America Is Still the No. 1 Innovator

Despite all the headline-grabbing revelations from Asian countries, the U.S. is still the one to beat when it comes to ingenuity and inventiveness on the world stage. Pro or con?

Pro: The U.S. Leads the Pack

Today’s headlines are frightening—unemployment rates have hit national highs, corporations are going belly up, and home foreclosures have reached epic proportions. And now the financial crisis has called into question America’s competitiveness and ability to innovate.

If these doubts are to be believed, business, government, and academia are now more reluctant to embrace the risks and costs associated with bringing new ideas and revolutionary products to market. Innovation, it could be deduced, is not these organizations’ top priority. But according to Paul J.H. Shoemaker, research director at the Mack Center for Technological Innovation, the largest gains in business come from “daring innovations that challenge the paradigm and the organization.” And these are exactly the kinds of challenges the U.S. creates and excels in.

It’s not only established companies that will lead in innovation—it’s U.S. college students burning the midnight oil, grizzled veteran entrepreneurs driving the next new thing, researchers testing theories in their labs, and the most dedicated and prolific minds among us that will exhibit the ingenuity and inventiveness that will keep America relevant.

With Harvard, Stanford, Yale, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Princeton, and a host of other top-ranked universities from coast to coast, America leads the international push for higher education. In fact, according to National Public Radio, there are currently 624,000 foreign students at colleges in the U.S.

Americans are eager students of continuing education as well—at conferences, in thoughtful conversations, and through professional networking. This active education and peer-based collaboration is where America moves beyond the status quo to maintain its influence and solve our current perception problem. Our country’s commitment to education and dedication to fostering brilliance is where we excel as leaders in economic, academic, and cultural issues on the world stage.

Con: American Weakness Is Showing

Innovation and America are synonymous—can-do spirit, melting pot, hybrid vigor, two guys in a garage, streets paved with gold, a person from humble beginnings becomes the richest man in the world, one small step for man, and one global Internet for Mankind.

Well done. But what if Elvis left the building and we were still happily applauding as the echoes faded away? Innovation is an art and a science, yet art and science education in America has become a mere shadow of its former self. Our schooling system is still structured for a farming economy, yet we know there is a direct correlation between the number of school days and scores in reading, science, and math. In other countries children go to school for far more days a year than in the U.S., and it shows.

Look at the enrollment in American science and technology universities in the past decade. There has been an overwhelming increase in the foreign student population. This was a good thing when we melted those students into our pot of gold, but our isolationism after September 11, paired with a dramatic decline in H-1B visas, has forced many of these smart people to leave the U.S. and take those precious brains back home.

Silver lining? We’ve taught the world how to innovate. We’ve franchised our culture, cataloged our ideas, and published our innovation “APIs” (academic performance indexes). But now we innovate ourselves right out of the future and leave our children behind.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek, BusinessWeek.com, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments

Dan

The U.S. is still the most innovative place in the world for one simple reason--quality. There's something to be said for upholding quality guidelines in exchange for less expedient innovation.

For example: American cars might not be the best at the moment, but at least their milk isn't purposely tainted with poisonous chemicals.

DanTe

Yeah, yeah, yeah. American schools are "bad." It's all foreigners. Blah Blah Blah. If American schools are so bad, how come foreigners are clamoring to enlist? If it's all foreigners that made all those inventions, how come it's Americans working in their garage that come up with the next world shattering breakthrough?

"Elvis has left the building"--any other cliches that sound good but actually signifies nothing?

Invention and innovation is not an art. It's science and social support. No other society on this planet at the current time offers a more conducive climate for inventions and innovations than the U.S. Go try innovating something in old Europe. Go ahead. The red tape will whip you into submission. Try to invent something in Asia. Go ahead. The "consensus" opinions will drown you out.

Bolin

It is about momentum.

It is clear that when it comes to innovation, America had some inherent cultural strengths. Poor economic and political choices that it has made in last 10 years (and is continuing to make today) mean that it has already lost the Number 1 position in the "hearts and minds" of people.

Politico-economic winds are also against it. China is the challenger and the world is aligning to the new realities.

LAO

I can't decide. On the one hand, I see American ingenuity at work in many places, for instance, wherever people are serious about conserving energy -- they're not waiting for business or government to provide the means or the motivation. It has a distinctly American feel. On the other hand, the low science, math and engineering enrollment is quite real, and there is not much evidence that anybody is actually taking the problem seriously (other than President Obama, with little visible support from our representatives). The media and business seem sometimes to have conspired (unconsciously?) to convince parents that such careers would be a mistake. Some religious leaders condone disdain for science. Educators have significantly reduced opportunities for budding young American tinkerers and scientists to get a fine education, and business has systematically removed a great many of the proving grounds for young engineers and applied math and science. Is all the attention mere lip service? I appreciate that BusinessWeek keeps revisiting the topic, and hold out considerable hope that the ugly reality of the investment banking dream will help turn the tide.

