Opinion

Innovation is not always the answer

Feb 19, 2015
Flickr/Paul Hamilton

The Next Idea

Innovation is a big word. 

I must confess I haven’t given it much thought in more than a decade, since I was in the last semester of my MBA program in India. Probably that’s because, back then, the word came up too often. Innovation this, innovation that. Innovate. Innovate. Innovate. 

It now seems certain that we will have the needed new bridge over the Detroit River.

That’s because Canada is going to pay for it – all of it – up front -- even the U.S. government’s inspection and customs plaza, something that should have been Washington’s responsibility.

That became officially clear with an agreement announced yesterday. 

Canada, which is already picking up all Michigan’s costs, will pay for building our customs plaza too, which will amount to an estimated $250 to $300 million. 

I gave a speech to a large group of retirees a few years ago. Afterwards, a woman came up and asked me if I were single. When I told her no, she said that was too bad, because I had what every woman wanted.

That’s not something I hear every day, and I have to say it was flattering, even though the lady was at least 20 years older than me.

Jim Townsend knows something about business.  He has an MBA from the University of Michigan, has been a brand manager for Ford Motor Company, and ran his own strategic marketing firm.

He also knows something about frustration.

I suppose I must have been one of many who, years ago, went to see Congressman John Conyers in his Detroit office and was greeted by a pleasant receptionist who looked vaguely familiar until I was stunned to realize who she was:

Rosa Parks.

Technology pushes companies to work for us

Feb 16, 2015

The Next Idea

The world is rapidly changing, in case you haven’t noticed.  How we fundamentally interact with businesses, with government, and with each other is moving in directions that we are only starting to comprehend.

Flickr/Brian Flickinger

The Next Idea

Technological innovation alone doesn’t improve education. We often assume that the latest gadgets and software will change everything — that they will make things easier and better and solve larger problems. The truth is that technology is just one aspect in a larger web of cultural issues, and new breakthroughs by themselves will not have a broad effect on overall learning.

Many years ago, I used to write about the federal budget when it was released in Washington. Ronald Reagan was president then, and Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. The moment the massive document was released, Speaker Tip O’Neill would proclaim it dead on arrival.  And then the negotiating began.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan riveted his town for nearly an hour last night with a state of the city address glowing with infectious, can-do optimism. 

Things are getting better, he insisted, facts and figures rolling off his tongue. The city is selling vacant properties no one thought possible to sell. Police response times are much better. Detroit has twice as many ambulances as it did.

Courtesy of GM

The Next Idea

It can often be difficult to imagine just how much the latest innovations will truly affect our lives. The smartphone’s contributions, for example, are now obvious; the Segway’s, not so much.

One industry, however, that offers some of the clearest examples of how technology and new innovations will fundamentally change our world is the auto industry.

From driverless cars and 3-D printers, to shifting demographic and transportation trends, automakers are competing to find the best, most efficient innovations that will reshape everything from the way we buy (or share) cars to how we drive (or won’t) in the coming decades.

The Obama Administration is about to do something that is fiscally prudent and makes good political sense, but which leaves me a little bit ashamed.

I’m talking about the New International Trade Crossing Bridge over the Detroit River, something that will be of enormous benefit to Canada and the United States – and especially to Michigan and Ontario.

State Senator Virgil Smith, a Detroit Democrat, wants Michigan to enact the death penalty for anyone who kills a police officer in the line of duty.

To quote the senator:

“If you kill a cop … if you’re willing to go that far, ain’t no telling what you’re willing to do.”

Standards and efficiency stifle innovation

Feb 5, 2015
BILL PUGLIANO GETTY IMAGES

The Next Idea

Most descriptions of innovation end up in overreaching hyperbole: groundbreaking, disruptive, radical. This shouldn’t surprise anyone because innovation is basically a type of positive deviance, a form of useful novelty. What separates a new soft drink that has a hint of cherry flavor from a vaccine that prevents the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease is the magnitude and speed at which it deviates from the norm. 

Since the year began, there’s been a deluge of horror stories about the drinking water in Flint. Residents have complained it’s discolored and smells and tastes funny. Authorities say it is safe, but admit it contains a byproduct from the disinfectants used to treat water from the Flint River.     

