Contributing Editor Jeffrey Rothfeder recently traveled to Seoul, South Korea, to attend a conference and give a speech on RFID technology. It was his first visit to Asia. His reaction: "Consumer technology is so much more advanced than it is in the U.S. WiFi hotspots are everywhere, everyone's got 3G phones, and they're chock-full of marketing campaigns." That comment brought to mind a request from a writer back in the fall. She asked that she be paid by electronic check, because "no one in Australia uses paper checks anymore."
What strikes me about both of these comments is not simply that the U.S. isn't quite up to speed with parts of the rest of the world when it comes to adopting new technologies. After all, the U.S. is a very heterogeneous, and very large, nation. It contains many pockets of intensive technology users, both personal and corporate, separated by large stretches of late adopters of technology. Consider that only two-thirds of adult Americans ever use the Internet at all. And we continue to hear plenty of stories about companies whose IT hasn't advanced beyond the green screen.
Here's what concerns me more: I didn't even know that Australia is a decade or two ahead of the U.S. in its reliance on electronic checks. I just assumed that everyone everywhere was lumbering along, slowly (but surely) getting rid of paper checks. And that of course raises a question: Why is the U.S. so slow to adopt so many technologies other countries are beginning to take for granted? Is it cultural? Economic? Political?
This issue of CIO Insight is devoted to innovation. In it we look at whether the U.S. is falling behind in the global innovation race; at Kodak, where the ability to innovate is critical to its very survival; and at a variety of alternative sources of innovative ideas. Our conclusion: Thanks to its entrepreneurial spirit, its scientific and technical know-how, and its ability and willingness to finance innovation efficiently, the U.S. will continue to be a powerful source of innovation for years to come.
Whether the nation has the cultural or political or economic willingness to take advantage of the innovation we are capable of producing is an entirely separate question. Imagine how much more competitive our banking system would be without the burden of paper checks. Then consider how much more competitive Corporate America would be if we as a country could get up the nerve to do something about the burden of our current healthcare system.
It's not good enough to be able to innovate. We also need to be willing to take advantage of our ability to innovate.