DanTe

Okay, "Bolin," you spout some more cliches that mean absolutely nothing. But the peons in China seems to like it.

How is China a challenger? What has it invented? What innovations--besides working their own people in slave camps called toy factories?

And how is "the world... aligning to the new realities"? Is the yuan a global reserve currency? Is the rest of the world catching the flu when China's economy catches a cold? Nope. China still parasitically depends on the U.S. for income.

Sean

I think at the end, the U.S. is still the place for high-tech innovation alongside with Europe. There are some qualities that are mentioned in the responses not found simultaneously in Asian countries, quality, trust, democratic government, clear legal process, and a culture for innovation. A good example is medical devices. Would you buy a pacemaker from the U.S. or a really cheap one from China? The choice is clear.

Scientists are just that, scientists. They know science, but they need a support group around them for the financial, managerial, HR, venture capital, start-up advice, all these things are not readily available in other countries. Whereas the U.S. (not even Europe for the most part) have these in place.

I think immigration and work-visa laws are kicking out people with high skills. Big corporations are misusing their quotas. One suggestion would be to add/give quotas to start-ups, small companies--these are the ones that really need a niche, specialized expertise that only a few in the world can truly provide. There will be no competition with domestic U.S. workforce in this case.

Nick

BusinessWeek should stop hyping these so-called Third World superpowers like China and India.

Grady

We innovate, but we have to have rewards for innovation. US innovation needs to be protected. China cheats on our innovation, then says it is unable to stop the actions of its citizens. China cheats on our innovation then says it's okay because China is a "developing nation." We have to have free trade, aka NAFTA, and invite all comers who sign. We need to protect our innovation via NAFTA and invite all comers who will respect the law. We need to tell all others that we will innovate/trade with them when we are on equal trade/intellectual property footing.

Writer Mick McManus Responds

I'm pretty sure I didn't claim American Universities were bad. In fact I agree that people around the world are clamoring to get into them. My claim is that we're not investing much in our children before they get to college. We don't value teachers. We haven't really valued science or art (and while it sounds nice to say its not partly art its all science and social support, art teaches us how to make things in a very early age, art teaches us that we are not just passive observers but can actually change the world by making something). Take a moment to read about Bill Strickland and his work with the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild to find out how much of a "gateway drug" art can be to help kids find success in later life before you dismiss art as valuable to innovation.

Instead of celebrating the arts and sciences we are becoming a nation of short attention spans, seduced by a pop culture, where 24-hour “news” shows bombard us with Anna Nicole Smith rather than helping us reason through thoughtful issues or learn how to build a better world. In fact we’ve lost the hunger for innovation, instead the next generation of Americans is learning that their best bet for success is American Idol rather than American innovation.

Aha, you say, but our people are special and there is no social network in the world that can compare! Here is the dirty little secret: People are smart, clever, inventive, and the masters of invention. But not just American people — all people. And social networks used to be formed and supported by physical communities and shared borders but that just isn't the case anymore.

We’ve had an amazing run of innovation, not just because of our people, but because we were hungry and our culture, institutions, AND people connected well into something that was incredibly catalytic.

I'm not claiming its too late, just that we shouldn't believe that tomorrow will be just like yesterday, especially given our success in teaching the world how to sing (aha, got another cliche in there to boot!)

Peter Pan

@DanTe
Because your media and schools learn well from Nazi's propaganda machine. Do a search of best universities, and you will find out that the Germans and French are on the 40's places. I wonder who makes Airbus, Mercedes, BMW, Siemens Medical equipment, etc. I guess those incredibly stupid Europeans with their mediocre universities. I'll not even mention the Russians and the Japanese. That is why Boeing employs the stupid Russians to do their wing calcs.

Dean

I think we have got lazy when it comes to Innovation. I think we need to get back to the days of Thomas Edison and drive the development of invention factories. Edison was listed as one of the top 5 entrepreneurs of all time. He had 1,098 patents, started 100 companies, invented 3 major industries, and his inventions still account for 15% of the GDP of the USA. He had open source innovation--meaning at his invention factory in West Orange, anyone could come and try to invent and come up with stuff. He backed that with a good financier and drove amazing innovation. His principles. Stop innovating and start playing and having fun. America is far too serious when it comes to innovation and they try to box it into some sort of academic process. Edison had a grade 9 education and his process for innovation was almost chaotic. I am not a believer is trying to box it up but rather be chaotic, crazy, have fun. Chetain Maini, one of our members of our organization, came up with the design for the electric car when he played with his son's remote control car and had fun.

