Innovation; Driving Dreams and the Economy in the 21st Century

Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein’s once said, “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.”   What Einstein was saying is that creativity cannot come without a considerable amount of downtime.  Ideas form both organically and naturally as we let our brain mull over thoughts and dreams. Comedian and actor John Cleese, known for his work on the comedic social commentary and philosophical Monty Python TV series and subsequent films, points to this concept in a speech he made in the 1980s (old I know, but still good!) at a video arts SMI event. Cleese makes the argument for creativity, saying that telling people how to be creative is far easier than being creative and he explains that for one to be creative one must give themselves time to sit alone in a quiet environment on a daily basis. But what is the point of all this creativity you may ask.  Progress in government, the birth of new styles in art, advancements in science and space exploration, the modernization of technological and environmental norms that we have become comfortable with – this is the point and importance of creativity. “We stand at the very threshold of a new age of scientific exploration, one that will give us a deeper understanding of our planet and allow us to improve the quality of people’s lives worldwide. Today, advances in science and engineering and technological change are the driving forces of economic growth.” Rita R. Colwell director of the National Science Foundation wrote in 2002 for The Association for Psychological Science. To add to Cleese and Einstein’s thoughts, innovation requires four other essentials; trial and error, desire, materials and funding.  According to the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), a government division created in 1997 that “strives to build our nation’s capacity to undertake world-class research and technology development that benefits Canadians and the global community”, the Government of Canada allocated $500 million in the 2012 budget to the CFI. “Starting in 2014-15, this funding will support investments in leading-edge research infrastructure, including the College-Industry Innovation Fund.” This is an encouraging step, as it seems Canada values the importance of innovation.  However, with the knowledge that the United States and China pour up to and over hundreds of billions of dollars in to their research and development (reportedly the US spent $398 billion on research and development in 2008) it shows Canada has a long way to go. The talented creative thinkers and engineers of the 21st century are producing a series of new technologies that have the potential to revolutionize the way we make energy, navigate missions in space, communicate and conduct business. A few examples include the remote controlled morphing robot named Hexapod that can roll and walk  (I can see this robot moving around unpredictable planets, asteroids or maybe even in deep waters) and the helium-filled floating wind turbine that creates more energy output than conventional wind turbines while being lightweight and relatively easy to transport. These innovative products are not self-serving and not made in vain.  These are technologies that will drive and change our future, even create a new wave of jobs for a hungry workforce. So next time you find yourself twiddling your thumbs when you think you should be working, take a moment, let the thoughts flow and remember just like John Cleese and his Monty Python gang once said in their 1983 classic Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, “Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving and revolving at 900 miles an hour”, it really does help put things in perspective. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

Norway’s Rational Battle with Internal Extremism

History suggests that in times of economic depression widespread racism and festering hatred begin to surface (in individuals and groups).  After World War One, Germany found itself in a severe depression leaving many able-bodied persons with a bleak outlook on their future, out of work and frustrated (as the saying goes an idle mind is the devil’s workshop).  The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party) was formed in the years following the First World War, and the far right group who aimed to pull workers away from communism, utilized the troubles of the Versailles Treaty, inflation and unemployment to gain momentum. Immigrants and people who practice different religions seem to always take the heat for a country’s problems.  These groups of people are unwarrantedly blamed for a plethora of things that span from lack of jobs to rise in violence to misuse of social services.  More often than not these complaints are based on uneducated, bigoted theories and fear. It feels like Breivik, whose trial will thankfully not be broadcast (Norway appears to understand that will only fuel Breivik’s self-indulgent message), might be a child of these theories and fears. The sparse media stance Norwegian officials took on Breivik’s case following the tragedy was a sophisticated and responsible reaction as not to create a circus around the event. “Families were keen to stress that the man who killed their loved ones had no legitimate mandate for what he did. ‘I think it’s important to underline that we don’t view Breivik as a politician in this matter. He is a mass murderer,’ said Trond Henry Blattmann, whose 17-year-old son, Torjus, was killed on Utøya,” an online report by the UK publication The Guardian wrote. According to reports Breivik’s opening statement was 13 pages long and was asked after 30 minutes of self-gratifying rhetoric to cut it down, which he reportedly did not.  It appears that Breivik wants to talk, wants to rationalize his behaviour while continuing to condone it – maybe he wants to make himself a martyr?  Caution by Norway to keep the situation neutral and continually focused on the facts is commendable, thus respecting the victims while not giving Breivik the platform it seems he is looking for to spout his extremist views. They say hindsight is 20/20; unfortunately people neglect to consider that foresight can be just as clear.  One need only look back to history and make connections to see what will happen in the future.  There have been many intolerant figures of influence in the past and tragically it seems there will be no shortage of them in the future.  However, for every narrow-minded individual there is his or her tolerant counterpart; so there is hope.  “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” – Dalai Lama. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

