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Posted at 05:39 PM ET, 02/26/2013

Is sequestration the innovation opportunity America has been waiting for?


The Capitol dome is shown here off kilter. (PAUL J. RICHARDS - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Congress had a plan to force itself to find a compromise on the nation's spending. It was a relatively simple if-then clause: If they didn’t reach an agreement on the nation’s spending by a certain date, then the law would require that $85 billion in spending be cut over seven months and $1.2 trillion be slashed from the federal deficit over 10 years.

The cuts have a formal, wonky name: Sequestration. And, according to a recent Washington Post-Pew poll, you’re probably not paying attention to it. (Our colleagues at The Fix have more about that). But should these cuts automatically begin on Friday as they are slated to do, sequestration could go by another name: Disruption.

The Post’s William Branigin reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “has released an unspecified number of detainees who were being held pending deportation.” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has warned that, if the Congress and the White House don’t reach a sequestration deal by Friday deadline, air travel could be disrupted starting in April. The White House is playing a steady drumbeat of job loss and service disruption scenarios. First responders, nuclear machinists and others among the backbone of America’s workforce stand to have their lives upended.

The Post has taken data issued by the White House to show how the sequestration could affect Americans state-by-state. Republicans, however, have challenged the administration’s methodology.

And the GOP is beating its own drum, accusing Democrats of fear mongering and holding up legislation that could block the sequester. It’s time, said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for the Democrat-controlled Senate to “get off their ass” and pass a bill to avert the oncoming cuts. Another high-ranking Republican leader called Obama a “road-show president.”

Watch Lahood Warns Sequestration Would Disrupt Air Travel on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Now, the concept of disruption, introduced by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, is frequently mentioned in the innovation space. It refers to a company introducing a new product or service into a smaller marketplace and then growing to a point where it is able to upend the larger market.

In a 2007 piece for Forbes, Christensen wrote:

In retrospect, I made a poor choice when I used “disruption” to describe the phenomena that transformation so frequently stems from simple, cheap solutions. The word can confuse those who mistake my definition with the dictionary definition of “disruption.” In fact, in 1997, when I was at Intel summarizing my research, my friend Andy Grove said, “If you call it disruption, you will mislead the world.” Unfortunately, The Innovator’s Dilemma was already being printed, so it was too late.
The problem is that many assume that “disruption” and “different” are synonyms. They are not. Disruptions often don’t involve big technological breakthroughs. Rather, they involve mastering the intricate art of the simple solution.

What’s more simple than taking a hatchet to the nation’s deficit? Perhaps, the sequester, while very real and potentially very painful for many, could produce the innovation moment that America is waiting for when it comes to its spending habits. So much has been written and said about the across-the-board cuts that perhaps it’s time to look at them differently — not as the doomsday end or merely an opportunity for lawmakers to, under duress, kick the can a little bit farther down the road again. Instead, it may be time to look at it as a grand opportunity.

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By  |  05:39 PM ET, 02/26/2013

 
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