My answer: have fun, relax. And America, don't be so up tight.

You probably need a big Wedgydojo.

Dean
Great White North of Canada

CompEng

There's a perception that math and engineering aren't cool and don't pay. What's more, they're hard, because you're competing against the brightest 1% from all over the world, whereas in the local service sector, that's not true. And the demand for MBAs (in terms of number of jobs available) is really a lot higher.

So the bias against math, science, and engineering (by students going into college) is just capitalism in action.

jerry O

Ring tones--we're the leader in ring tones.

Murphy - Sexual Techniques For Men

I think America's innovative and entrepreneurial society is something to be applauded. Probably the most popular business show around the world is Dragons Den. It's become extremely popular in Eastern European countries because they are only just learning about capitalism and entrepreneurial. Interestingly, the show isn't popular in America, I believe because those ideas are so embedded in the population that there no longer a new and exciting thing. They're just obvious, which is awesome.

Pranav

The answer is simple--just look at any of the top American universities and count the number of foreign students. If America can retain them, the innovation the U.S. has prided itself in will carry on. If most of them leave the country after graduation, the innovation will wane and finally stop.

P. Doff

America has historically been very strong in innovation--much stronger over the last 250 years than either China or India over the last 2000 (sad, but true). In fact both China and India have a hard time just competing with Menlo Park, NJ during a couple of decades in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

However, this status is changing and becoming more and more tenuous. Why?

For starters, the U.S. has one of the world's most open educational systems at all levels. From grade school through college the U.S. accommodates millions of illegal aliens and recent immigrants. It is foolish to believe that massive quantities of ESL students at these levels do not present great challenges to maintaining minimum standards or educational quality, it is foolish to believe that their presence does not significantly impact educational outcomes for other students, and it is foolish to believe that their presence does not entail significant costs borne by the entire nation. Everyone pays, and there are investments in enhancing education quality that cannot be made as a result.

It is also one of the world's most open educational systems by numbers at post-secondary levels. This has created numerous problems including but not limited to--politically-directed educational outcomes and reporting, economically-directed outcomes and reporting, inequities in applying academic rules and regulations, inequities in applying laws, hiring directed by national origin considerations, ethnic clustering of students, rising educational costs, and misuse of educational institutions as immigration channels.

What has this resulted in? We have engineering and business graduate programs where cheating and plagiarism are endemic, in no small part perpetrated by international students who constitute a "protected class." It's been argued, for example, that attitudes towards intellectually honesty are culturally defined and therefore excusable on "cultural practice" grounds. This is already an out-of-control problem with devastating implications for U.S. competitiveness in STEM fields--threatening to put U.S. research competitiveness on the same level as China or India, where scientific plagiarism is frequently reported as endemic.

Frequently the university deigns not to prosecute such students for political and economic reasons. Worse still, we have engineering, business and science departments where the quality of teaching is adversely affected because of the lecturers' unfamiliarity with the language of instruction. According to a recent study, about 06% of graduate international students in the U.S. have the requisite language skills to conduct original research--which begs the question of how the other 94% are getting by.

Third, there is an unholy convergence of institutional, national, and business interests at work in damning the American student. For example, Americans have been subjected for over 50 years to bureaucracy-bloating propaganda pieces about how "Johnny Can't Read"--"Johnny Doesn't Like Math"--articles describing 'crises' designed to get tax dollars flowing to support the toppling edifice of public education bureaucracy. What's alarming is after 50 years the same universally damning arguments are being made without reference to the widely varying outcomes actually being achieved by individual students. They are all tarred with the same brush regardless of intelligence, application, work ethic, or performance--and this is true at the college, graduate, and employment levels. Certain government bodies, such as the NSF, are at fault, as is the U.S. media. This plays well to the educational institutions, concerned both about international prestige and international markets--it plays well to big business, desirous of expanding supplies of cheap labor and increasing foreign market access--it plays well to government seeking to shore up geopolitical interests through expanding concessions or perhaps trying to engage in some "social engineering"--which the NSF overtly tried in the early 1990s in order to reduce STEM field salaries.

