Revitalizing Our Innovation Ecosystem
What is the biggest threat to the future of the business world?
- Innovation is driven by necessity, and the necessity of taking decisive action is what we're facing now as a nation and as citizens of the world.
- If an important initiative is funded below critical mass, nothing ever happens.
- Corporate leaders can do what's right for their shareholders while considering what's right for society as a whole.
- Our planning horizons are focused purely on making things better for today, this quarter or this year, with hardly any thought for the fate of future generations.
- It's not too late to take the actions necessary to save our future, and there are already glimmerings of hope on the horizon.
I have never been an alarmist, but in the course of writing my new book, I have become more and more concerned about the state of our future.
My initial motivation was prompted by the nearsightedness that had taken over my part of the world, in Silicon Valley and on Wall Street, but as I did my research and talked to other business and scientific leaders, I realized that our Innovation Ecosystem has become even more eroded and unstable than I could have imagined.
The curiosity and openness that have defined the American character since the founding of this country have been replaced by fear and apathy.
The patience to cultivate potentially great things for the future has been trumped by a mania for instant gratification.
The national trust necessary to build alliances with the rest of the world is gone, as is our willingness to take the risks that are required to make significant breakthroughs.
The complex web of interrelationships among science, technology, innovation and economic growth has been either taken for granted by our leaders or utterly forgotten.
Our planning horizons are focused purely on making things better for today, this quarter or this year, with hardly any thought for the fate of future generations.
The generation of innovators growing up in the United States today will be forced to seek success in spite of our educational system and a culture that demeans and dismisses science as either a nerdy preoccupation or an agenda-laden collection of mere “theories.”
The threats to our future are becoming more apparent every day. Since I started writing my new book in 2005, our economy has experienced a precipitous downturn, the price of crude oil has doubled and our dependence on foreign sources of energy has only increased.
The war in Iraq continues at great cost — in lives and dollars, in our national unity and in our standing in the world.
The subprime mortgage crisis (an unintended consequence of actions taken to stabilize our economy as far back as 2001) was created by the same kind of greed, short-term thinking and disregard for consequences that fostered the Internet bubble. Did we learn nothing from the dot-com bust?
But it’s not too late to take the actions necessary to save our future, and there are already glimmerings of hope on the horizon.
Globalization — which was initially greeted by fear and distrust — has opened up huge new markets for U.S. businesses. This hasn’t helped the workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas, but it’s better than the alternative, which is no business growth at all.
Awareness of some of the problems that we face as a nation has grown, but we now need to commit ourselves to addressing them.
This year will bring a welcome change in our nation’s leadership. More people are interested in the electoral process and are voting than in the past.
Hopefully their votes will be informed by an understanding of the challenges we face. We need not just a new administration in the White House, but a new kind of national leadership.
The world is poised for a huge leap in the rate of innovation as a result of the enhanced sharing of information and the collaborative possibilities opened up by the Internet.
We Americans need to be leading actors in this enormous global transformation, rather than merely spectators.
The challenges that we Americans face are wide-ranging and deeply embedded in our culture. Repositioning ourselves to thrive in the new global economy will take time.
Some of the transitions will not be easy, but I have faith that with courage, commitment and the boldness that has always distinguished the most successful innovators and entrepreneurs, we can execute this major change in course together as a nation.
The business community must be willing to reembrace intelligent risk taking while placing more value on potential growth.
Corporate leaders can do what’s right for their shareholders while considering what’s right for society as a whole.
Companies are already becoming very creative in learning how to “work green.”
Business leaders, policy makers, and educators will need to work together to find economically viable ways to increase employment opportunities in the United States while ensuring a steady supply of innovative talent — from home and abroad — to take on these jobs.
If we don’t take a hard look at the growing gaps between the rich and the poor, we will risk ending up in a United States with no middle class at all.
In my roles as a business leader over the past several decades, I know how important it is to be fiscally responsible, but I also learned that if an important initiative is funded below critical mass, nothing ever happens.
We must increase our investments in education and research. We also need to cultivate the leadership qualities in our own lives to reclaim the United States’ role in the future.
Innovation is driven by necessity, and the necessity of taking decisive action is what we’re facing now as a nation and as citizens of the world.
As we tackle these challenges. we must tap the boldness of our national heritage to inspire us to make changes at both disruptive and incremental levels, while remembering that failure can be just another step toward success if you’re determined to honestly self-assess and learn from every experience.
Editor’s Note: This feature is adapted from Closing the Innovation Gap, by Judy Estrin. Reprinted by arrangement with McGraw-Hill. Copyright (c) 2009 by Judy Estrin. All rights reserved.