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Top 10 American Innovations of All Time

A Fourth of July Celebration

Top 10 American Innovations of All Time

GUEST POST from Art Inteligencia

As we gather to celebrate the Fourth of July, our nation’s Independence Day, we not only rejoice in the freedoms and values that define America but also reflect on the incredible ingenuity that has propelled our country forward. From the light bulb to the Internet, American innovations have played a key role in shaping the modern world. In honor of this patriotic occasion, let’s take a moment to celebrate the Top 10 American Innovations of All Time — milestones that exemplify the pioneering spirit and relentless pursuit of progress that define our great nation.

1. The Internet

Arguably the most transformative innovation of the 20th century, the Internet was born out of American ingenuity during the late 1960s under projects like ARPANET. It has revolutionized communication, commerce, entertainment, and access to information. It is the backbone of the digital age, making our world more connected than ever before. As we celebrate our independence, it’s particularly fitting to honor the Internet, a creation that has democratized information and connectivity globally. The Internet has transformed how we communicate, learn, and do business. It’s a tool that fosters freedom of expression and connects us all, embodying the spirit of liberty we cherish.

2. The Light Bulb

When Thomas Edison perfected the incandescent light bulb in 1879, it marked a new era in human history. The ability to illuminate spaces effectively and efficiently extended the day’s productivity, paving the way for the modern lifestyle and countless subsequent innovations. Much like the fireworks that light up our skies on the Fourth of July, Edison’s innovation illuminated the path to a new era of progress and possibility.

3. The Airplane

The Wright brothers’ first successful flight in 1903 epitomizes American daring and inventiveness, with the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered aircraft. Their breakthrough not only shrank the world in terms of travel time but also laid the foundation for an entire industry that employs millions and generates trillions of dollars globally. Their achievement made the skies accessible, bringing people closer together and making global travel a reality. Just as the Fourth of July celebrates freedom of movement and the pursuit of happiness, the airplane opened new horizons for all.

4. Personal Computer

While computing concepts had been around for years, it was American pioneers like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who brought the personal computer into homes and offices worldwide. The launch of the Apple Macintosh and the widespread adoption of Microsoft Windows revolutionized how we work, create, and communicate. The Fourth of July is a reminder of our nation’s innovative spirit, and the personal computer is a testament to what we can achieve through curiosity, creativity, and determination.

5. Smartphone

Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in 2007 was a watershed moment in technology. This little device, combining a phone, a music player, a camera, and a portable computer, has since evolved to influence every aspect of modern life—changing how we interact, access information, and entertain ourselves. As we celebrate our nation’s independence, we can take pride in knowing that one of the most transformative tools for communication and freedom of information was born from American ingenuity.

6. Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP)

Developed by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn in the 1970s, TCP/IP is the fundamental framework for the Internet. This set of communication protocols enables the interconnection of diverse networks, making the global Internet possible. Without it, the complex web of networks we rely on would not function. Just as the Declaration of Independence established the principles of our nation, TCP/IP set the standards for global communication, making the World Wide Web an integral part of our daily lives.

7. The Assembly Line

Introduced by Henry Ford in 1913, the assembly line revolutionized manufacturing. By drastically cutting production times and costs, it enabled the mass production and democratization of consumer goods. This innovation not only transformed industries but also played a crucial role in shaping modern economies. As we celebrate the Fourth of July, we honor this innovation that embodies the American ideals of efficiency, ingenuity, and the drive to make life better for all.

8. The Cotton Gin

Invented by Eli Whitney in 1793, the cotton gin revolutionized the agricultural industry by efficiently separating cotton fibers from seeds. This innovation catalyzed the cotton industry, leading to significant economic growth, particularly in the American South. This Fourth of July, we recognize this pivotal innovation that showcased American problem-solving skills and led to transformative economic growth.

9. GPS Technology

Initially developed by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Global Positioning System (GPS) has since been made available for civilian use and has transformed navigation and location-based services. Whether for cars, smartphones, or even precision agriculture, GPS has become an indispensable tool in modern society. On this Independence Day, we salute this innovation that highlights our nation’s commitment to technological advancement and safety.

