How to do innovation wrong

What will come first to Venezuela in the forseeable future: flying pigs or a real TELMAGV train?

Innovation. A very particular word that is now a big part of our daily lives. People usually relate it to scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs, but now it affects most, if not everything we do: how we comunicate, how we learn, what we eat, the way of moving from one place to another. Innovation is practically everywhere.

There are nations where innovation has become essential to their way of life and a key aspect of their economies. Probably we think of Japan, China, Germany or the U.S. But now there are more countries investing in innovation as a viable alternative to improve their development and expand their potential. Venezuela is one of them.

How that has worked out for us? To say it’s been dissapointing would be an understatement.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the UN agency in charge of  intellectual property, recently presented the 2012 Global Innovation Index, an annual report about “…the key role that innovation serves as a driver of economic growth and prosperity.” One of the highlights of this report is that Latin America as a whole is staying behind in the innovation race.

Focusing on Venezuela, the first thing is that we’re not doing well in the copyright department and that can be confirmed at plain sight. But what about the Chavernment’s overall argument that they have brought science and technology to the people? Well, they have announced a lot of projects and put some financial backing behind them but… no se le ha visto el queso a la tostada.

Take for example the picture above. It’s from a proposal for a domestic Mag-Lev train system called TELMAGV. Started in the sixties, the project was revived by Chavez in late 2006, with the help of a friend who later became a foe. The promise was to have one of those covering the Caracas-La Guaira route in the near future. We’re still waiting…

The problem is not limited to push projects that never come to fruition or creating research companies for the sake of it. Sometimes is about how one good idea can be used ineffectively and even ending with a very different purpose. In this case, I’m reffering to the Canaima Educational Project and its little blue laptops, called Canaimitas.

It has been sold as something that is not: A 100% Venezuelan success story. Actually, it comes from a deal made with Portugal. They gave us the first lot and then the licensing to produce the rest. In fact, it’s not even a portuguese creation but part of a deal they did with Intel to sell low-cost PCs for children. Adding up to that, possible benefits of this program maybe aren’t worth the cost and its frequent use for ideological propaganda.

The worst has been the disregard for the human factor. In the end, it’s up to prepared men and women to make innovation possible and many of them have been pushed away. The ones who decide to stay have to struggle. Some of those Venezuelans are making major contributions abroad: From working in the famous CERN laboratory to even reaching the highest post in the prestigious MIT.

The future is not bright: Less students are entering college and a large number of available posts ended up empty in important areas like Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics. If this country wants to dream of reaching the stars they should at least allow public schools to teach children some computer skills, English language or even music. 

Inventando y errando no se esta innovando…