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Science, Maths & Technology

Globalised innovation: One size fits all?

Updated Friday 6th July 2007

A one world approach can lead to one size fits all results, warns Tom Hewitt in his response to Lord Broer's third Reith Lecture.

This lecture hasn’t really stimulated my imagination nor my excitement about technology.

To the contrary, it has brought out the pessimist in me. You cannot take exception to much of what is said, not at least about the kinds of industries and the kinds of technologies referred to by the speaker.

But the result is flat; an almost monochrome portrayal of how things have to be done.

The recurring examples used – air travel, computers, mobile phones, pharmaceuticals, etc – result in a one-model-fits-all approach to innovation.

A model where international sourcing and markets are prerequisites for competitiveness. National competitiveness is no competition at all.

This is Harold Wilson’s ‘white heat of technology’ gone global.

I don’t dispute this as a description of certain elements of the global economy.

The Foxlink factory, China [Image: DCMaster under CC-BY-NC licence] Creative commons image Icon DCMaster via Flickr under Creative-Commons license
Foxlink facotry, China [Image: DCMaster under CC-BY-NC licence]

However, it implies a model of development where only global players survive resulting in ever more uniform products, ever more concentration of economic power, and an ever more precarious existence for the majority of technology producers.

It is the technological equivalent of the predictable monotony of the retailers found in every UK high street.

In the first lecture, Alec Broers boldly said that technology will determine the future of the human race. Now he describes how technology drives international competitiveness.

This is naïve.

Technology plays a part but international competition is also determined by less savoury practices - transfer pricing, tax havens, contract bribes (aka industrial lobbying), poorly paid and unrepresented labour; all the trappings of that old-style capitalism that Broers says has now passed.

And to cap it all, this ‘fast moving and ultra-competitive world’ is fuelled, according to the speaker, by paranoid, stressed out, macho survivors who will stop at nothing to get their products to market.

Stop the world, I’m getting off!

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