10. CRISPR-Cas9

This innovative gene-editing technology, developed by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, has revolutionized genetic engineering. Although it’s a collaborative global effort, American research and institutions played a significant role in developing and refining this breakthrough. CRISPR-Cas9 holds promise for treating genetic disorders, improving crop resilience, and more. This Fourth of July, we honor this innovation that holds the promise to cure diseases, improve agriculture, and inspire future generations of American scientists.


As fireworks illuminate the sky this Fourth of July, let’s celebrate not only our nation’s independence but also the remarkable innovations that reflect the American spirit of discovery and progress. These top ten innovations, each a beacon of ingenuity and determination, continue to shape our world and the future.

May we draw inspiration from these milestones as we cherish our freedom and commit to fostering a culture of innovation that will drive our nation forward for generations to come.

Happy Fourth of July!

Image credit: Unsplash

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America is in Desperate Need of a Shared Purpose

America is in Desperate Need of a Shared Purpose

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

In 1993, after being named IBM’s CEO as it was quickly careening toward insolvency, Lou Gerstner said, “There’s been a lot of speculation as to when I’m going to deliver a vision of IBM, and what I’d like to say to all of you is that the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.” It was a peculiar thing to say, especially for an executive renown for his strategic acumen, and people took note.

What Gerstner meant was that IBM was broken internally. It had lost sight of itself and fallen into infighting. It no longer sought to serve the customer. Instead of collaborating, executives engaged in endless turf battles. Until IBM’s culture and values could be brought back into harmony with the market, it didn’t matter what the vision was.

Today, America has a similar plight. We are undergoing profound shifts in our racial makeup, urban concentration and generational demography in the midst of great geopolitical and technological disruption. We need to build a new social contract based on shared values that align with those shifts and, until we do that, any vision for the future will be irrelevant.

The Racial Divide

The recent incidents involving Amy Cooper and George Floyd outraged people across the world. In the former, a white woman leveraged her sense of privilege to threaten a black man in the most despicable way. In the latter, a black man was senselessly murdered at the hands of a police officer, while his colleagues sat back and watched.

What was notable about both incidents is that they were filmed and that the subjects involved knew they were being filmed but proceeded with their behavior anyway. How many times have they acted similarly off camera? There’s no way of knowing, but given the air of confidence they had in their actions, it’s hard to believe it was the first time for either.

At the same time, life expectancy for the white working class is actually declining, mostly because of “deaths of despair” due to drugs, alcohol and suicide. For those struggling and who see their friends and families undergoing similar travails, assertions of “white privilege” fall hollow. In fact, the very idea of “white privilege” intensifies the feeling that they are under attack.

The racial divide in America is wide and encompasses gaps in economic circumstances as well as values and attitudes. It doesn’t show signs of closing anytime soon. Yet until it does it’s hard to see how we can move forward as a nation.

The Urban-Rural Divide

In addition to the racial divide in America, we have a stark urban-rural divide that seems to keep widening. While having some gap between city and country dwellers is quite common all over the world, in America that gap is almost uniquely vast and encompasses a number of political and economic forces.

Politically, the fact that each state has two senators gives rural states with small populations an advantage in determining federal policy. On the other hand, because capitals tend to be in cities, those who work in government tend to be more liberal than their rural counterparts. Voting data has long shown that the urban and suburban areas tend to vote Democrat and exurban and rural areas tend to prefer Republicans.

On the economic side, cities wield enormous power. Most major corporations are headquartered in urban areas and large industries tend to agglomerate around specific cities, such as finance in New York, entertainment in Los Angeles and technology in San Francisco. Some observers have also noted that, as housing costs in key cities rise they are beginning to hemorrhage mid and low skill workers who tend to be less educated.

Much like the racial divide, the urban-rural divide is heavily rooted in values and attitudes. While city dwellers often dismiss rural areas as “fly-over country,” those who live in rural areas feel disrespected and unrecognized. They often complain that their communities are being dictated to by people in other places who live other kinds of lives, which leaves them angrily seeking political redress.

