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.