Fourth, U.S. institutional attitudes toward national security, IP protection, and even foreign subversion are about as effective (and porous) as Swiss cheese. On the innovation end, both China and Russia have been active in compromising U.S. utility networks, Indian H-1Bs have recently been caught trying to sabotage U.S. financial institutions and steal valuable IP, and China's been active in the theft of U.S. military technology. Obama's pick for national CIO (a new administration post--the person who will direct national IT infrastructure investment) was affiliated with a company operated by foreign nationals that routinely used bribery to get Washington contracts. America's STEM establishment is therefore pretty much an open sieve even at the highest levels--and an open sieve cannot retain competitive advantage. China and India realize this.

As to what should be done to rectify this appalling state of affairs, here's a short list--
1) Reduce H-1B and L-1 visa numbers or abolish the programs altogether. There is significant evidence indicating that they have outlived their nominal utility.
2) Reduce eligibility and length of F-1 visas across the board.
3) Reduce international student numbers from India and China.
4) Reform U.S. engineering and business graduate programs by instituting thorough reviews of student work, and preventing exam re-use. Faculty hires should be vetted carefully for English language skills and over prior research. Reduce university reliance on international student TAs and RAs. Reduce or abolish "group" assignments that have the potential to exclude on the basis of ethnicity and/or nationality--or obfuscate academic dishonesty. Restrict or abolish websites that contribute to academic dishonesty.
5) Restrict H-1B and L-1 hiring in areas -security or otherwise--where significant national interests are at stake.
6) Reduce tax advantages for companies that offshore outsource. Under no circumstances should bailout funds be used for institutions that will use them for offshore outsourcing--as this is tantamount to subsidizing the practice.
7) Encourage local hiring and hiring of recent graduates. You can't have experienced workers if you never hire them to begin with. You can't develop informed employees if they haven't got the money or economic stability to fund their educations.
8) Reduce the stigma associated with redundancies and work at reclaiming human resources. It makes no sense that there's so much moaning over Americans not taking up STEM careers when a Nobel-level American researcher winds up working as a shuttle driver because of lack of relevant employment opportunities.

Henry L.

Yes, Dan, our milk is not tainted but our peanut butter of highest quality. I have some stored from six months ago. I would like to give it to you.

Eugen

I think most of Pro arguments are written by Americans. I am from Moldova (not a member of the EU, but on the European continent), and I try to find what I know about American industry: the country with the highest rates of pollution, youngsters who consume drugs, and GM, which risked bankruptcy. Maybe in Europe some innovations are stopped, but only because they think about the future and can't allow environmental pollution. Unfortunately, I don't have anything that is made in the USA. Maybe some time ago it was the leader in innovations, but not now.

zgreen

America is the best place for innovation in the entire world. And Americans are very innovative. All the people are literate and value new ideas. They don't have the financial constraints people in other countries have if they spend their time with research. It is well funded and well paid here because of the billion dollar corporations. It is an unquestionable fact that every major innovation in the 20th century and the 21st century has happened in the United States.

Then why should anybody even ask such a question? I am not American, but I find it amusing when Americans doubt their innovative skills. They shouldn't even be comparing with these eastern countries, at least for another 100 years. Americans are way ahead of the finish line. What a wonderful country and what people and what government and infrastructure. So ammazing I don't even have words to express..

Russell Haney

Some very interesting and good comments, but it seems everyone is forgetting the real reason innovations become reality: consumerism. No invention has ever succeeded without someone wanting to purchase or use it. History is replete with good inventions that became good trash because no one wanted to use or buy it.

I am happy to see foreign students with great minds go back to their countries. This is how they can make their country more productive and raise their standards of living, which produces consumers. Our education system is overly controlled and managed by special interests and fools who are lazy and think our children should be like them. If our government had its way everyone working at McD's would have a doctorate in the physics of making a hamburger. Education is not the answer to our problems. It is the freedom to dream that makes a society great. In the US we have allowed our government to foster large conglomerates that have stifled and crushed many of the dreams we create. We try to protect the giant Sequoia tree and gasp when it finally collapses. But its death creates new life and in more abundance.

The US needs to come to realize that our politicians are a business also. The product they are selling is their own self interest in getting reelected. Between politicians, newsgroups, and pollsters, the US is the worst place to be in the world. They say this because it is easy to fix a problem that doesn't really exist except in the hype they create and the media.

Yes, I rambled a bit, but then isn't that what creates good ideas?

Robert Laughing

Outside of Japan and a handful of South Korean firms, now reaching global maturity (Samsung, Hyundai, etc), no other Asian country has any world class, name-brand products. The Chinese, on the whole, are superb at manufacturing--bringing down costs to the absolute minimum, while still meeting US, European, or Japanese, and South Korean quality standards. It helps enormously when you have super cheap labor, abundant land, subsidized energy, and usually, Hong Kong or Taiwanese overseers, to ensure quality. Many of the best and brightest from overseas go to US universities, and leverage their skills with US inducements/opportunities lacking back home. One must also acknowledge the velocity at which things happen in Silicon Valley or Boston or Greater D.C.--the environment, is highly conducive and self-generating, like a technological typhoon. Too bad we have such a corrupt Congress that encourages enormous waste (shaking the money tree)--thinking of our conflicted cell phone standards vs. that of EU and Asia. And, if you take in the costs of war-mongering, the costs greatly outweigh the benefits, but that is another story.

euspram

I was born in India, came to the US for higher education, and then worked for a Telecom Company in the US for 14 years. After 14 years, due to some personal family reasons, I had to return to India. I worked with the same Telecom Company in India. Having experienced both sides of the world, I must say the inefficiencies are very deep rooted and are intrinsic in nature in India. It will take a long time, probably another generation to fix these inefficiencies before India can even come close to the efficient ways of working and really bring the productivity anywhere close to what I saw and experienced in the US. Without these efficiencies, the innovation in India has a long way to go to match up with that in the US.

zgreen

I agree, euspram. It will take a few more generations to reach that level of sophistication and dedication.

David Bishop // Innovation Needs Competition

It's interesting how this debate has started with education and veered a bit toward protectionism and discussions of efficiency. Innovation isn't about productivity. Even Mick, who took the "Con" position, will probably agree that the point should be about the kind of innovation in the Shoemaker quote: "the largest gains in business come from daring innovations that challenge the paradigm." That is the kind of innovation we should be discussing.

Has America innovated recently? Sure, we're the only ones with a reusable spacecraft (although not for much longer). The DARPA Grand Challenge, and later the Urban Challeng created some awesome autonomous vehicles. The X Prize gave us Rutan's SpaceShipOne (okay, Branson, a Brit, was in on it too). Now there's the Automotive X Prize, with teams hunting for a 100MPG car. Of 111 teams, 80% are from the USA.

I say part of the key to innovation (in addition to education) is competition. We need more stuff like the X Prize, and it should be extended to students, like the Eggs Prize was, and geared toward learning problem-solving techniques in the way the Odyssey of the Mind competition is structured.

Ok, I'm all excited now--somebody send me a ticket to the i2i Conference at the UN in June!

rrrrright

From many of the comments here, the real question should be: Why are Americans narcissistic enough to believe that they're necessarily #1 at innovation? Most of you guys haven't been outside of the U.S., learned a language other than an often-garbled version of English, and think of everyone else as wearing loin clothes and desperately wishing to own SUVs and live in oversized exurban mansions.

GS

I am an Indian by birth. As any citizen of any country, I am proud of born in India.
However, I disagree what Pranav says. I read statistical articles that prove the US as one of the very few countries that has a balanced share of students who pursue all subjects as their career. For example, compare the life of an average hair stylist "barber" here to India. India is nowhere near to US. Nothing to blame.

Due to population and an irrational way of handling population, scarcity of money and competition gets there, and due to that.. "Hey, you get more money if you know computers.” Then. every other guy and girl are blindly forced to jump into learning computers for survival. I personally know, a few bank managers and officers resigned their job to get trained on computers to get more money. As I was in education department, in our college, we had 4 sections of fully loaded students in computer science when compared to only one section of not fully loaded biochemistry department. I can keep talking like this. This is just a shame and a panic response. On the contrary in US, a young student is blessed by God to choose their own career and country has always something to offer them back no matter what they choose to be.

In India, due to bad handling of education and corrupted law enforcement, students beg/die to come here for an alternate/better education. Again not to blame anyone. This is just the nature of it.

I totally disagree with thoughts like: "If no one else comes from outside.. US is going to fall." This is just a comment made without even a shallow thought.

The US is comparatively a newborn country with novel ideas and opportunities. People from other countries come here to lead a life (in terms of lifestyle, education, quality, friends, etc.) different from a life in their country.

The US represents the world because a piece of almost whole world is here. The US is a joint venture to build a good model for the world. The challenges to this venture we face in the US is negligible compared to the challenges other countries face in order to get to a better level.

People from other countries inevitably choose to be part of this venture.
I am happy to see some good changes in India too (like young educated people entering politics).

P. Doff

@ "rrrrright"--
On innovation, it's not a question of narcissism--it's a question of historical accuracy. Your characterizations of Americans are not only untrue, they're insulting.

