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The tipping point

Published:Friday | February 19, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Audia Barnett, Contributor

MALCOLM GLADWELL'S best-seller aptly describes the phenomenon wherein a momentous action can result from an incremental, seemingly insignificant change. We all can relate to events in our lives that remind us of this theorem. For some, it is the straw which broke the camel's back, for others it's the elusive success that lurks around the corner just at the point of giving up. The concept of a tipping point sees a tiny pebble making numerous ripples. We certainly can relate to that! An island 11,000 square kilometres rewriting the annals of athletics through the likes of now famous Usain Bolt. Reggae music that has etched an indelible mark on the socio-cultural and political fabric of people worldwide and the brilliant cultural icon in the person of the late Hon Professor Rex Nettleford - all products of Jamaica.

A glance at our neighbouring countries will reveal similar trends. Take St Lucia for example, a country with a population of a mere 160,000 has produced two Nobel Laureates! Trinidad and Tobago is the United States' largest supplier of natural gas. So, it seems that size may really be overrated after all, and it is more to do with what you do with what you have that counts. In other words, finding that tipping point. Nations all across the world seem to be promoting innovation as an excellent 'tipper'. Check out the European Union. Its Lisbon Strategy advances the notion of innovation to overcome the challenges of the current economic downturn. Similarly, the tremendous growth seen in China over the past few decades has been attributed to massive investment in scientific research, the commercialisation of the results of research and collaboration with its scientific diaspora - all elements intrinsic to an active innovation strategy.

Innovation at home

Closer home, the concept of innovation is highly acclaimed by US President Barack Obama who, in promoting his innovation strategy, noted, "Today, the competition is keener; the challenge is tougher and that is why innovation is more important than ever. It is the key to good, new jobs for the 21st century. That's how we will ensure a high quality of life for this generation and future generations. With these investments, we're planting the seeds of progress for our country, and good-paying, private-sector jobs ... ."

How times have changed! Innovation has been elevated, promoted and found to be the answer for the most powerful and influential of nations. Once upon a time, innovation was the survival response of the less developed and less advanced countries to technological and other challenges. Now national innovation policies, strategies, systems and the like have been mainstreamed and often utilised to find the tipping point for economic growth. So what of countries such as Jamaica? Countries that live and breathe innovation? Can what occurs as 'second nature' be honed, standardised and fashioned to propel us out of poverty?

The scattershot approach that we have long used, while yielding some fantastic results may need to be revisited to assure consistency. Therefore, as Jamaica boldly embarks on the tortuous journey of economic recovery, an innovation strategy, hinging on the triple helix relationship among researchers, private sector and the public sector appears to be a lucrative option. After all, when resources are scarce and one is faced with the ominous dilemma of selecting winners, the promise of innovation as a tipping point warrants some serious support.

Audia Barnett is the executive director of the Scientific Research Council.