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President Bush, Davos and Design

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on February 2, 2006

One of the ideas repeated often at the World Economic Forum in Davos was that invention is not innovation. Someone needs to tell that to President Bush and his advisors because virtually all the initiatives coming out of the White House recently to boost America’s competitiveness focus on spending more on science, math and technology. Don’t get me wrong, we should be spending oodles more on science and math just to bring our children up to global par. But the future of the US will not depend solely on competing with Indian, Chinese and Russian engineeers and scientists. It will depend on the innovation of new ideas and processes wherever they are generated.

We are already outsourcing tons of knowledge work to Asia. Labs are already doing good invention around the world. But those companies who are succeeding are using open-source innovation to gather up all the smart stuff around the world and apply it to solving user-centric needs. The head of Infosys, Nandan Nilekani, said it beautifully in a Q&A with me when he described the critical element of innovation as “customer intimacy” and “anticipating client needs.” To him “the rest can be outsourced.”

So yes, let’s spend more on educating our kids to be math and science-literate. But let’s start spending some of those billions on design thinking and strategy, revising the B-school curriculae to emphasize creation not administration, and teaching people the basics of design and innovation.

Reader Comments

Martin Ashcroft

February 3, 2006 3:45 AM

Innovating innovation is indeed the right point, as I learned in Extreme Competition, a new book by Peter Fingar. It's not "the invention" that counts, it's process innovation, organizational innovation... all centered around the customer.

Jack Yan

February 4, 2006 11:28 AM

Well said, Bruce. Even teaching children to listen to their gut instincts, or not letting go of ideas which adults might brand as “wild”, are good moves. Innovation is part process and part inspiration—and the latter is what will give us a new set of core competences.

Pete Zievers

February 4, 2006 3:15 PM


The B-school comment is a crucial one, not just for our productive capacity in general, but maybe for the B-schools themselves. Administration and financial management will always be necessary, but I wonder if the wave of restructuring that paid for a lot of B-school student loans over the last 25 years has played out. I'd suggest that it's again time for a greater emphasis on building brand value through product development as opposed to improving bottom line with back office machinations. If the B-schools want to be the place where tomorrows business leaders train today, these things would indeed suggest a shift in the ethos of B-school as it is now.

Pete Zievers

John Arnott

February 6, 2006 9:51 PM

Bruce, long time no see.
Research from Statistics Canada and from the OECD shows that only 6% of new businesses use a new technology. Another 6% use some technology. 88% use no technology; they are marketing or distribution plays, all the way to Mom & Pops. This is the fertile ground of design.
No, we should not argue for a reduction of R&D, but we might be more prudent about how we place it.

John Arnott. IDSA, DMI

Toronto, Canada

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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