Innovation Is Missing Voice in BP Debate

Innovation, often the solution to problems, is being squelched in dealing with the BP oil spill.
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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The BP (BP) - Get Report oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a catastrophe.

Our environment, economy and culture are suffering serious damage. Real lives are being disrupted or ruined. Its impact on wildlife and our food supply may be staggering. As the crisis enters its third month, the toll on our country -- not to mention the lives lost in the explosion that started this mess -- are only now sinking in.

I acknowledge all of these things, as well as the blatant disregard for safety that led to the original blast. And any reasonable debate has to point the finger of blame at ourselves. Our dependence and appetite for fossil fuels also played a role.

But there is an important, analogous lesson we should take from this experience: If you want to stifle or outright kill innovation and real economic growth, try to control them.

Look around -- there is no lack of

innovation

. Manufacturers, inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs have stepped up with tens of thousands of solutions. Granted, some are hare-brained or marginally better than that. But most are creative, pragmatic and inventive. One report estimates that about 60% of the solutions offered are aimed at plugging the leak, with the rest designed to clean up spilled oil.

And this flood of ideas is being submitted through a network of channels -- albeit disjointed -- that's been established by the government, the oil industry, BP, private industry and academia. Even before this collection of basic and crowd-sourcing platforms began to form, creative minds were contributing ideas. But once the channels were in place, the tsunami of ideas began, overnight. This framework has enabled the flow of ideas and commerce.

So, we have the innovation and inspiration. We see them exchanged and surging through the marketplace. So, where's the problem?

It's in the management and control of this natural interaction of creativity. The two entities ultimately in charge -- BP and the U.S. government -- were (are?) neither prepared nor qualified to select, scrutinize, implement or even recognize the best solution(s). The marketplace of ideas and the foundation it works upon has had to wait on BP to set up a call center with 70 staff members to catch up to it. Clearly, no one in charge is working on a set of pre-considered contingencies. Instead, we're looking at slick PR and for someone "whose ass to kick."

After this disaster is resolved, we would be wise to remember the lesson that may be easily lost or ignored altogether: Innovation, passion and creativity are alive in this country -- and around the world.

The real bottlenecks that impede progress and innovation can nearly always be found at the top. Somewhere in the world, there is a uniquely prepared mind that instantly knew how to cap the well. We have to get better at allowing that voice to be heard through all the noise.

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