Protecting creativity in the workplace

September 10, 2003

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.comIt's easy to see digital products but not so easy, I think, to grasp the ideas behind them. There is no visible or definable object

By Greg Freiherr, Editor, gfreiherr@cmp.com

It's easy to see digital products but not so easy, I think, to grasp the ideas behind them. There is no visible or definable object that contains the spirit of digital technology. It's not the computer or wireless network. Not a multislice CT or a 4D ultrasound system. It is not even the output from-or the input to-these technologies. These are the outward signs of the digital evolution, the inventions and bits of data that come from embracing digital concepts.

The spirit behind digital technology is people. And this spirit, I fear, is in danger.

Consolidation, which was running rabid a few years ago, is again on the rise. Entrepreneurs and engineers with bright ideas are being roped into companies not of their choosing. Many stay put, at least for the time being, hoping the ideas that made them attractive to the company will protect them. Recognizing this, megacompanies often wax poetic about the cultures of newly acquired firms and how their new owners will strive to keep these cultures intact. But it seldom happens.

Regulators seek to protect markets from anticompetitive forces. But no one can protect creativity, as strategists roll novel ideas into the conventional mainstream to absorb new customer bases, add distribution channels, and gain economies of scale. One by one, fiercely independent companies are sucked in to become cogs in the marketing and branding machinery of big business.

But I wonder, does it have to be this way? Or might some of the creativity for which our industry is famous find its way into administration as well?

There are encouraging signs at CTI Molecular Imaging. The company last month acquired Mirada Solutions, one of the few software companies that has been able to flourish in the economic environment of the last several years. CTI is buying the company not only for its technology, but maybe-just maybe-for its ability to develop new ideas. To keep doing what it has done so well up to now, Mirada will need a free hand to pursue opportunities. The partnership announced last week between Mirada and Vital Images, and ongoing relationships between CTI's new subsidiary and R2 Technology and Amersham Health, indicate that the folks at Mirada may have that freedom.

If the deal lives up to expectations, it could serve as a model for business consolidation in the future-a way to preserve the vigor of an unfettered marketplace while achieving the economic advantages of consolidation.