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Thomas Edison was a ninja

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    Nov. 23, 2012: A cashier rings up a cash sale at a Sears store in Las Vegas.AP

At the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month, innovation was on display in its full glory. This year, we celebrated “ninja innovation,” a term I coined to describe the kind of unwavering commitment to victory that businesses must possess in order to be successful in today’s marketplace. But while businesses across the country and the world embrace the core concepts of ninja innovation, America as a nation must do the same.

Current policy decision-making has made it much harder for America to keep its economic footing. The rate of government spending is out of control and rapidly bringing us toward insolvency

Our global competitiveness has also dropped dramatically from number one, where we stood during the Bush years, to number seven, where we stand now. Even business leaders claim that the increase in uncertainty will make it harder for them to innovate and hire. In order to combat this, America should adopt the driving philosophy that brings about success in the business world – ninja innovation.

What set Thomas Edison apart from other inventors who were also creating potentially revolutionary technologies was his ability to envision an alternative future. He crafted something of value for everyday people that changed their lives.

At its core, ninja innovation is about setting a goal and being unconventional to achieve it. Today’s ninjas are agile, cunning, adaptive innovators who have created some of the world’s best technology and enterprises. 

The U.S. government and American society are not creating products, but they are responsible for creating and maintaining an environment and culture founded on the same principles. By adopting the spirit and strategies of today’s most successful innovators, America can reclaim victory and continue as the world’s leader.

One of those successful innovators who exemplified the spirit of ninja innovation and revolutionized the world was Thomas Edison. He created the phonograph and the incandescent light, and his development of the central power station had a lasting impact not only on the consumer electronics industry, but indeed the entire world. 

What set Edison apart from other inventors who were also creating potentially revolutionary technologies at the same time was his ability to envision an alternative future. He crafted something of value for everyday people that changed their lives. This required creativity, resolve and discipline. Having brilliance isn’t enough. In order to win, one must have a clear goal of what it fully takes and where that success requires you to go.

For America, that should be simple, we already know what it takes to get there.  Innovation has been America’s strength for many reasons: our “can-do” attitude; a free-market system that rewards savvy risk takers; an educational system that encourages questions rather than rote learning; our First Amendment, which promotes different views without government censorship; our heterogeneous society; and our willingness to treat failure as a learning experience rather than a badge of dishonor.

America’s foremost goal must be the continued superiority of the U.S. economy. This means we must confront our spending and embrace an innovation strategy.  In the end, as history has shown, an authoritarian economy cannot compete with one premised on the unique power of free markets, free minds and free enterprise. But the role of government in a free market country is to be an efficient provider of services, not a nanny state borrowing from the next generation. It’s time for America to make the tough choices, unleash its power and become a ninja, just like Thomas Edison.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies. His latest book is "Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses," (William Morrow, January 2013). He is also author of the New York Times bestselling book, “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream” Contact him on Twitter at @GaryShapiro.