Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Innovation isn't dead, but it is struggling

From the New York Times:
The report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found that the United States ranked sixth among 40 countries and regions, based on 16 indicators of innovation and competitiveness. They included venture capital investment, scientific researchers, spending on research and educational achievement.

But the American economy placed last in terms of progress made over the last decade. “The trend is very troubling,” said Robert D. Atkinson, president of the foundation.

This is troublesome news, but not unexpected. If you look around in society, so much focus is put on sports and other extra-curriculars like arts, music and "culteral diversity" that very little time/effort is left for activities like math and science. (BTW, I haven't seen any cries to put caps on the salaries of athletes and movie stars....hmmmm...) History is reduced to names and dates and "feel good" sound clips. Little mention is made of the struggles, the time frames, the sheer hard work, perseverance and faith in God and in themselves that it took to accomplish these goals.

I want to celebrate the achievements of great scientists. Let's have a Da Vinci, an Einstein or a Feynman day. Let's inundate the schools with stories of the glory days of the space program, when men wielding slide rules put a man on the moon. What stunning achievements wait for us with the tools we have available today?

My husband has been learning about the Six Sigma management style. The basic framework is great for streamlining business processes, but companies have found that too much perfection actually reduces innovation. How's that for irony? His first thought was that you need to change the framework to actually allow for "innovation time". Sure enough, upon further research, he found a few companies moving in exactly that direction (generally not in the US, I'm sorry to say). I am hoping that he and others like him have opportunities in the coming years to put these ideas into practice and revive American innovation. Maybe this economic downturn is the motivation that's needed for business to take a hard look at the status quo and start moving in a better direction. Maybe...

I can dream, can't I?

1 comment:

  1. the problem (imo) with society today is that we are largely driven by the entertainment industry. With technology also came more entertainment choices. Free time is now a commodity that companies market to at unprecedented levels.

    There isn't and will probably not be any salary caps on entertainment careers, professional athletes movie stars, etc, at least not until "we" stop catering to them.