After four days of being immersed in the world's most innovative technologies at the 2013 International CES last week, I noticed one common denominator among the most successful companies: they're all risk-takers. America's best businesses started out because they were inspired by an idea, an idea that led innovators to risk the cost, time and investment to reap the benefits of revolutionizing the industry. And because of that risk, we as consumers now reap the rewards of enjoying these innovations.
Taking risks is what ninja innovation -- a phrase I coined to describe the most cunning, agile, and adaptive companies and innovators -- is all about. Taking risks does not mean being reckless or random. It means exploring options, assessing likelihoods, and making rational decisions. It means seeking feedback, actively listening, and weighing the consequences of any decision before pulling the trigger. A ninja should be self-aware and emotionally intelligent to understand these risks.
And while making these decisions, we must realize that, even if we don't want them to, things change. No company operating in the free market can be successful in perpetuity by delivering the same products with the same marketing and the same margins. While it is easy and natural to crave consistency and avoid risk, the challenging nature of life and our environment requires us to change, to adapt, and to take chances in order to survive.
Even when things change and unfortunate circumstances arise, ninja innovators must realize it is acceptable to fail. Americans actually benefit from a considerably lenient culture toward failure. Some of the most successful Americans in war, politics and business were also spectacular failures. In the United States, we value failure and call it "experience." If you never fail at something, you are not risking enough. Few cultures are as accepting of failure and willing to view it as a positive. I would argue that the American view of failure is one of the principal traits that has led to our historical innovation dominance.
This got me thinking about how the thought process of taking risks could be applied to the public policy space. While America remains an exceptional nation, some argue that it is losing its innovative edge as it falls to lower ranks in economic freedom and competitiveness. So what can be done to foster an environment that is welcoming to innovation and entrepreneurs? Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should adopt the lessons from ninja innovation and apply them to public policy making. By putting aside blind partisanship and working for the greater good of the American people, our nation will have a better chance for success.
It's not always easy to innovate, take risks and step outside the way things have always been done, particularly in Washington. But by working together, lawmakers can create comprehensive action plans that work for our nation today. One recent example is Rep. Darrell Issa's response to the unpopular Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was defeated last year by a groundswell of public anger at overreaching regulation. In contrast, Issa (a former business executive) promoted the crowd-sourced Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act,known as OPEN. It was risky, but OPEN turned out to be a viable alternative to the business-as-usual culture of Washington.
And it's not just lawmakers who should join the fight and take risks. When it comes to important issues facing our nation, we as individuals should take risks too. One of the ways individuals can take a risk is to lend their voice to a powerful movement called No Labels. This group represents a movement of Democrats, Republicans and independents who stand for common-sense policies that can dissolve the roadblocks facing our nation today. Reaching across aisles is politically risky in today's hyper-partisan environment, but lawmakers must resolve, with the support of the citizenry, to support comprehensive action plans that work for our nation today.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and a New York Times best-selling author. His views are his own. Shapiro's latest book, Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses, launched this month. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro.
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