by Braden Kelley
“We need to out-innovate, outeducate, and outbuild the rest of the world” – President Obama
In reading the stories and quotes from last night’s State of the Union address by President Obama, it is clear, and frustrates me to no end, that my government talks a lot about innovation but still does not understand how to foster it. Innovation in America, especially in the short term, is not achieved by pumping huge sums of money into government-sponsored research and development efforts. Yes, many successful innovations have resulted from government research investments, but we need to take a more strategic approach to these efforts. The focus on research and capital projects by the Obama administration also begs the question of whether long-term investments be our only approach to innovation.
The Internet itself may be one of the most successful government research and development efforts, but we need more of these types of platform innovation investments, not just spending on basic research. We need to think strategically and fund those research efforts that could serve as platform innovations to power a whole new wave of innovative business ideas and job-creating companies in this country.
High-speed internet will boost worker productivity a bit sure, but worker productivity would be boosted even more by working to reduce the friction we all face in dealing with the government to get things done in our work and personal lives. Investing in high-speed internet is not an innovation investment, it is trying to get back to parity with the level of service that other counties enjoy. And besides, private sector competition should be driving high-speed internet construction, not government investment. Furthermore, if we are going to make investments that take a long time to realize, we should be looking to leapfrog the competition, not skate to where the puck used to be.
For all of the talk about innovation, there is far too little action in American government. And even as much attention as the word innovation received in the press from yesterday’s State of the Union speech, the magnitude of its use is interesting in this graphic from Fast Company that I modified to highlight where “innovation” shows up in the word cloud (it was used only NINE times by my count):
We need to take a step back and define what the role of government is in our overall innovation efforts as a country: