Can America Invent Its Way Back?
A recent article in BusinessWeek by Michael Mandel asks this highly relevant question, noting that while the U.S. has spent almost $5 trillion on research and development and on higher education, "employment in most technologically advanced industries has stagnated or even fallen."
Collecting new data on American R&D initiatives is also part of this movement, to understand what's working and what's not, with the desired end result of making effective proposals.
"Will 2009 be the year of innovation economics?
"Economists and business leaders across the political spectrum are slowly coming to an agreement: Innovation is the best, and maybe only, way the U.S. can get out of its economic hole. New products, services, and ways of doing business can create enough growth to enable Americans to prosper over the long run.
"In January, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will launch an annual survey of 40,000 companies asking how much they spend on R&D in the U.S. and overseas, broken out by type of business and country. "'For the first time, we'll have a clear picture of what kind of research companies are doing globally and what benefits they are getting from their spending,' says Lynda Carlson of the NSF.
"Multifactor productivity -- a category that includes technological change and other improvements in business processes -- accounted for 45% of productivity gains between 1987 and 2007. 'Ninety five percent of economists agree that innovation is the most important thing for long-run growth,' says MIT economist Daron Acemoglu.
"Economists are also suggesting how to use new tools to boost innovation.
"They're studying when prizes for technological advances make sense. They're proposing ways state and local governments can best encourage innovation-based economic development. And they're exploring how to make optimal use of the billions of dollars' worth of research conducted in government-funded national labs."
Not addressed in the article is the irony of the National Science Foundation's acronym, which is also used by the banking world as the abbreviation for "Not Sufficient Funds."
Let's hope the science foundation fares better with their economics.
"Can America Invent Its Way Back?"
"'Innovation economics' shows how smart ideas can turn into jobs and growth -- and keep the U.S. competitive."
by Michael Mandel
September 22, 2008 issue
1958 Erector Set ad uploaded
to Flickr by Maproom Systems
Forget About the Box, Get Out of the Cave!
See the caveman to your left? That's Og. He's the protagonist of my new book, Awake at the Wheel: Getting Your Great Ideas Rolling (in an uphill world). The word "protagonist" is not in Og's vocabulary. Even I don't use the word "protagonist" all that much -- though I have used it three times in this paragraph.
Hmmm... That's pretty odd.
Then again, the experience of inventing the wheel was pretty odd, too. Which is what Og did. 24,000 years ago. Long before Game Boy, i-Pod, or Starbucks. And yes, long before the Mesopotamians -- the people who usually get all the credit for the wheel -- some 20,300 years after my main man, Og.
(Hey, when was the last time you used the word "Mesopotamian?" That's another word not in Og's vocabulary.)
Actually, Og didn't need a big vocabulary. He had something else going for him: Neanderthalic genius. Stone age brilliance. Originality. Og, you see, was the first innovator. Intrinsically motivated, he was. Fascinated. Inspired. Mojo-driven. And while he was not without imperfections, he needed no attaboys, cash awards, or stock options to follow his muse.
Back in Og's time, when men were men, and stones were stones, even the idea of an idea was unthinkable. And yet... somehow, he had one -- an IDEA, that is -- and not just your dime a dozen variety. Nope. A GREAT idea, a BIG idea, or what I like to call an "out of the cave" idea: The wheel.
Ah... but I go on too long. If Og were here, he'd be frowning by now, shrugging his stooped shoulders, wondering in his delightfully pre-verbal way what other new ideas and discoveries awaited his wonderfully hairy touch.
Want to order the book now? (Og gets 10% of every sale). Go ahead. Help him put bear meat on the table.November 11, 2008
Metaphors Be With You!
If you want to originate breakthrough business solutions, you will need to think differently than you usually do. In a phrase, you will need to "get out of the box."
But how? How does a person go beyond the boundaries of their own mind? Is there a key? A door? A nearby genie just waiting to be invoked? How, precisely, does a person think something they've never thought of before?
Perhaps the simplest and most powerful way is to awaken the image-making part of your brain. To imagine. (Ever wonder why the word "image" is the root of the word "imagination?")
Poets and writers are masters at awakening the imagination. A simple turn of phrase, a simple metaphor, and a reader's mind is opened to a whole new world of perception, understanding and experience.
