The future of innovation: Can America keep pace?
June 2nd, 2011
10:27 AM ET

The future of innovation: Can America keep pace?

Editor's Note: This Sunday at 8pm ET/PT, there will be a GPS special "How to Innovate." That same day, the Global Public Square and the New America Foundation will launch an Innovation Showcase.  So stay with GPS online and on TV for much more on the subject!

"The first step to winning the future is encouraging American innovation." That was Barack Obama in his State of the Union address last January, when he hit the theme repeatedly, using the word innovation or innovate 11 times.

And on this issue, at least, Republicans seem in sync with Obama. Listen to Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or Mitch Daniels and the word innovation pops up again and again. Everyone wants innovation and agrees that it is the key to America's future.

Innovation is as American as apple pie. It seems to accord with so many elements of our national character — ingenuity, freedom, flexibility, the willingness to question conventional wisdom and defy authority. But politicians are pinning their hopes on innovation for more urgent reasons.

America's future growth will have to come from new industries that create new products and processes. Older industries are under tremendous pressure. Technological change is making factories and offices far more efficient. The rise of low-wage manufacturing in China and low-wage services in India is moving jobs overseas. The only durable strength we have — the only one that can withstand these gale winds — is innovation.

Read the full article over at TIME.

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. Onesmallvoice

    I noticed how the D.O.D. is quite innovative in developping weapons to kill more people efficiently as these useless and unnecessary wars drag on but we need to be just as innovative in developping a cure for cancer,ALS,multiple sclerosis,Alzheimer's disease,etc.,but we're not. Thse cursed wars take priority over everything,disgustingly enough!!!

    June 2, 2011 at 11:34 am | Reply
    • JM

      Maybe you should stay in school longer and maybe you will notice that there are tons of programs out there that do everything you listed. There is plenty of government funding which does into non-military research. We know that there is alot of money in DOD but there is also a lot in NSF.

      June 2, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Reply
  2. Mac Qurashi

    Innovation requires high standard of education. US has fallen behind in that area. Professional immigrants, with fire in their bellies to succeed, kept the innovative spirit going. We no longer allow such educated people to stay once they complete their education. The Republicans are cutting all government involvement in the basic research. We have already lost the race to develope renewable energy sources, high speed trains and few others. Once the Arab Awakening translates into new democracies, there will be a market for all types of goods and unfortunately they will come from other countries. Our culture has to undergo some serious changes before we are ready to compete in the Post America world.

    June 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Reply
    • JM

      I agree with you that America has fallen behind on higher education. High speed trains is not something we have lost. We have had the technology long before but never needed it. Renewable energy is something actually Europe started but US followed. China is leading it in production and usage, not technological advancement. There are alot more (% wise) Chinese getting thier PhD than the US which is a problem itself. But because they are getting their PhD in China, the research is mediocre compared to the US. China knows this, which is why they are trying every possible move to steal the technology from the US. They are still 20 yrs behind.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Reply
      • Thatsnotrue:[

        How? You know that there are thousands of millions of Chinese international students to right? Combine with the people that are getting PHDs in China, that's a GOOD thing, people are getting educated. And getting it in China doesn't make it less legit, the top schools in China are ranked within the top fifteen to twenty international schools of all time....if you did you're research, and once again, international student in the TOP INTERNATIONAL schools. How can the research be medicore if there are so many people to research and the top ficallities, once again do your research. And NOT EVERYONE want to seal from the US, the only thing worth stealing are the weapons, which well.......JM do you see any other countries in any wars or at war at all?
        You should realize the the education in the US is a fail, it's the international students who are pulling the weight....since they are the only ones that get anywhere....other than MacDonald's, so you're so called innovation comes from mainly China and India.
        This is the truth, you can ignore it or accept it, they even critisize it on CNN, or do your research before you point at another country, three are pointing at you.

        June 3, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
      • Me

        What innovation comes from China and India? It's total BS to say that innovation comes mainly from those countries – it just doesn't. Japan innovates, the US innovates and Europe Innovates – the rest follow.

