Brunell: Life-changing innovation comes in all shaps

The world often copies Washington businesses when it comes to innovation.

By Don C. Brunell

For The Vidette

During World War II, the American GI earned the reputation for being innovative, adaptable and resilient. Nowhere was that more evident than the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.

For example, Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, was assigned to drop paratroopers and land gliders behind the German lines in Normandy, France. They needed to secure roads and bridges for Allied tanks, artillery and supply trucks once the Nazi forces were dislodged from their beach fortifications.

Between, the 101st and 82nd Airborne units there were 13,700 paratroopers and nearly 4,000 gliders involved in the pre-dawn assault. Enemy searchlights lighted up the dark skies and German gunners took aim at the vulnerable incoming planes, gliders and paratroopers.

Among Taylor’s biggest challenge was finding a way to link up survivors after landing. While training in England, he discovered a simple brass clicker used by band and orchestra leaders as a time keeping device. He issued clickers to the 101st and devised a system of simple clicking patterns so his troops could distinguish themselves from the enemy on the battlefield. It became known as the “Normandy Clicker.”

Once the war ended, American soldiers brought home that innovative spirit which has propelled our economy in the years since World War II. It makes our market-based system the envy of the world.

In the intervening 75 years, other countries which cast off their oppressive, totalitarian regimes studied the United States as the economic model. They looked at Washington companies, such as Boeing, Microsoft and SEL, for guidance and education.

One education example comes from business. It is the Washington Business Week program, which was started at Central Washington University in 1975 as a way for high school students to experience our nation’s free enterprise system. Thinking outside the box and unleashing students’ creativity is “The Magic of Business Week.”

Polish educators along the country’s Baltic Coast found that while their students excel in structured math and science, their tightly regimented curriculum often stymied creativity. To prosper in post-Communist Poland, they believed their students need to be innovative.

City leaders in Gdynia, a Seattle sister city, sent students to Washington Business Week nearly two decades ago. In 2010, educators and local government leaders in Gdynia with the help of the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, Boeing and many smaller Washington businesses, formed Poland Business Week. Now teachers, business leaders and students from our state travel to Poland each year for week-long free enterprise boot camps.

As part of the program, students form their own imaginary companies, use a computer simulation to run them, and create products to manufacture or services to sell. They also pitch their goods or services to potential investors. It is fun and exciting.

Today, Poland is a European Union powerhouse. Poles eagerly jumped into open markets where consumers dictate. The once dreary cities with drab government buildings now are modern and bustling with malls, shops and restaurants. If it was not for a different language, you would imagine yourself in Bellevue, Bellingham or the TriCities.

America’s economic freedoms inspired a revolution in Poland. Our market-based economy where consumers, not top-down government dictatorship, determine what is produced and sold, works. It is the magnet which attracts people from around the world to the USA.

It is a lifestyle for which many Americans have fought and died. It is powered by the freedom to innovate such as Gen. Taylor did with the Normandy Clicker.

Government economic intrusion does not work as the Polish people know all too well. It leads to shortages, higher prices and lost opportunities.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at