I live and work in startup world.


I started a company about a year and a half ago, and my office is in an incubator my wife manages. For the last 18 months I've eaten more takeout food and heard more buzzwords than I've heard in my entire life--and I have an MBA, which is like majoring in buzzwords.

One of those buzzwords is innovation.

And, while I get cynical about the idea that coders will save us all, it's obvious we need some serious innovation in the very immediate future.

But we don't need innovation to make a bunch of venture capitalists even wealthier, or to give my kids another reason to stare at their phones for hours on end. We need innovation because the old order is dying, but even in death the old order will not give up power easily.

Take healthcare in the United States. The system has been broken for a long, long time. But within that system there are institutions and people profiting from the dysfunction.

And with profit, comes power.

And power is not given up easily by anyone.

Personally, I have no idea how to fix healthcare, but I'm sure whatever actually fixes healthcare will come from outside the current system. It will come from someone who isn't worried about power, because they currently have no power to lose. Instead, they have hunger and knowledge, which are the building blocks of true innovation.

Higher education is another example.

My oldest daughter is a junior in high school, and it is staggering how much the cost of higher education has escalated since I finished school a decade ago--to say nothing of the job market my daughter expects to see when she graduates.

Everything about higher education needs to change. Higher education needs to do a better job of training people to solve problems and create opportunities for themselves--and the rest of us--in a changing economy. Higher education needs to be affordable and accessible for the growing number of people who find it unaffordable and inaccessible.

Higher education needs to be more relevant.

But, like healthcare, there are people and institutions profiting enormously in the current system--as irrelevant, dysfunctional, and unaffordable as it can be.

And like healthcare, true innovation in education will come from people with hunger and knowledge to change the status quo--but who have no power to lose when the quo is no longer status.

Healthcare and education are just two examples--but they illustrate a point: if the current system prevents a growing number of people from being able to care for themselves when they are sick, or get the training they need to get a job that supports themselves and their families, they will break the system.

Put another way: if the pill my kid needs to live costs $1,000, and I don't have any way to pay for that pill, I will find a way to get it--one way or another.

That's why innovation matters.

Broken systems don't fix themselves, and no one voluntarily relinquishes power.

You wouldn't--if you had any power to lose.

I wouldn't--if I had any power to lose.

That's why we need all of these crazy people trying to make stuff out of nothing. It takes a lot of crazy people making a lot of stuff - the vast majority of which will amount to nothing - to find the innovation that makes healthcare accessible for everyone, or creates the affordable, relevant educational system we need.

Innovation isn't about "billion dollar exits" for early stage funders and founders.

Innovation is about a billion people exiting a life of declining or non-existent opportunity.

So if you're reading this, go out and make it happen.

Published on: Dec 22, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.