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12/15/2008
08:06 PM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Innovate Or Try Again

"If we don't innovate, we're going to die." That's how Robert Egger, creative director at Specialized Bicycles, put it last year in the Google-sponsored Innovate or Die Pedal-Powered Machine Contest.

"If we don't innovate, we're going to die." That's how Robert Egger, creative director at Specialized Bicycles, put it last year in the Google-sponsored Innovate or Die Pedal-Powered Machine Contest."Innovate or Die" is a common trope that captures the need for creative thought in business. It's "Do or Die" for the verbose.

By this binary scenario, the Big Three automakers appear to be due for death because, by their own admission, they didn't innovate. "They failed in the innovation game," said David Gregory, host of NBC's Meet The Press, on Sunday.

But Google CEO Eric Schmidt seems to see something other than death up ahead. Call it "Innovate or Try Again."

U.S. automakers "can fix that [failure] because America is a place where innovation drives huge business outcomes," Schmidt replied to Gregory. "It drives job creation, it pays our taxes, it has created the wealthiest society on earth. We forget in the middle of this doom and gloom we have the strongest universities, the most creative people, people from all around the world come here. There's every reason to think that we can take the money that the federal government is going to provide in this stimulus anyway and solve our fundamental energy and transportation issues relatively quickly, and with American jobs and with American-oriented export industries."

Does that mean Schmidt is for or against the contemplated bailout of the auto industry? It's not immediately clear based on his statements on Meet The Press. Fixing the auto industry seems like it would involve extending loans and letting the car companies try again.

But Schmidt offered no specific endorsement or condemnation of the plan to re-fund the U.S. auto industry. What he did say is that he'd like to see funds from a federal stimulus package used simultaneously to create jobs and spur the development of new energy technologies to help reduce dependence on foreign oil.

That could involve the auto industry, which isn't entirely without innovation, as GM's Chevrolet Volt demonstrates. But it's not clear whether Schmidt believes U.S. automakers can be saved in their current form. It appears he's too savvy to weigh in on the matter.

If he is indeed ambivalent, I feel the same way. On the one hand, I hate to see the jobs and an industry that this country pioneered vanish. On the other, it makes no sense to reward incompetent management with more money.

I like the idea of "Innovate or Try Again." I'd like it even more if small companies could play that game, too.

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