The wealth of ideas

Cleverness is an overlooked quality Big business, big government threw money at a problem

If you are a huge corporate entity, you are responsible for all types of problems all the time. Often enough, if you don’t have a better solution, you can throw money at a problem to make it go away, for a while at least. This works, until your shareholders get fed up and demand some value for the capital they have entrusted to you. Or, until your market share shrinks to the point that you cannot divert revenues to spending, and no one will lend you the money you want to spend, because you are not a good risk to pay it back and you have no other plans for solving your problems. At that point, what you really need is a new idea.

If you are a smaller company, the problems you face have to be taken more seriously. Typically, you don’t have money to make them go away, because the money you have is tied up in assets or in obligations like payrolls, taxes, debt service, and dividends. The lights have to stay on, the creditors have to be paid, the investors have to be respected, and the responses to everyone have to be timely, and effective. Those are the minimum requirements, but they’re generally enough to keep an enterprise going – even for many years if the management remains responsible and clever.

Cleverness is an overlooked quality: we think of it as an individual trait, and of course it is that. In an organization it’s described as creativity or resourcefulness. It comes down to the same thing: the ability to find alternative solutions to problems, to address inefficiencies or inadequacies, or inabilities, in some way that has not been applied previously.

An equally important aspect of cleverness is the willingness to try the new approach once it’s been discovered, rather than relying on an older custom that may or may not work, or being content to do nothing because no one else has taken a comparable risk.

I’m not revealing anything new. This quality that has been praised so much and so well (typically, in retrospect) remains as welcome and necessary now as ever. But as valuable as cleverness is to an organization or an individual, it needs to be prompted. That is the value of an idea. An insight, a concept, a scheme, you may call it whatever seems appropriate, but the point is that something has to be established as an alternative in order to be embraced as a solution.

Ideas at work

It’s a source of constant admiration to me that metalcasters (and manufacturers generally) institute so many new ideas so frequently. We’re pleased to be presenting in this issue a series of these for various metalcasting processes, as a credit to the originators and as an aid to readers who may benefit from them.

New ideas are alive in the industry not just because of the cleverness the professionals: it’s a fact also that they need new ideas in order to remain competitive, and viable.

Big corporate entities often boast that they foster new ideas, but its smaller companies that recognize the value inherent in them. With more resources and demands, the bigger enterprises see the advantage of making problems go away because solving them isn’t always a sure thing. They need stability, and a financial solution is often the fastest route to it.

For the past year or so, corporate giants like General Electric and financial titans like Goldman Sachs saw the fiscal crisis looming around January 1 as a threat to stability. That carefully scheduled disaster – a timed collision of tax increases and budget sequestrations, intended by legislators to focus their own constituencies on their need for more taxing power, in order to spend more money, essentially to keep paying problems to go away – would probably have driven the domestic economy (and thus, perhaps the global economy) into a new recession.

A deal was cut, of course. The feds now stand to collect another $620 billion over the next decade, a pittance compared to the unfunded obligations of the federal government over that time. The calamity the deal was threatening remains, just postponed for a short while.

And in the deal, many of those corporate interests so intent on cinching a compromise made off with an estimated $68 billion in new or extended tax breaks, for entities like GE, GS, Citigroup, and the American Wind Energy Assn. There are many more, too. All their scolding about fiscal disaster didn’t prevent them from cutting their own deals to avoid paying taxes.

So they threw money at the problem, and now the federal government will throw money at a problem. It’s nice way to do business — unless you have no money to waste that way. One wonders if they have any idea how little they have left.

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