Emma Lo Russo

Interesting this debate has a certain degree of fixation on “western innovation.” That somehow it is “more innovative” than other regions’ innovation, especially innovation emanating from “the east.”

Yet the recent data (much of it factually from the US) tells a different story: Innovation is shifting. By any measure, China, India, and other countries are investing more in R&D, are exporting more high-technology goods, and are selling more to internal markets. Most significantly, they seem more enthusiastic about accelerating these effects, and moving into new areas.

Here are some examples from my desktop. According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, in its report called The Atlantic Century: Benchmarking EU and US Innovation and Competitiveness, China has changed its innovation ranking score by 19.5 over the past 10 years (the highest margin) and tops the ITIF’s table for change, while the US has changed its score by 2.7, and is at bottom.

Elsewhere, the WTO reports that China’s electronic exports grew 173 times in the 17 years to 2007. The US grew four times. The proportion of total exports from hi-tech goods also grew in China. The US, albeit with a much larger proportion, halved.

OECD countries awarded 6.7 million degrees in 2004. China awarded 2.1 million--one-third of all the OECD countries combined. And again, according to the OECD, China was only 15th on the world patents list in 2005, but grew patents by 35% that year. The US grew by 3%

So the argument is not that innovation is region-specific, but instead that acknowledgement is required that the world and innovation leadership is changing. Where design is created, what designs are being done, who it is done by, how it is done, even where designs are being manufactured, is all under a massive period of change.

It’s re-skilling over and over again, combined with innovation, that should set the agenda for future success, rather than dwelling on past and potentially fading glories.

This is what is happening in countries such as China. China is no longer about so-called cheap labor. Nations such as China, in many cases under national policies, are investing in innovation and re-skilling en masse. In electronics design, the industry in which Altium operates, the appetite for technical training and new development software runs unabated. Altium, as one example, is growing sales in China three times faster than other regions. And the desire is stronger about looking to the future rather then in rationalizing past decisions or investment. Whilst it is easy to argue that there is nothing to rationalize if payment of the tools they were using was not there in the first place, we should look to see how liberating that can be when it comes to evaluating what is required to lead and the willingness to leapfrog yesterday’s design paradigms. When I visit and meet with customers, universities, and partners in China, the desire to be ahead of the rest of the world, along with considerable self-belief, and commitment to investing in world-leading tools and practices are obvious.

Our future, as individuals, as companies and as nations, is in our own hands. Governments should focus on investments for companies that focus on technology innovation and in re-skilling people and organizations over and over again. Individuals should clamor for these new skills, preferably building on those they have already.

Let’s not hide from the challenge and the opportunity to do things differently. We will continue to seek great new products that are connected and smart. Someone, somewhere, will make the products we want to use or own, and at a price that we are prepared to pay, and for the quality we expect for that price. These are all “ands,” rather than choices to trade off, and in truth become the price of entry if you want to compete.

As to who will lead in various sectors, it will be down to us as individuals, and us as individual companies. The US has had a history of leading the world in innovation and electronic products, to assume it’s always going to be that way without changing its view of the world, what will be required, where competitors will be, and where the markets will be, will be required. Focusing on what makes us special requires real discipline of approach around true differentiation, being first to market, being cheapest, having historical leadership--none of these will do and thinking so will be a big mistake.

Innovation is the only means for sustainable differentiation.

F.A. Hutchison

I've lived in China for three years now, and it's interesting.
Asians/Chinese are very good at copying, but not at innovating.

Why?

It has to do with freedom of thought, having the freedom to fail.
Asian countries have been oppressed for so long, they've lost the ability to think creatively.

And China, pre-16th century, one of the great innovators in history: Everything from the compass, rudder, paper, printing, gun power, the gun, porcelain, etc. But, in the last four hundred years, not much.

Yes, you have to have a free and open society to develop innovators.

Jack

Many business tycoons in the USA are from Israel or Europe or Asia (origin). This country was built with migrated people, and today many say that they are the original Americans--is it so? As per my knowledge, this country builds with migrants and slaves.

The USA has 300 years of revolution in culture and technology. The good thing for the USA is that she got a good political system, which took many years to build and make stable. Less corruption in the legal system (still it is there in the top level) made life easy in the USA.

The sad side is that most of the American schools kids and youth are addicted to drugs and premarital relationships. They were not aware of the family and its values. But now US citizens have realized and things are changing. How did this happen? They learned it from Asian and Latin Americans families. People who migrated from Asian counties and Latin America are leading good family and professional lives than so-called Americans. People started to hate "old-age homes" that is good.