The Demographic Divide

In addition to the racial and urban-rural divides, we are also beginning to see a massive generational shift. Over the next decade, baby-boomers, many of whom came of age during the Reagan revolution, will be replaced by millennials, whose experiences with the Great Recession, debilitating student loan debt and rising healthcare costs, have very different priorities.

The main drivers of the Baby Boomer’s influence have been its size and economic prosperity. In America alone, 76 million people were born in between 1946 and 1964, and they came of age in the prosperous years of the 1960s. These factors gave them unprecedented political and economic clout that continues to this day.

Yet now, Millennials, who are more diverse and focused on issues such as the environment and tolerance, are beginning to outnumber Baby Boomers. Much like in the 1960s, their increasing influence is driving trends in politics, the economy and the workplace and their values often put them in conflict with the baby boomers.

However, unlike the Baby Boomers, Millennials are coming of age in an era where prosperity seems to be waning. With Baby Boomers retiring and putting further strains on the economy, especially with regard to healthcare costs, tensions are on the rise

A Problem of Identity and Dignity

In 1989, standing on Kosovo Polje, in a ceremony commemorating the Battle of Kosovo, in which the Serbian army was annihilated by the Ottomans in 1389, Slobodan Milošević told his followers, “No one should dare to beat you again!” Since then, we have seen a wide array of leaders, from Vladimir Putin to Donald Trump, leverage our innate need for recognition and collective identity to whip us into a frenzy.

Amy Cooper threatened a black man because he refused to recognize her privilege and she immediately called the police, with whom she obviously felt a shared identity. The Tea Party was driven, in large part, by older Americans who felt that younger Americans, who they did not feel a shared identity with, wanted to “freeload” off the country they worked their lives to build.

We can expect that as long as these divisions remain, there will be politicians and others who will seek to exploit them for personal gain. If we were still a white, Christian country in a simpler world, things would be easier, but we would lose all of the incalculable benefits that come with diversity, including more dynamism, innovation and culture. Much like IBM in the 90s, we cannot move forward until we heal our internal divisions.

Nothing about a multi-ethnic, multicultural society is simple. Building anything worthwhile takes work and no small amount of pain. Still, we need to try harder. We need to rebuild our society, culture and values based on a new basis of shared purpose. Until we do that, nothing else will really matter.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pixabay

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China Plans to Trump Innovation from Outer Space

China Plans to Trump Innovation from Outer Space

First, let me say that this is not a political article, but instead an article about a potential innovation crisis looming just over the horizon thanks to brinkmanship between China and the United States.

Second, let me say this article is not about killer satellites being launched into orbit by the Trump administration or the People’s Republic of China.

Instead this article is about the psychology of a country being backed into a corner, the measures China is likely to take to fight back when they can’t match the United States dollar for dollar in a tariff fight, the current state of the rare earth metals market and its impact on the future of innovation.

Now, some of you might be asking yourself – What the heck are rare earth metals?

Well, as the name might suggest they are metals that are not often found in dense quantities on earth. Some hypothesize that some of the best rare earth metal finds have an extraterrestrial origin. So, some might say that rare earth metals are literally alien, brought to our planet not by little green men (and women) but by blazing hot meteors smashing into the earth. Rare earth metals are so valuable to collectors and to high tech manufacturers that there are groups of modern day Indiana Jones clones out there racing around the world to be the first to claim the next meteor strike before someone else does (see article) and the Chinese government made a conscious choice to invest in trying to corner the market.


Because rare earth metals are CRUCIAL to all of the technology that empowers the innovation economy.

There was a 60 Minutes segment from three years ago that CBS recently refreshed and re-aired now that it is again timely given the United States vs. China trade war but they have since moved it to Paramount+. It provides a great introduction to rare earth metals and the role they play in the innovation economy, but this Financial Times video does a good job as well:

(updated 60 minutes video available has been moved to Paramount+)

About the only substantial change in the video is that China’s dominance has dropped from 90% of global production to 80% of global production.

Here is a chart showing the production of rare earths in 2018 in the world (data source):

Rare Earth Data

As the chart shows, China has about 40% of the world’s rare earth metals, but is responsible for 75% of the world’s production of rare earth metals. The military machine of the United States relies on rare earth metals to operate, along with green energy, high technology, electric cars, you name it – nearly every innovation direction we’re trying to go in – relies on rare earth metals.