        June 4, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Michelle G

      I agree, education is definitely important. But "better education" has to mean something other than higher test scores and that's where America runs into problems. We need education that encourages independent thinking, but what we have is education that tries to make everyone think the same and put the "right" answer on the test.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:56 pm | Reply
      • james2

        That sounds nice, but there is a fallacy in the "don't teach to the test" argument. No matter how independently you think 2 + 2 is always going to equal 4, an Sn2 reaction is always going to result in an inverse configuration, and it will always be true that the world climbed out of the Great Depression largely on the basis of Keynesian economic principles. We already see what a lack of understanding of fundamental economic principles is doing not just to the US, but to European countries as well. It would be much more comforting if they had answered the questions on their Macro 101 Final correctly would it not? Test scores ensure that there is a base standard of knowledge that our education system is providing to its students. In fact, standards are much higher in other countries. What really needs to be emphasized are the "how" and "why" behind these right answers.

        June 2, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • mel

      ts examine in some detail why what you say is wrong. To bluntly "TRY" to give America an inferiority complex really should be done by the point of FACTs not your feeling in writing.

      So Mell says – You are wrong about education: No one should follow YOUR lack of confidence or self esteem about what is going on in America.
      Writer Vivek Wadhwa says :
      The independence and social skills American children develop give them a huge advantage when they join the workforce. They learn to experiment, challenge norms, and take risks. They can think for themselves, and they can innovate. This is why America remains the world leader in innovation; why Chinese and Indians invest their life savings to send their children to expensive U.S. schools when they can. India and China are changing, and as the next generations of students become like American ones, they too are beginning to innovate. So far, their education systems have held them back.
      My research team at Duke looked in depth at the engineering education of China and India. We documented that these countries now graduate four to seven times as many engineers as does the U.S.The quality of these engineers, however, is so poor that most are not fit to work as engineers; their system of rote learning handicaps those who do get jobs, so it takes two to three years for them to achieve the same productivity as fresh American graduates.As a result, significant proportions of China's engineering graduates end up working on factory floors and Indian industry has to spend large sums of money retraining its employees. After four or five years in the workforce, Indians do become innovative and produce, overall, at the same quality as Americans, but they lose a valuable two to three years in their retraining.
      And then there is the matter of the PISA rankings that supposedly show the U.S. trailing the rest of the world. Hal Salzman, a professor at Rutgers' John J. Heidrich Center for Workforce Development, debunked myths about these in a May 2008 article in Nature magazine. Salzman noted that international tests use different sampling criteria from country to country, so we're not always comparing apples to apples. As well, the tests compare select populations of small countries such as Singapore and Finland, which each have about 5 million people, with the U.S., which has 310 million. These countries achieve the top rankings on the PISA list. Compare these countries to similar-sized U.S. states, however, and you find that some of those states, including Massachusetts (population 6.5 million), produce the top students. Additionally, we're comparing America's diverse population—which includes disadvantaged minorities and unskilled immigrants with little education—with the homogeneous populations of countries like Finland, Japan, and New Zealand.
      Much is made of the PISA test scores and rankings, but the international differences are actually quite small. Most of the U.S. ranking lags are not even statistically significant. The U.S. falls in the second rank on some measures and into the first on others. It produces more highest-performing students in science and reading than any other country does; in mathematics, it is second only to Japan. Moreover, one has to ask what the test results actually mean in the real world. Do high PISA rankings make students more likely to invent the next iPad? Google (GOOG)? I don't think so.
      Let's keep improving our education system and focus, in particular, on disadvantaged groups. Education is the future of our nation. But let's get over our inferiority complex. America is second to none. Rather than in mastery of facts learned by rote and great numbers of accomplished martinets, its strength lies in the diversity and innovation that arise in an open, creative society.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    To be honest, who would beat the U.S. apart from China and Russia? Human resources are the most valuable assets a country has. In China these resources are centrally controlled and in Russia they are often neglected. In both countries talented people rely very much on the mercy of state officials. In the U.S. any ordinary American has the chance to achieve his goal, if he takes initiatives and innovative ideas in his own hands. That's the way to discover the Ameriican dream. To create something new – try and fail is the procedure for inventions. Pioneerism – adventurous and enterprising spirit is the answer for America to recapture its rank.

