Guest column: Caution to the wind

Idaho needs its political leaders to initiate a conversation about creating a haven for disruptive innovation and embracing rapid change, writes Aaron Turner.

By Aaron Turner

I have worked in 43 countries, getting to experience many different cultures and systems of government. The only way I have seen societies respect individual freedoms through the rule of law is with a vibrant private sector economy.

In places where poverty rules and all of a country’s wealth is concentrated in a few ruling families, I have seen how desperate people become. Desperation turns to violence and violence leads to economic disruption. The ruling elite take back over and the cycle continues.

My livelihood has depended upon information technology for the last two decades. In my profession, my all-time hero is Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. He has argued for decades about how business leaders can be successful by throwing caution to the wind and disrupting their businesses to drive innovation, growth and create new markets.

Looking at the economy of eastern Idaho through the lens of disruptive innovation, the Idaho Department of Labor in a May unemployment report listed the largest employers in Bonneville County. They are:

n Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA).

n Bechtel BWXT.

n Center Partners.

n Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC).

n Melaleuca.

n CenturyLink.

n U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

n Wal-Mart.

When I look at that list, Melaleuca is the only company that requires significant innovation to keep its business running. All of the rest of those companies are slow-moving behemoths who sometimes stifle innovation rather than promote it. While having these large companies in the area benefits all of us who live here, what are they doing to drive innovation to benefit our local economy? An even better question is: “What are our elected officials doing to help promote an environment where disruptive innovation is rewarded in Idaho?”

As an entrepreneur who has started many businesses in the area, I can say the current approach is not rewarding disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovation involves taking significant risks. When I speak to others, they ask me for examples of what would be considered government promotion of disruptive innovation.

The best example would be if Idaho’s legislature passed a set of laws to protect all forms of genetic food modification. I am not an expert in the field of modifying food crops, so I cannot have an expert-level opinion on the risks and/or benefits of such a policy. But, the concept is what is important - that is the level of investment that state leaders must make.

What will it take for Idaho to become known as a place where disruptive innovation is protected and rewarded? It will require policies that take risks of the magnitude of making Idaho a GMO free-for-all.

We’ve got to start a dialog about taking risks, creating a haven for disruptive innovation and embracing rapid change. I have not seen our current state and local leaders promoting these kinds of creative approaches; that’s why I believe we need a new generation of leaders.