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Innovation: fly the flag

I recently delivered a talk in Colorado Springs – at the heart of so called, ‘Middle America’. Everyone proudly flew their American flags. (A symbol, which for many represents the embodiment of innovation supported by encouragement to succeed – whoever you maybe.)

Whenever I travel overseas, I try to look around. So I secured the services of a taxi driver called Dave.  Together we set off. “Where would you like to go?’ asked Dave.  “ The real Colorado Springs – not just the tourist bits.” I answered.

Our first call was at a hamburger restaurant. We tucked in and chatted about living in The Springs. “Well,” said Dave, whilst dipping a chip into some ketchup. “It’s like those adverts on TV offering some clever new device. What you see is not what you always get. Take this place; average diner, gentle folk.  Everyone so polite…” I agreed. “So what’s wrong?” Dave smiled. “Oh you’ll soon find out when we set off on the rest of the tour”. 

I asked if I could visit a boot maker and genuine gun store. (We were after all in ‘cowboy country’.) The cobbler’s range of boots was magnificent. Each styled with Americana symbolism.  As I examined the boots I noticed how the cobbler kept on casting Dave strange looks. On leaving, I asked if there had been some problem with the store. “Ah, you are beginning to get it…”

…At the gun store, the owner peered at Dave. “What you doin’ here boy?” Understandably, I was growing nervous. “I am just guiding this gentleman from England around,” replied Dave. The storeowner, muttered something under his breath and showed me a “fine pistol that could blow someone’s head off at 20 yards”.

Back in the car, Dave – who was black, continued the tour. He pointed out some of the prettiest suburbs I had ever seen. Most featuring the American flag on the porch. “That house belongs to a Klansman – that one does too.” And so, what started as a tour of the American dream now felt like an appalling glimpse into a nightmare.

Dave continued. “This is the real middle America, land of opportunity – providing you play the game and fit in. If not; we are two hours from Texas and those boys sure know how to deal with out-of-towners.

Dave then told me about a book which he had been trying to get published  for years .  It was about another out-of-towner. This time from Serbia. He was called Nikola Tesla. Tesla sailed for America in 1884, arriving in New York, with four cents, a few poems, and designs for a flying machine.

According to Dave, in May 1885, Westinghouse Electric Company in Pittsburgh bought the patent rights to Tesla's polyphase system of alternating-current dynamos, transformers and motors. The transaction precipitated a colossal power struggle between Edison's direct-current systems and the Tesla-Westinghouse alternating-current approach, which eventually won out.

Tesla soon established his own laboratory. Countless innovative experiments included a carbon button lamp the power of electrical resonance, and various types of lighting.

Tesla's system to light the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago won a contract to install the first power machinery at Niagara Falls.

In 1899 Tesla moved to Colorado Springs. Here he unearthed probably his most important discovery:  terrestrial stationary waves.  He proved that the Earth could be used as a conductor and would be as responsive as a tuning fork to electrical vibrations of a certain frequency. He also powered 200 lamps without wires from a distance of 25 miles.  What’s more, he generated man-made lightning, producing flashes measuring 135 feet. At one time he was certain he had received signals from another planet in his Colorado laboratory, a claim that was met with derision.

He was so pioneering that his sponsors simply couldn’t keep up.  Eventually his funding was withdrawn.  (The rest, as they say, is history.  With a certain Mr Edison being placed at the centre for the accreditation of the commercial–wide use of electricity.)

As Dave finished his story and the tour, I noticed another American flag flurry in the breeze on the HQ of a large US corporation.

I wondered if even today, companies are pledging allegiance to openness towards innovation and innovators, or simply paying lip service; initially offering an open hand to out-of-towners with a different way of thinking, yet in the long–term flying flags which in truth can occasionally turn out to be very different kinds of standard bearers.

Have a nice day ya all –- JJG

About the Author

Jonathan Gabay is on CIM’s core Faculty. Be sure to check out his website http://www.gabaynet.com/

Future recommended CIM training courses featuring Jonathan include:
- Managing Ideas
- Step inside your customers’ minds
- How to write amazing sales letters

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