Still An Innovation Nation

Car_versus_horse

Yesterday, according to the Mayan calendar, we were to have seen the end of the world. Today professors like Robert J. Gordon in The Wall Street Journal (22-23 December 2012) unfortunately continue to spread doom and gloom.

According to Gordon, “for more than a century, the U.S. economy grew robustly thanks to big inventions; those days are gone.”

Gordon seems to think predominantly from 20/20 hindsight, seeing the innovations of the past — such as the electric light bulb, running water and the jet airplane — as the last major vestiges possible of human advancement.

As Gordon states: “Only once would transport speeds be increased from the horse (6 miles per hour) to the Boeing 707 (550 mph).  Only once could our houses be replaced by running water and indoor plumbing. Only once could indoor temperatures, thanks to central heating and air conditioning, be converted from cold in winter and hot in summer to a uniform year-round climate of 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Gordon’s pessimism is bad enough (“The future of American economic growth is dismal”) but his arrogance is even worse.

How sad that he cannot see past our momentary troubles and imagine better, greater things to come.

– Is 707 miles per hour really the fastest that humans can travel? I guess Gordon hasn’t been following the land speed record in Scientific American (5 November 2012) that has an English project pushing the 1,000 mph barrier and already projecting hitting 1,600 mph or Virgin Galactic (just the beginning of our space journeys) reaching more than 4 times the speed of sound (>3,000 mph!).

– Is indoor plumbing really the last great innovation when it comes to water? Please don’t tell that to almost a billion people worldwide who live without potable water. However, thanks to innovators such as Vestergaard-Frandsen, whose Lifestraw water purification tools “removes 99.9999% of bacteria through a superfine filtration process” for only about $6 each (Mashable), many others may soon have access to safe drinking water.

– Is central air is the end of the temperature innovation cycle?–You’ve got to be kidding me. In the context of global warming and the resulting “storms and other (weather) extremes,” there are considerable challenges ahead of us to be met. Someone ought to tell Mr. Gordon that sustainable energies are coming online (solar, wind, wave, and geothermal) that can help stem global greenhouse gases thought to be a major cause. In fact, whole new “green” high-tech cities like Masdar City are being developed to operate with low environmental footprints.

Gordon may think all major innovations have arrived, and probably thought the same before the Internet and smartphone were created.

In his op-ed, Gordon calls on skeptics to “rebut” his innovative idea that robust innovation is over. But perhaps he is actually asking them for help. Because such pessimism and small thinking are a prison of his own making. Unfortunately, he is professionally considered an “educator.” But it’s lessons like this that our young people – facing one of the most economically challenging times in modern history – can do without. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Paul Townsend)

>The Water Crisis and Enterprise Architecture

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According to Wikipedia: “The Earth has a finite supply of fresh water, stored in aquifers, surface waters and the atmosphere. Sometimes oceans are mistaken for available water, but the amount of energy needed to convert saline water to potable water is prohibitive today, explaining why only a very small fraction of the world’s water supply derives from desalination.

There are several principal manifestations of the water crisis.

  • Inadequate access to safe drinking water for about 1.1 billion people
  • Groundwater overdrafting leading to diminished agricultural yields
  • Overuse and pollution of water resources harming biodiversity
  • Regional conflicts over scarce water resources sometimes resulting in warfare

Waterborne diseases and the absence of sanitary domestic water are one of the leading causes of death worldwide. For children under age five, waterborne diseases are the leading cause of death. At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from waterborne diseases. According to the World Bank, 88 percent of all diseases are caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.

How critical is water to life?

While a person can live 4-6 weeks without food, survival without water is limited to between 3-7 days. (http://www.survivaltopics.com/survival/how-long-can-you-live-without-food/)

The Wall Street Journal, 23 June 2008, reports that that a new invention, “The LifeStraw is a personal, portable water purifier,” “that “has the potential to save many lives.”

The LifeStraw was created in 2005, is 10 inches long, and weighs 4.3 ounces. “One straw is capable of purifying at least 700 liters (182 gallons) of water, removing an estimated 99.9% of bacteria and 99% of waterborne viruses.”

This is a game-changing invention:

“The product, which costs as little as $3, has won a number of awards including the 2008 Saatchi & Saatchi Award for World Changing Ideas.”

So simple, yet so effective:

“When someone sucks through the straw, the water flows through textile and iodine filter, which kill off viruses and bacteria.”

Already hundreds of thousands have been purchased and are being distributed in countries with non-potable water.

As an enterprise architect, nothing is more satisfying than seeing an innovation that saves lives and improves the way of life for millions of people around the world.

While we are all introduced to inventions such as those “As Seen On TV” with new doodads for kitchen appliances, household/personal/car-care, tools, and novelty items, the introduction of something truly extraordinary like the LifeStraw just makes one do a double-take.

As an enterprise architect, I believe we need to hold up transformative innovations, such as the LifeStraw, as examples of best-in-class architectures that combine business process improvement with technology innovation that positively impacts millions of otherwise suffering people around the world.

As I go about my day-to-day responsibilities I’d like to keep this one in mind as an inspiring example of what can be achieved when technology is applied to global problems. Perhaps you’d like to do the same!