China and India are still developing; it will take 200 years for China to be compared with the USA. For the case of India, it will take another 1,000 years as it has the world's most polluted political system.

Bright Indian and Chinese youth are trying to get an opportunity to come to the USA. Why? Because they know that you can grow where they have high challenges and opportunity. The USA is the world's most competitive and innovative country (till today). If American are failing, then it is not because of people migrating from other countries; it because they are losing in the race.
Thank God. This country got a better president (Obama) after 10 years, who has better commonsense and understanding of family relationships.

Solange

You said America should retain those bright foreign students. But there is no need to do that--they want to stay there by any means.

Yet America leads and will lead in innovations.

Robin P

As many have stated before, the greatness of innovation in the U.S. has been its openness and consumerism. American law, culture, and environment has given people from all over the world a ray of hope where they dream they can achieve success. Those bright people come to this country and try their best, thus giving American innovation a great push; not that all innovators are foreign-born but a big percentage is.

Talk with most kids in American schools now and their aspirations to be successful is to be stars of some sport or a showbiz celebrity (as in the American idol example), others want to make money by studying law and becoming famous lawyers or study medicine to have a great salary as physicians not because they love the profession. Science? Engineering? Nope. That is the sad reality here. The gap in science and engineering careers are happily filled mostly by students from Eastern Europe and Asia.

P.Doff --
Your views of ilegals damaging the U.S. education system is also untrue and insulting--as a matter of fact, schools with the most input from foreigners are better suited for innovation and competitiveness compared with regions with homogenous population. Fresh ideas/minds spur innovation.

Yes, America will lead in innovation--as long as it does not close its doors to people from around the world coming here and giving it a try, they will be thankful--and the U.S. as well.

one apple

First of all to P.Doff --
Your views of illegals damaging the U.S. education system is very insulting. As an international student myself and H-1B at present, I have seen far more diligent, smart, and well all-around international students than the ones you described in your reply.

I don't see Americans continue to be the No.1 in innovation. There are a few reasons that I can think of for now.

1. From my experience working in an engineering firm here, American are really caught up in all the bureaucracy and love for organizing and order in the corporate world, things are done not in very creative and efficient way.

2. What perplex me still is that American are obsessed with following instructions and not taking initiative and think out of the box. Everything has to be organized, sorted, everything has to have a statistics to support. Just one example: cooking receipt, everything has an exact amount, no impromptu like we Chinese do with our food, we actually have fun cooking and it’s time family gather around, joke and laugh not just sitting in front of a TV, most Chinese restaurant has to come up with new dishes like every week to compete with others which American restaurant all around the countries have pretty much the same thing,not the most exciting food experience.

3. American thinks they are the best in the world sometimes it's true but sometimes it's just arrogant. Most of them don’t care what is going on in the world or made to not care, which reflects in lack of media coverage in the world news except of course something bad happened in China, India etc, lake of foreign language skills, and a lot of people like P.Doff has xenophobia, distains foreigners like me, or even look down upon foreigners. Giving an example, in the field that I am working in- Landscape Architecture, there are a lot of great examples of European cities innovatively design their cities, their energy system, stormwater management systems. When I raise the possibility of studying those European cases to use in a very similar setting here in U.S, my boss told me no it’s a European thing, American won’t buy it.

While in China you can see how much interest we have as a nation in foreign affairs, events, technologies, ideas. We are excited to learn from other countires. Every newsstands you go, you can see magazines, newspaper have the headlines of foreign affairs.

I think American might still has the top talents in the world, but the rest of American are lagging behind not just in the field of science but the quest to learn to innovate in general. Lots of my friends and including me are returning and returned back home. We love U.S but there are more opportunities at home.

Khaled

Agree. Especially since innovation has two parts: the invention and the ability to turn the invention into successful products or services.

P. Doff

"Robin P." claimed "Your views of ilegals (sic) damaging the U.S. education system is also untrue and insulting," as did "one apple," using very similar language. Both generalize on this to include either "foreigners" or "international students" generally. I take issue with both claims of "untrue" and "insulting."

That part of my comment specifically deals with the added systemic strains and costs imposed by large numbers of kindergarten-through-college-age illegal immigrants and the offspring of illegal immigrants requiring ESL education. Estimates of these two groups are as high as three million--or roughly 1% of the U.S. population. Both the number of students and their ESL education requirements are costly. They take resources away from (other) desirable educational improvements, and focus institutional resources (time, people, and money) on issues of basic communication.