    June 2, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  4. james2

    Hmmm... 1999-2009? Now remind me again who was the party in power during that time?

    June 2, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  5. Lady Baba

    The problem in the USA, the EU and the western world in general nowdays is the lack of culture not the lack of innovation. You can't sustain people only on watching lady gaga and playing games on the ipad. Western people is tired of products, tired of innovation, tired of wealth they seek something else. If they don't find it soon they will disintegrate from the inside nomatter how innovative weapons they make.

    June 2, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Reply
    • Michelle G

      Indeed. Tired of trying to fill a cup that is bottomless.

      June 2, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Indeed, many people in the advanced economies suffer from poverty – not in the material sense. It's the spiritual poverty that rages. People should read more, back to the classics for example.

      June 3, 2011 at 3:35 am | Reply
  6. Jon I

    Innovation! Flexibility! Those terms are too broad. If we need more scientists and inventors people should say so. The only way to produce more scientists and inventors instead of importing foreigners who work cheap, is to change our educational policies. Read "Bad Students, Not Bad Schools" by Robert Weissberg, to understand that side of the problem.

    Life imprisonment with every other variety of criminals for spies who steal manufacturing and technology information should be a federal law by now.

    For the parents of students not cut out for higher education, you should not be screaming at teachers, you should be screaming one statement at your congressman and Senators so that your children can make a living, "Tariffs Now!"

    June 2, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  7. Notislam

    We need to innovate the demise of the vile ideology of islam so that all of our money and energy can focus on positive things.

    June 2, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Reply
  8. Nour

    It is all simple, the type of jobs any society values depends on it's idiology (i.e what most of the population percieve to be important for the nation). For example, when we had war against Germans, mathematicians, physicists and engineers were the most valuable professions. Also, great fields in operations research were born during WWII era. Similarly, when Soviet Union was the enemy we had to compete with their science programs (race to space..etc). People back in 50s and 60s were driven to learn, question and valued math, physics,..etc. But now, and somehow we lost this drive to learn and drive for critical thinking. We lost passion. Why?. I think it is the idiology of "just making money and f**k everybody else" that is destroying us and the rest of the nations that are adopting this point of view. The focus for any society should always be to solve energy problems, enviromental,...etc. Then and only then, government and private organizations will start valuing deep science, and not just where to set up production line to make Gucci eyeglasses.

    June 2, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Reply
  9. Billy Bob Joe from Mississippi

    I would suggest that we encourage more scholarship for engineering and science students in colleges.

    No one cares about your degree in Psychology and English Literature.

    June 2, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Reply
  10. Alan

    Fareed Zakaria should be fired from CNN. He is Anti-American and is trying to undermine everything on which the United States was founded. CNN you need to fire this man.

    June 2, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Reply
  11. cps

    Fareed, what you're actually saying is that American innovation at Apple has helped to create Chinese jobs. So how does innovation help America?

    June 3, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  12. DEEJ

    Come on people. The US doesn't need engineers and scientist. The US needs more bankers and lawyers. The US needs more people to work on Wall Street. Look at all the good these people have done...

    June 3, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Reply
  13. Roman Gil

    What Economic Recovery? Let's Get Doped Into Foreign Affairs to Forget the Failing Economy.

    In May, the American economy added the insignificant number of 38,000 jobs. America is overpopulated with over 311 million people (nobody knows how many illegal aliens) and cannot support its own population, but millions of new illegal and legal immigrants arrive each year. There is no industrial plan to bring back the millions of jobs and industries that global corporations exported and continue to export.
    My blog has solutions.

    According to the US government's own statistics, 36% of men 16 to 64 years old are out of the work force. Most don't count because they are not looking for work. It takes money to look for work, after a while people vanish from the unemployment statistics.