Liberals aren’t always as good at winning elections as conservatives, but they usually are more inclined to write about politics – and better at getting others to write about them. But there’s an interesting new memoir from the conservative side of the spectrum. The name Bob LaBrant is well known in politics and government here. For more than thirty years he headed political affairs for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Lack of Clout

Feb 3, 2015

Fifteen years ago, I was lucky enough to spend a few February days in South Carolina.

When I was there, one of the first things that struck me was how many government installations there were, many named either for Senator Strom Thurmond or Congressman Mendel Rivers, the long-dead chair of the House Armed Services Committee.

Both men were notable racists. 

Time to embrace Michigan winters

Feb 2, 2015

"Water Winter Wonderland" was proudly printed on Michigan license plates in the boom-time Sixties.

That slogan told the truth, we're an honest to goodness four-season northern state. Similar regions worldwide embrace this reality, but we seem to be having issues.

Well, I’m taking a stand for winter, and for our state.

The Next Idea

Venture capital flow into Michigan has been steadily increasing since 2008, but the state saw a remarkable uptick last year. According to a report released last month by the National Venture Capital Association and PricewaterhouseCoopers, venture capital investment in Michigan nearly doubled, up from $111 million in 2013 to $219 million last year.  

Well, it’s Groundhog Day, and whether or not your local woodchuck sees his shadow, this much is clear:

The May 5th ballot proposal to raise the sales tax to fix the roads is in trouble. Last week was a horrible one for Governor Rick Snyder, the public face behind the push for this proposal. 

Twenty years ago, journalists who covered national politics knew that they could usually go into an area and find one reporter who really understood his region.

For many years, Chad Selweski, the politics writer and columnist at the Macomb Daily, was that guy in his county, and that’s more important than it might sound.

There’s only been one president from Michigan, and I’d guess you know his name: Gerald Ford. But can you name the only justice he appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court?

That would be John Paul Stevens, who ended up being one of the longest-serving justices in American history.

Lots of talk about Main Street, yet few ways to invest

Jan 29, 2015
Michigan Main Street Center

The Next Idea

Following the 2008 crisis, many of my colleagues and I in the financial advising industry started to notice a curious thing. More clients began asking about where, exactly, their money was being invested. They wanted to know how to get some or all of it out of “the system," and quite a few added: "Oh by the way, do you know where I can learn about starting a business? I have an idea.”

For years, there’s been an absolutely stupid rumor that the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, birthplace of Henry Ford, is now under extreme Muslim Sharia law.

Sharron Angle, a bizarrely ignorant Tea Party candidate, claimed this was so when she was running for the U.S. Senate in Nevada five years ago.

It’s been almost three months since Democrats lost the race for governor, and you might think that by now, few would care why.

But why they lost an election they thought they could win is still a hot topic, for this reason: The Michigan Democratic Party is holding its spring state convention on Valentine’s Day, and the delegates will decide whether or not to re-elect Lon Johnson party chair.

Lindsey Smith/Michigan Radio

The Next Idea

Michigan’s economy is changing, and our state’s investment culture must change along with it. As we work to diversify by stimulating entrepreneurship, innovation and talent attraction, among many other things, more Michigan residents with money to invest must learn to see that betting on new local businesses is worthwhile, even if the potential for them to fail is high. 

Last weekend I ran into the managing director of the road commission for one of our state’s mid-sized counties.

She’s both an efficient manager and an intelligent observer of the pulse of her county, which is half urban, half rural. She knows better than most of us that our state's roads are falling apart.

 We live in an era of what seems to be one of increasing nastiness and pettiness, especially perhaps in politics.

Flickr/CityGypsy11

The Next Idea

In the recent elections last November, Michigan had the lowest turnout, percentage-wise, since 1990. 

Recent national polls show more citizens lack trust in elected officials to serve the public good over private interests than ever before. Elections across the country are now more driven by the excessive wealth of a few, mostly white males, who also help shape the issues discussed, and when they are discussed.

Did you know that in Michigan it is against the law to try to get people to dance to the Star-Spangled Banner?

Two Speeches

Jan 21, 2015

I was fascinated last night by the contrast between Governor Snyder’s State of the State Speech and President Obama’s State of the Union Speech. Think about this.

Two middle-aged guys, one fifty-six; the other fifty-three, both wearing dark suits and blue ties, speaking two hours apart. One black, one white; one Republican, one Democrat.

A majority of us in Michigan voted for both of them twice, even though polls show most of us don’t think either is doing an especially good job.

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