This article from the News & Observer in North Carolina details some of North Carolina's school districts' experiences with ESL costs. Many of these districts are spending millions on ESL alone:
http://www.newsobserver.com/1155/story/412207.html

Furthermore, where basic communication is an issue, very little else can be taught. Don't believe that this could be true? Here's a quote from "As ESL Students Lag Behind, Rhode Island Cities Look to Fine-Tune Instruction," Providence Journal, 01/07/2009:

"According to a national study by Education Week, an education policy magazine, only 13.8 percent of English language learners in Rhode Island scored proficient on a state math test compared with more than 50 percent of all students statewide. In reading, 11.3 percent of English language learners are proficient versus slightly more than 60 percent of all students statewide.

"Nationally, only 9.6 percent of ESL fourth- and eighth-graders scored proficient or higher in math on a nationwide test and 5.6 percent scored proficient in English. Across the United States, 25 percent of all English language learners are failing to make progress toward English-language proficiency."

Keep in mind also, these are states at the far end of the migration--not the border states hardest hit by the illegal immigrant influx!

Untrue? Well, it would appear that both local press and public school districts happen to agree with me on this. As for "insulting," that's an epithet better reserved for both Robin P's comments on "American kids" and "one apple's" laundry list of stereotyped dislikes.

Damien Duhamel

To paraphrase Gary Hamel: Innovation is about romance, not about rational. The US may not breed the best schools and best students, but that is nearly irrelevant. Innovation is not about brain power. R&D has already been outsourced.

The US ecosystem still produces some of the most passionate, creative, and initiative driven staff. That ecosystem is hard to replicate. As long as the other countries are playing me-too catch up, the US will still strive in innovation.

Ryan

You're right to point out that there are many foreign students studying in the US--a sign of our special status as a hub of innovation. But this is changing as policymakers yield to nativist sentiment.

P. Doff

On the contrary, Damien, US schools and US students are represented among the best in the world. To claim otherwise flies in the face of the available evidence.

Mark

Two factors I see undermining US innovation leadership are as follows:

First, is the quarter-to-quarter mindset that continues to pervade executive thinking and action. This is an indirect result of the casino mentality of our financial markets, but nevertheless, it is very counterproductive and forces many companies into "buy" vs. "make" due to the accounting disadvantages of internal innovation investments.

Second, and below radar, is the growing number of foreign-born executives in US companies who are demonstrating stronger loyalty to their nation of birth than to their nation of opportunity, and are outsourcing, offshoring, and otherwise handing off American opportunity and dollars to their native country. This is becoming quite problematic, and no one seems to want to confront/admit it.

Jose Ernesto Passos

First I have to say that Mrs. Emma Lo Russo's are the best comments I read.

My way of thinking is America is part of mankind, great. If America wants to keep leading, it is important to look at what is happening with a rational approach and not just with emotional and patriotic ideas.

If one wants to look at innovation today, we can find it everywhere, in every nation. The fact that America cannot keep its auto industry competitive is proof of loss of leadership in a key area; the fact that America is losing its electronics industry to Asian countries is also a proof of that.

What are the areas where we find America leading in innovation today? Are they enough to keep America's advantage?

For Americans, I think it is time to go back to the drawing board and start competing or it is not only GM and Chrysler that will be lost.

jw

After 15 years of electrical engineering, I find it amusing now that the 'big' corporations have put in place clueless MBAs to run engineering departments that now tell us innovators such dumb things as: "We don't have time for any science projects."

Get the American MBAs out of your company, take their salary and give the engineers a good raise, and watch innovation pick up dramatically.

shangapple

America is running low on innovation. America is facing an innovation crisis. To fix it, corporations need to find new ways of funding fundamental research into physics and environmental sciences. The fundamental nature of global competitiveness has changed. The U.S. is losing ground internationally on multiple technological fronts. Americans need to recognize this and act to correct it.

Pat

Innovation attributable to what?

Choosing a national identity from a melting pot is like trying to catch fish in a barrel with tweezers.

Ankit N.K. Sharma (nuvaite)

From my point of view, Americans were the innovator first, but today many countries are showing innovative power. Among such, India is the one able to compete with them. India colleges like Nuva teach engineering students to enhance their caliber of innovation by organising many programms. So America is low in innovation today. Because today they only think about sex.

Kathy

@ Ankit
It's funny how you insult Americans, [saying] that they only think about sex. As a women who has worked in U.S and India, I can completely tell you who is only thinking about sex. It those men who have no guts to come out and ask a woman out but instead leer and shout comments at them and insult them. So please don't bother saying that America is low in innovation because we are always thinking of sex.

sarv

In one word...

America - A Leader
Europe - Creator
India - Follower
China - Opposition
Others - Supporters

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