Global Stock Markets Slump

Thinking of buying yourself another car, opening a business in India or building a house?  Maybe you should think again, unless you’re not banking on your bank to get there. According to reports, this week was the nastiest of the year for the Dow Jones as it dropped 1.7% in the second week of April while German, UK and French markets all dropped by more than 2%.  Analysts suggest worries regarding the stability of the world economy are to blame for the decrease (a no-brainer if you ask me). And though there have been reasons to be optimistic with announcements of job growth in certain sectors in Canada and the United States, deep-rooted problems and debt continue to plight the recovery of the full economic system. Concerns appear to be mounting that Canadian non-mortgage, consumer debt is on the rise, the Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney recently spoke to the Canadian Press about the issue that he’s been sounding warnings about for more than a year, saying, “In exceptional circumstances, if there are issues that threaten financial stability, such as household debt … the bank could use monetary policy for that purpose. That factors into our decision-making without question.” Spain continues to face borrowing costs of nearly 6% in tandem with industrial output down 5% from last year, a number of countries are continuing with austerity measures (Canada included however, our government is deliberately avoiding the ‘a’ word while favouring the term ‘budget cuts’) and Finnish cell phone company Nokia had its shares fall 17 percent after announcing they expect losses in the first half of the year are all examples of how a the dramatically changing world is continuing to throw tremors our way that will be felt for months to come. The above sentiments seem to be shared by the BBC’s very animated business reporter and TV presenter Aaron Heslehurst who gives a rundown of the essential financial story and explains why 2012 may be a “carbon copy” of 2011 in this video. Heslehurst points out that the Eurozone crisis’ are “back on the table” as various countries bond yields are “up across the board” even in France, a country that has managed to keep its economic name less tarnished than neighbouring Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece.  The video also mentions that in China growth is slowing and inflation is up. And just today news has surfaced that electronics giant Sony will be letting 10,000 of its global workforce go as it reformulates the business in order to compete. So even though there have been some positive signs – things are still shaky.  Keep saving, keep planning and be cautious with your money. | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

Reactions Under Pressure

This week when 80-year-old Helen Collins of the United States found herself in the stressful situation of being mid-air in a single engine Cessna, with her pilot husband tragically collapsed and dead at her side, she stayed calm and remembered her basic flight training taken 30 years prior allowing her to successfully land the plane and be reunited with her children. Coincidentally a new study, that has found that the activity in different regions of your brain can determine if you will succeed or fold in stressful situations, links up quite well to the Collins story.  The results of the study, conducted by Andrew Mattarella-Micke and Sian Beilock of the University of Chicago, show that if we shut off the section of the brain that deals with emotions we will more likely not falter when pressure is applied. It is arguable that Collins was able to succeed in her dire situation by utilizing regions of her brain “that have been linked to working memory”, the intraparietal sulcus and the inferior frontal junction, while simultaneously ignoring the third section, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, that is thought to be responsible for our emotions. And it goes without saying that 80-year-old American women are not the only people who are controlled by the activity of their brain.  Czech hockey player Patrik Štefan would recall an event in his career that aligns quite nicely with the Chicago study.  In 2007 Štefan made a mortifying error while playing for the Dallas Stars against the Edmonton Oilers.  During the game he had an opportunity to score from a foot away on an empty net but missed and then tripped; Edmonton took the loose puck end-to-end and scored the game-tying goal with seconds left on the clock (see the embarrassing mishap here).  The poor lad had been talked up so much early in his career (drafted first overall by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft), almost being set up for failure if you ask me, but never lived up to the expectations.  His collapse under pressure may not have been coincidence at all, but a manifestation of his emotional response to that pressure. A lesson to be learned; if it is absolutely necessary to put yourself under pressure, keep your emotions out of it and remember, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” – Mohandas K. Gandhi | Raymond Matt, CFP, CLU, TEP, CHS | The Ontarian, Writer, Editor

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