Tag Archives: Obama

Should the Government Encourage Innovation?

Should the Government Encourage Innovation?“We need to out-innovate, outeducate, and outbuild the rest of the world”

– United States President Barack Obama

In the quote above the American President implies that it is somehow the role of the government to drive innovation? But can they? And should they?

Governments and leaders around the world spend a great deal of time talking about innovation and its importance to their economies, but nearly all political leaders and governments have no idea about how to actually foster innovation.

There is a model for how governments can encourage innovation, and boost the performance of their economy as a result, and it is really quite simple. I call it the ICE Model of Innovation, and it’s focused on three key areas where the government can focus its investments of time and money, and both facilitate and fund efforts to advance the public involvement and education deeper into these three areas of ICE:

  1. Invention
  2. Collaboration
  3. Entrepreneurship

1. Invention

Innovation is Invention Collaboration EntrepreneurshipInnovation in any country, 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 Internet itself may be one of the most successful government research and development efforts, and it has served as a platform for an enormous amount of other innovations to build upon. This type of platform innovation is where governments should target their investment dollars. We need more of these types of platform innovation investments, not just spending on basic research. Governments 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 their country.

At the same time governments need to take another look at what they are teaching the children in their country. Let’s face facts. Today’s schools are designed to mass-produce trivia experts and basic competency in reading, writing, and arithmetic (and maybe some history, science, and other important subjects).

But, to succeed in the innovation economy, the next generation is going to need to be proficient in at least these ten things:

  1. Creativity
  2. Lateral Thinking
  3. Problem Solving
  4. Innovation (of course!)
  5. Interpersonal Skills
  6. Collaboration
  7. Negotiation
  8. Partnerships
  9. Entrepreneurship
  10. And much, much more…

And parents can either pray that the government will revise the curriculum and start focusing more energy on teaching some of these things, or band together and create supplemental learning opportunities for their kids. Seth Godin and I spoke about education and other topics in this interview from 2010:

Some of the work that Dean Kamen is doing with FIRST is a great example of how individuals and non-profits can supplement the educational work of the government to give kids the invention skills and inspiration that they’ll need to help invent a better future.

2. Collaboration

Another important component of innovation is collaboration. People learn more when they connect and share, idea fragments have the opportunity to collect and connect into potentially viable innovation ideas, and are made stronger from additional perspectives and new inputs. In every economy the government has a role to play in helping to encourage collaboration.

Every potential innovation always needs additional human and financial resources to thrive. When done well, the government can help to foster collaboration directly or indirectly. One of my favorite examples of this is the work that NESTA does in the United Kingdom (UK). If you’re not familiar with the organization, it is a charity that was funded by the UK government and NESTA stands for National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts, and their mission is to help people and organizations bring great ideas to life.

What does Nesta do? Watch the video:

They host a series of innovation, entrepreneurship, science and technology events for citizens of the United Kingdom, produce a collection of complimentary research publications, and are quite active in the social sharing of information (including their own popular blog).

In the United States, the government encourages collaboration through events hosted by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and its public universities around the country to connect scientists, businesspeople and entrepreneurs for collaboration purposes.

And several countries’ efforts to encourage university-business research collaboration is referenced in this report.

3. Entrepreneurship

Everywhere you go cities, states, countries, universities, and private companies are setting up incubators or startup accelerators to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. This is important, but the importance of entrepreneurship is not limited only to the entrepreneur. At the same time, we must not forget the importance of intrapreneurship to the continuing health of our organizations.

In some ways, intrapreneurship is MORE important to the innovation success of a country than entrepreneurship because collaborative, creative intrapreneurship is the flavor of entrepreneurship that keeps a country’s great companies alive (through this innovation intersection of course).

Entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are both important and we must consciously try to grow both in a successful society, and while intrapreneurs may not have the same tolerance for risk as an entrepreneur, they also need to understand how to make a business case and other core tenets of entrepreneurship.

There are many government sponsored efforts all around the world to encourage entrepreneurship, including SCORE (Service Corp of Retired Executives), which while technically a charity and not a government entity, received a great deal of support from the SBA in getting started as a national organization and the two entities continue to partner together to encourage, guide, and help entrepreneurs in the United States.

But, the best government programs in the world will still fail to encourage entrepreneurship unless you work to remove the social stigma of failure and examine the penalties for bankruptcy in your country. In countries like the United States and the United Kingdom where bankruptcy penalties are much lower, the level of entrepreneurship is higher. Coincidence?


I hope by now you see that it is possible (but difficult) for governments to encourage innovation IF they focus on increasing the support and skill bases around – invention, collaboration and entrepreneurship. Which countries will have the courage to completely revamp their educational systems to focus on teaching the skills that drive these behaviors? Which countries will create the policies, organizations, events and connections that accelerate these ICE capabilities?


Transcript and video of the 2011 State of the Union address

Wikipedia entry on SCORE

Happy innovating!

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An Innovation Eclipse

An Innovation EclipseThe failure of Solyndra – a United States solar energy venture backed by $535 million in federal loan guarantees drew the ire of many people concerned with the state of the federal budget deficit and the growing national debt. But was the federal government wrong to offer loan guarantees to Solyndra?