China has cut off countries from rare earth metals before, most notably Japan, and now they are threatening to do it again to the United States (one article highlighting the threat not just to the United States, but to Europe as well). China is also threatening to begin blacklisting individual technology companies not sympathetic to its cause in the battle of egos and stare down between these two economic superpowers. You have to imagine this would include being cut off from rare earth metals.

So, is the innovation train, this pace of unrelenting technological advance and change, about to come a grinding halt?

I guess we’re all about to find out…

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Building Virtual Diplomacy

Building Virtual DiplomacyThe Setup

Lets look at Innovation, Crowdsourcing, and the United States Government for a minute…

The world continues to move faster than ever and diplomatic responses from the United States are required that are both increasingly more complex and more urgent, and the required solutions must address the inherent situational challenges while also protecting the interests of the United States and its allies. To deal with this diplomatic reality, the United States State Department is embracing the principles of crowdsourcing, eGovernment, and open innovation and partnering with America’s best universities to help solve the World’s biggest challenges as part of a new initiative called Diplomacy Lab. I found the following after meandering through a bread crumb trail of tweets from @AlecJRoss (Hillary Clinton’s former Chief Innovation Officer):

Diplomacy Lab is designed to address two priorities: first, Secretary Kerry’s determination to engage the American people in the work of diplomacy. And second, the imperative to broaden the State Department’s research base in response to a proliferation of complex global challenges. The initiative enables the State Department to “course-source” research and innovation related to foreign policy by harnessing the efforts of students and faculty experts at universities across the country. Students participating in Diplomacy Lab explore real-world challenges identified by the Department and work under the guidance of faculty members who are authorities in their fields. This initiative allows students to contribute directly to the policymaking process while helping the State Department tap into an underutilized reservoir of intellectual capital. Teams that develop exceptional results and ideas are recognized for their work and may be invited to brief senior State Department officials on their findings.

This then led to me to information about another digital diplomacy program.

US State Department Harnesses Interns Around the Globe to Address Digital Needs

During Hillary Clinton’s tenure, the United States State Department introduced an eIntern program, as detailed on the State Department web site:

Virtual Student Foreign ServiceThe Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) is part of a growing effort by the State Department to harness technology and a commitment to global service among young people to facilitate new forms of diplomatic engagement. Working from college and university campuses in the United States and throughout the world, eInterns (American students working virtually) are partnered with our U.S. diplomatic posts overseas and State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and the U.S. Commercial Service domestic offices to conduct digital diplomacy that reflects the realities of our networked world. This introductory video provides an overview of the VSFS program.

VSFS eIntern duties and responsibilities will vary according to the location and needs of the VSFS projects identified at the sponsoring domestic or overseas diplomatic office. VSFS projects may be research based, contributing to reports on issues such as human rights, economics or the environment. They may also be more technology oriented, such as working on web pages, or helping produce electronic journals. Selected students are expected to work virtually on an average of 5-10 hours per week on VSFS eInternship projects. Students apply in the summer and if selected, begin the eInternship that fall lasting through spring. Most work and projects are internet-based and some have language requirements. Past projects asked students to:

  • Develop and implement a public relations campaign using social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, etc. to communicate and reach out to youth
  • Conduct research on the economic situation, prepare graphic representations of economic data, and prepare informational material for the U.S. Embassy website
  • Create a system to gather and analyze media coverage on a set of topics including environment, health, and trade
  • Develop a series of professional instructional video clips to be published by the U.S. Embassy
  • Survey social media efforts of U.S. diplomatic posts, NGOs, and private companies around the world to help establish best practices in a U.S. Embassy’s social media outreach business plan.

The Conclusion

It is fascinating to see the world changing before our eyes and to see the children and young people of today engaged in commerce and government and entrepreneurship in ways that weren’t available to previous generations of young people. This only helps to accelerate the pace of change. But, the reality is that when an organization sits at the fork in the road and is making the decision of whether or not to actively engage people outside their four walls in their strategic efforts, the choice really is to either ride the crest of the wave by embracing and engaging talent outside your organization or choosing instead to get tumbled and drowned by this wave of progress by doing nothing.