But not only poets and writers have this knack. Scientists do, too.
Friedrich Kekule, the noted German chemist, at a loss for words, described his breakthrough understanding of the benzene molecule as "a snake biting its own tail." And Einstein's Theory of Relativity was preceded by one of his famous "thought experiments" in which he imagined himself riding a light beam into outer space while holding a mirror in front of his face.
No wonder Einstein said, "I rarely think in words at all." No wonder Aristotle, centuries before, concluded, "It is impossible to even think without a mental image."
Unfortunately, business people do it all the time. Addicted to the logical, linear, analytical and rational, we have traded in our artistry for craftsmanship...our palette of possibilities for an increasingly thinning bottom line.
The resulting state of our imagination? Downsized, outsourced, and otherwise re-engineered into oblivion. But it doesn't have to be that way. Not by a long shot. A simple turn of phrase can re-ignite it. And the most effective turn of phrase is the metaphor (and its kissing cousins, analogy and simile).
Simply put, a metaphor is the application of a word or phrase to an object or concept it does not literally denote (i.e., "The ghetto was a volcano about to erupt.") A metaphor calls attention to a similarity between two seemingly dissimilar things and, by so doing, establishes the kind of creative tension that has the potential to spark quantum leaps in thinking -- the kind of leaping that generates insight and discovery.
In fact, a well-placed metaphor is a lot like a... chemical reaction... or a meeting of the minds... or a successful merger between companies. Something good can happen when two similar, but different, elements enter into a relationship with each other.
"That's a stretch," you might say. And yet, it is this very act of "stretching" that opens the door to new solutions.
If you're stuck in the desert, which would you rather have: A 20-page report telling you where the water is... or a map? Metaphor is the map -- a guide to your own, out-of-the-box solution-finding ability. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words -- especially when that picture, consciously chosen, stretches the imagination just enough to disentangle it from the limitations of ordinary business logic.
If you want to learn more about metaphorical thinking, click here to order It's AHAppening!, Idea Champions' series of five creative thinking guidebooks. Metaphors Be With You, from which this posting was excerpted, is one of the five.
Digital image from www.toddpowelson.comNovember 05, 2008
Baking the Change and Innovation Cake
Last night, my 11-year old daughter, Mimi, and her good friend, Zoe, stayed up late to watch the election results. After Obama was declared the winner, they baked a cake in his honor and, in the morning, frosted it.
As they left the house this morning, Mimi stopped, cake in hand, and shouted out Obama's name at the top of her lungs. Something deep within her rose to the surface and begged to be expressed. Which, being 11 and free of the politically correct constraints that rule the lives of too many adults, she accomplished with great flair.
That same intrinsic motivation that moved Mimi and Zoe to bake their cake, needs to be alive and well in your company if you are truly serious about raising the bar for innovation and change. Mimi and Zoe didn't need to be TOLD to bake the cake. They wanted to. Even more than that, they HAD to.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: In what ways can you create the kind of culture in your organization that will encourage everyone to bake their cake for change and innovation?November 04, 2008
"It's No Time to Forget About Innovation"
Writing in the New York Times, Janet Rae-Dupree reminds us that even or especially in times "of corporate belt-tightening," companies reduce their efforts to strengthen innovation at their own risk.
She quotes Jon Fisher, a business professor, serial entrepreneur, and author of "Strategic Entrepreneurism," saying, "'Innovation has to be embedded in the daily operation, in the entire work force.' Addressing companies whose aim is to be bought by a major player in their vertical, he explains, 'A large acquirer's interest in a start-up or smaller company is binary in nature: They either want you or they don't, based on the innovation you have to offer.'
"In fact, hard times can be the source of innovative inspiration, says Chris Shipley, a technology analyst and executive producer of the DEMO conferences, where new ideas make their debuts. 'Some of the best products and services come out of some of the worst times,' she says. In the recession of the early 1990s, 'tiny Palm Computing managed to revitalize the entire industry in a matter of months.'"
Also on the encouraging side: as I write this, Rae-Dupree's article is number six on the most-emailed in the Business section.
"It's No Time to Forget About Innovation" - NYT, 11/1/08.
(Illustration: The White Rabbit, by John Tenniel (1820-1914), from the original "Alice In Wonderland.")