    In my blog, I loaded George Washington's "Farewell Address" advising America. I highlighted the parts that we are violating. Communist China is following this advice and we are committing the folly of ignoring it. My blog contains solutions to our problems that the politicians have failed to implement.

    While we drop bombs in Muslim countries financed with debt money, the Communist Chinese announced that they are buying large amounts of European government debt and that they opened a direct railroad linking China with Antwerp, Belgium in Western Europe. Europe is now China’s largest market. Europe is now globalized like America with their global corporations exporting their industrial base to China. Last year China announced that they have a controlling interest in Iraqi oil and are receiving oil from their Iraqi oil fields. The Communists understand capitalism better than we do and that economic power controls governments.

    In the USA, only 9% of the economy is industrial. 76% of the jobs created during the "recovery" pay $9 or less per hour with little or no benefits. 47% of American households are too poor to pay income taxes. The Federal Government must beg and borrow $1.65 trillion dollars this year. Many States and local governments are bankrupt. Local Property taxes are crushing the middle class in many States invaded by illegal aliens. Their children consume Medicaid and school services. Bankrupt States like New York have dumped welfare Medicare costs on the counties.

    In Europe from Spain to Greece, people are protesting that they have no future because there are no jobs. Europe like America exported its industrial base to China and Third World cheap labor countries. European governments are as deep in debt as America and their economies are failing under globalization.

    Obama got us involved into a third Muslim war to get us deeper into the Israeli-Muslim conflict that caused us to inherit Israel's enemies. The "war of Terror" has cost us in ten years $5 trillion dollars and now a powerful special interest group of war contractors will keep a permanent debt financed war going until we are in debt slavery.

    Roman Gil

    June 4, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Reply
  14. Sam Chohan

    My compliments to you and CNN for addressing the fundamental issue, namely, the innnovation crisis facing America. As an owner of a technology based company in the Siicon Valley in California, I believe there is not a moment to loose. I disagree, however, that our problem somehow is linked with not having enough college graudates. The fact of the matter is that we don't have jobs even for those who are already trained and ready to work . Reason, the factories and labs in many segments of our economy have moved out to foreign locations for economic reasons. It is not possible to innovate in empty spaces. The dilema, however, is that our standard of living cannot be sustained into the future without innovations. My thoughts based on 40 years of Industrial experience in the United States are:

    1. Let us be clear, innovation is manifold. Design, Process, Delivery, Application, Price, are just few of the attributes of innovation. Most innovations are organic, arising out of any or all of the above attributes as enhancements, whether incremental or a leap forward. In fact most successful innovations are progressive ideas arising out of what is already there and what works. China's advantage in the market place today is not due to any new design innovation or technology but simply producing good copies of the American and European proven designs at a lower cost.

    2. The key to turning on innovation here is first, reactivation of production of goods and services. It is only through experience of working with the elements of such activities can we make mistakes, enhance attribiutes and create a breakthrough. Just about every succesful product or service in the modern sense has followed similar track. Small businesses are hot houses of innovation and our policies need to be geared towards providing this vital sector whatever it needs. In my business, we reached a conscious decision to take on foreign imports head on through innovations in business processes, engineering applications, manufacturing, production operations and support services. After several years of hard work in creating practical innovations, we now provide our customers high quality products, fast delivery, and price/value better than the imports. We are making money, because we have reduced our cost of manufacturing significantly. We have survived the downturn in our industry and now look forward to the future with more confidence. Thanks to all those who helped us innovate.

    June 6, 2011 at 12:58 am | Reply
  15. KT

    Innovation is definitely a key factor... ideas, and great ideas, spur people on to pursue their goals and dreams of a better future!! I am just starting a business in Arts and Crafts here in Georgia, USA. One thing I may say about owning a small business is that you've got to stay afloat, and keep at it. Don't give up, stay afloat, improve your product, and you'll succeed if you get out there. I am also in a technical school and I am determined to stay until I finish a Certificate in Phlebotomy... I am optimistic about the future here in America, and I hope the best for all the good people out there!!

    June 6, 2011 at 1:17 am | Reply

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