Innovation island?

2 03 2009

At the Economist’s Conference, Innovation Island,on Friday I was struck by two things.

Firstly,this assembly of businessmen was still largely in semi-shock and near denial about the true state of the economy. In between the sessions there was a tremendous thirst to discuss what is going on and what could be done. To me this demonstrates the need and the opportunity for a more open public debate about the way ahead, something I hope we will be able to address at the conference planned for May 16 (keep the date free in your diaries).

Secondly the speakers’ proposals for how to innovate our way out of the recession were nowhere near radical enough. This became clear in the contributions around what the state should be doing to encourage innovation. There is some confusion about what legitimate role the state should play in encouraging change. Many businessmen see the state as a blocker to change because of red tape or excessive taxation. While I generally go along with a ‘small state’ approach, I also think that governments should lead. A big problem with our government is that it is often not prepared to take bold action, for example in pushing ahead the nuclear power station building programme, because it is afraid to face down the opposition.

The state in the UK spends too much money, time and energy in intervening in daily life, and encouraging a generally risk averse approach. We need leaders who are prepared to throw off this obsession with risk and who can enable change on a large scale. Leaders who understand that the ‘economy’ is the product of our collective activities, not something that is outside of our control.

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