This is the question many people asked back when the failure happened, and I would be interested to hear what you think.

In a previous article I stated some of my thoughts on the role the federal government should play in the overall innovation ecosystem in the United States, and I stand by what I said in that article – An Open Letter on Innovation to President Obama.

To quote the relevant part for the discussion:

We need to take a step back and define what the role of government is in our overall innovation efforts as a country:

  1. What are the big research challenges that companies are unwilling to spend on that if pursued and conquered, would unleash a wave of innovation?
  2. How can companies and the government work together to fund and share technology that doesn’t define competition, but does accelerate productivity and global competitiveness of U.S. firms against foreign competitors?
  3. How can we restructure our tax system to reward successful American firms for taking the bigger risks that will help them continue to lead their industries in the future?
  4. How can we incent American exporters trailing foreign competitors to try and leapfrog and disrupt foreign competitors, take market share, and create jobs in this country?
  5. Should we build a deep innovation coaching capability into the Small Business Administration so that small companies can get access to innovation education?
  6. If the last wave of innovation in this country was built on the passion and ideas of foreign born entrepreneurs, should we not be doing more (not less) to encourage the world’s best to come here and study and start businesses?
  7. If we are in a war for innovation, should we not be building innovation alliances with countries in the same way we have built military alliances for centuries? More and more companies are doing this, why not countries?

You’ll notice that nowhere on this list was funding companies. This is a special skill and one that most people wouldn’t think about the government as having, especially when you take into account that identifying a potentially successful startup is not about the idea, but about identifying strong management teams that have the capability to lead a team of people to find and overcome the critical flaws in the founding idea and get the final solution to market. Funding companies isn’t something that the government should be focusing on – even when they pursue it in a portfolio approach (Solyndra represents only 2% of the Department of Energy’s committed loan guarantees).

From an outsider’s perspective the $535 million would have been better spent in discovering and transferring a platform technology to multiple companies that could then work towards getting the basic platform technology to market (funded by the private sector). Then other American entrepreneurs could have generated even more jobs by building upon it. Think about the growth in the US Economy that the platform technology of the Internet generated. It is too soon to see whether the failure of Solyndra will be a big blow or a small blow to the Obama administration’s innovation efforts, but it probably also didn’t help that last week Alan Greenspan was quoted as saying:

“Can innovation create jobs? The answer is that is not its focus,”

“Jobs are created in that process and what happens in private industry as technology decreases unit costs and especially labor costs, profits go up, companies expand and then they hire people,”

“Innovation reduces jobs, and there is no way getting around that syllogism,”

Alan Greenspan may be simplifying things here and ignoring that there are more types of innovation than cost innovation, but hey, let’s give the guy a break as innovation is not really his focus.

Also this week it emerged that Thomas Friedman has a new book coming out with Michael Mandelbaum called That Used to be Us that essentially says the United States must innovate or else. After all, we’re never going to be cheaper, so we have to better and more innovative. That leaves a huge challenge for the government of the United States.

To replace all of the debt-fueled, consumption-related jobs that will likely never come back, the United States must come together as a collection of public, private, and charitable institutions to re-train our workforce and change our mindset as a country to focus not on consumption but creation in order to generate the new jobs necessary to reduce a 9.2% unemployment rate.

But for all of the focus in the media and academia on improving the quality of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education in America, we must also introduce an equally strong focus on creating young people that are equally capable of becoming the flexible and adaptable workforce that organizations will need to continue to succeed at innovation. This includes helping reinforce the value of unplugging in our always-on society that suffers from expectations of immediate response.

All of this taken together still shows that the United States still needs a cohesive, long-term, committed innovation strategy if we are to prevent the country’s continued loss of ground to other rising economies over time. Because any innovation strategy requires long-term focus and commitment, I remain doubtful that the United States politicians will be up to the task, and very doubtful that in an era of collapsing education budgets that we will be able to train our children to be more flexible and adaptable with the requisite skills in language to translate the value of their ideas, the technical skills to create the value, and the logic to create the systems necessary to make it easier to access the value of their ideas. But we will see.

It is my belief as I have said before in my article Stop Praying for Education Reform that we must come together outside the normal school day to educate our children in the skills necessary to create the innovation capacity they will need to take our country forward through the rest of this century, and help to maintain its place near the top of the economic pyramid.

Ultimately the question is not whether the United States CAN still lead the world in innovation, but whether we have the WILL.

What do you think?

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Innovation Quotes of the Day – April 28, 2012

“Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine. It may make you feel like you’re flying high at first, but it won’t take long before you feel the impact.”

– Barack Obama

“Being successful in the innovation aspects of social business requires an organization to establish a place and a reason for mutually beneficial dialogue to occur.”

– Braden Kelley

“I cannot help fearing that men may reach a point where they look on every new theory as a danger, every innovation as a toilsome trouble, every social advance as a first step toward revolution, and that they may absolutely refuse to move at all.”

– Alexis de Tocqueville

What are some of your favorite innovation quotes?

Add one or more to the comments, listing the quote and who said it, and I’ll share the best of the submissions as future innovation quotes of the day!

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