes to "government money".

          The points to which I responded, where about "billionaires vs millionaires vs trillionaires". Since there are no trillionaires yet in the world, the only assumption that could be made, was that, it had to be a government entity that had the "trillions".

          When it comes to governments doing only what the people want with their money, well, that's pretty idealistic and naive. While you might be correct about government money being the people's money, and that the money should be spent on matters that improve the people's lives and according to how people want it spend, the reality is quite different.

          Representative government has given rise to corrupt governments and politicians, who don't give a damn about the people's priorities. And, the people themselves are easily duped into voting for programs which might seem to help them, but only serve to create dependency on government in perpetuity. People have been voting themselves money from the "government" coffers. When the government runs out of money, like the U.S. has done, they just put it on a credit card, and that credit card is now approaching the $18 trillion mark. That's not the people's money anymore, and we're now talking about "monopoly" money, which means that, there is no hope of that debt ever getting paid back.

          I didn't want to get into the "government money", or "trillionaire" discussion, because, it's a subject for a completely different discussion, and there isn't enough time to hold a decent enough discussion to make it worthwhile for anybody.

          Too bad you didn't understand what I was getting at. The "government money" idea is not something that even you might not be equipped to hold a decent discussion about.