Innovation is Portable – Let’s Keep Good Ideas Here

The President’s recent announcement about deporting undocumented immigrants who have been here five years, are in school or served in the military, and do not have major criminal record, could be called a political maneuver, but the motivation to help our country is on the mark. That is why the substance is supported by more Americans than not and why Mitt Romney has a hard time responding directly to the issue. As an aside, I am frustrated that our partisan politics has hindered everyone’s ability to govern collectively and I am not a fan that the President feels obligated to do an end run. Even though I support this specific mission, I am troubled about continued precedent that his and previous administrations have exercised. I don’t want the Executive branch not working with Congress and vice-versa. But, Congress needs to step up and start doing their job and cease this partisan gamesmanship.

Yet, I digress. I want to focus more on the concept of education and innovation., which is where we need to spend time, energy and effort for our country to return to a growth orientation. In the book that I have cited before, “That Used to be Us – How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How It Can Come Back” by Friedman and Mandelbaum, education and innovation are two of the keys to what made us successful and how other countries have stolen our playbook. Depending on what study you read, America has fallen in the ranks of math and science education to 23rd and 27th in the world. The rankings may vary a little by source, but our competitive position is near the above positioning. The US cannot remain competitive when countries like South Korea, China, India, Singapore are eating our lunch on education.

The related issue is innovation. The book notes innovation is portable. So, if the innovative thought process is created in one place, it can more easily be moved these days depending on where capital can be gleaned to develop and execute the idea. America has a history of idea spawning that could be funded, developed and executed here. Back in the 1980’s, American businesses began outsourcing the manufacturing to other countries as it was far cheaper. Before he died, Steve Jobs made the comment it did not make sense  to manufacture in America. Yet, now the idea creation is occurring everywhere, so the growth engine is flourishing in other countries. There are more physicists, engineers, etc. in other countries than there are here.

Their book points to three issues that would go hand-in-hand with the improvements to education. First, we need a free flow of credit and capital here in the US. Ideas need to be funded. They point out the beauty of mixing well-timed venture capital with government and other capital. The venture capital can get the idea off the table, but the targeted government capital can help bring it to development here. Venture capital is well named. Not all ventures will be successful, so there is a role for them to play as well as other investors included the government. Our country also has a history of significant public, private partnerships. Second, we need to have better patent laws. I think Congress and the President made strides last year, but we need to assure innovators that their inventions are safer here. Third, we need to have some manufacturing here. Process and product improvements have a tendency to occur by those closest to the action. It is noted that the closer some of the innovative manufacturing is to the innovators or leaders, the better chance for these ideas from the manufacturing floor to be heard and implemented. In other words, the innovators can walk the factory floor and see what is working and what is not.

So, how does all of this relate to education and the President’s decision on not deporting undocumented students? Innovation can occur from any source, but it also will occur on the various intersects within education. What I mean by that is people with diverse backgrounds, experiences and interests, will look at problems in a different, more holistic way. As more people intersect, the idea creation is heightened. Steve Jobs noted the classes he took by choice on calligraphy were most helpful in creating a mission of elegance with his computers both inside and outside the machine. We need to provide more avenues for students and adults to become better educated and intersect. One of the Intel Science winners last year was a homeless Hispanic American, e.g.  If this avenue had not been present, we would have lost this innovative young person to the streets or deportation.

By offering the opportunities for education to more Americans, documented or undocumented, we are securing a better future not only for the kids, but for our country. Truth be told, the vast majority of people living in America are spawned from immigrants. We need to pass some version of the Dream Act to provide a path to citizenship for kids who want an education. The President’s temporary executive action will aid this cause. Last year, a North Carolina minister was interviewed on a film about helping homeless families and kids. In addition to the right thing to do, he said something that applies to the undocumented student issue as well. We cannot fathom the untapped intellectual capital that might exist in these kids; we need to give them a chance to succeed.

We need to provide educational opportunities to all kids here. We need to make sure they are getting a good education by investing in the system and rewarding teachers and giving them the freedom to teach. And, we need to make college an affordable option for all. If we grease the skids and permit an environment of education to flourish, good things will happen. Yet, it needs to go beyond that as noted above. As the ideas are spawned, we need to let them take root here. We need to provide the easier flow of credit and capital to create, develop and execute the ideas. If we don’t do the latter, the innovator can still take his/ her ideas elsewhere.

Let me close with a story from Friedman and Mandelbaum’s book to illustrate this point. A company in Brazil needed capital to execute an idea. They looked for money from China, India, Dubai and South Korea. They did not even bother with the US. We have to make it easier to invest or lend to businesses and innovators here or they can and will go elsewhere.  And, if the idea is created elsewhere, more than likely the developmental manufacturing and organization supporting the innovation will be created there, too.

The US needs to be all about education and innovation. We have an advantage over other countries if we do the above. We have a freer society that gives opportunity to all economic strata and ethnic groups and both genders. If we promote an environment of education and value and reward innovation, our ability to leverage this is huge. Also, we need to embrace the idea that innovation can occur everywhere. We need to be a country where ideas can take root. So, let’s recreate the America that was known for this. In spite of all our troubles, we are still a pretty good place.

8 thoughts on “Innovation is Portable – Let’s Keep Good Ideas Here

  1. I could not agree more. The secret ingredient of US democracy was always it willingness to open its doors and it was the environment of tolerance, freedom and open opportunity that allowed the US to innovate at rates faster than almost any other civilized country. I believe education was also a key element to our success and and efforts to make higher education less and less accessible to the average family will have dire long-term consequences for our economy. With regard to exporting jobs, the labor side of manufacturing only accounts for 12% (at most) of costs. The cost savings of cheap labor has been oversold to the captains of industry (Jobs included) and most who opted in favor of outsourcing failed to factor in the costs of transporting final products back to a consumer base in the US. The result has been a declining American consumer base, a
    sort of a self fullfilling philosophy. By rebuilding a manufacturing base, we will also rebuild a consumer market which will greatly improve the economy.

    • Dave, great comments. I agree about the overestimation of the cost savings, yet we need a more educated workforce, especially now. The jobs being outsourced are not just manufacturing and call center. Also, when Mercedes Benz started building cars in Alabama, they found they had to resort to more pictures in the manuals because of the poor ability to read of its US workforce. You are right on as we all will pay for a lesser educated people. The other issue is you need a vibrant workforce to buy stuff. If we continue to kill the middle class, fewer large buyers will exist. Thanks

  2. You;ll tire of my saying this, but this is very well done. You have my vote for President — from a third party, I hope!
    You are right about education,” We need to make sure they [kids] are getting a good education by investing in the system and rewarding teachers and giving them the freedom to teach” but Finland is the country that is eating our lunch more than the others — for precisely the reasons you give. They put money into education and let the teachers have their heads. They aren’t mired in an out-dated educational bureaucracy that hinders real creativity and the citizens are willing to put their money where their mouths are.

    • Thanks Hugh. Someone needs to run to get the focus on the problems and ideas. Finland has it right. Teachers are a sought after profession by the best and brightest due to both pay and freedom to teach as you note.

  3. Pingback: Teaching As Work | hughcurtler

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