What choice is your government or your organization making?

If you’re not sure how your government or your organization needs to change to adapt to these changing realities, check out my previous article:

What is the Role of Personal Branding in Achieving Innovation Success?

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Narrowing the Widening American Skills Gap

Narrowing the Widening American Skills Gap

Employers today are having trouble finding good workers and resent having to train them after the educational system is done with them. The skills gap – the difference between the skills needed on the job and those possessed by the applicants – is plaguing human resource managers and business owners looking to hire productive employees.

But will No Child Left Behind and a steep increase in federal education standards fix the problem or make it worse?

Most people would agree that our education system is no longer up to the task required for maintaining innovation leadership. The battle lines are drawn around exactly how to fix the problem. While China is focused on introducing more creativity into their educational curriculum, many in the United States feel that more Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education is the cure to what ails our innovation standing. The right path to take is not clear and so there are a lot of educational experiments taking place trying to find a better way forward.

But, we are approaching the skills gap in the wrong way. Employers need employees with more skills, not more education, and there is a subtle but important difference between skills and education.

Education comes through study. Skills come through practice.

We have a skills gap because our educational system is too focused on education and doesn’t focus enough on skills development. We need to focus more attention on teaching children that learning is an important and lifelong pursuit, and then teach them how to learn so they can easily acquire whatever skills they need through practice.

In an era in which almost any kind of knowledge work can be outsourced to India, the Philippines or elsewhere, we do our children a disservice if we prepare them for commodity work instead of the insight-driven, innovation-focused, highly-competitive workplace of the future. Our current education system is over-engineered around standardized tests and a single correct answer, and has very little tolerance for considering multiple “right” answers or why the right answer might be wrong.

We’ve re-architected our information technology infrastructure several times over the past few decades, yet our educational architecture remains unchanged. It is time to change the goals and expected outcomes for our entire educational system.

First, we must stop educating children and start educating families to close the gaps in basic academic skills, higher-order thinking skills, and personal qualities that face employers. Second, we need to spend less time memorizing data that can be easily accessed, and instead focus on extracting insights from available information and data.

According to Dr. Jacquelyn Robinson, a community workforce development specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, “Creativity, once a trait avoided by employers, is now prized among employers who are trying to create the empowered, high-performance workforce needed for competitiveness in today’s marketplace.” We too must invest in instilling creativity in our children.

We need to spend more resources towards skill building. We need to transform teachers into tutors, proctors into facilitators, and shepherds into guides that assist students in discovering where their passions lie and help them engage in collaborative, project-based learning that builds the lateral thinking and problem solving skills that will drive today’s innovation economy.

At the same, we need to stop treating children as fungible commodities and instead re-architect our educational system to provide equal measures of general education, skills development, and passion discovery/practice.

So we need to learn more about passion identification and find ways to help children maximize their inherent gifts.

To close the skills gap, we need to stop thinking about how to make the current education system better and instead define what we now need our education system to achieve.

We need to experiment to identify new methods and structures to underpin an innovative education system in this country, and then find ways to scale the most promising solutions.

This article originally appeared on The Atlantic but it’s gone missing

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Innovation Quotes of the Day – May 29, 2012

“If you get people to ‘freely’ talk about innovation, its importance, its impact and can ‘paint’ the future in broad brush strokes, they achieve a growing clarity and enthusiasm and that often missing critical component – a sense of shared identity.”

– Paul Hobcraft

“The United States leads the world in innovation because it has created the perfect storm of a risk tolerant citizenry, where failure is sometimes a badge of honor, and a government that invests in basic research, helps to commercialize it, and for the most part tends to go out of the way from a regulatory standpoint.”

– Braden Kelley

“Organizations love to run the aforementioned innovation processes through the middle of the enterprise which is designed to eliminate variation. Think about your metrics, hurdle rates and stage-gate systems and it becomes clear that these practices are designed to created stability through standards, policies and similar controls. Innovation moves from the outside of the bell curve, where risk and reward are reversed, and moves to middle over time.”

– Jeff DeGraff

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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