The pressure is intense in the U.S. government to get innovation efforts underway. “Beltway bandits” riddle proposals with “innovation” in hopes of securing contracts. Politicians believe it will solve all the problems. This politics of innovation doesn’t always bring about impactful innovation. What can governments do to generate meaningful innovation? How should politicians think about innovation?
Satyajit Das’s article in Forbes India makes good points on the politics of innovation. Here are some of his points along with my thoughts on how politicians can promote impactful innovation.
A Vague Notion
When politicians promote innovation, often the idea is vague and broad. Politicians push innovation without careful thought to what areas need innovation. The “how” is clear, but the “what” is not. The more defined the focus area is, the better the results. The quality of ideas will flourish when it is clear what the innovation needs are.
Money is Not Always the Answer
Offering financial incentive to attract innovation may produce short term benefits.
This alone won’t bring significant innovation. Few policymakers are concerned with long-range innovation. Funding for it has steeply declined. Yet, only the government can sustain long-range innovation and fundamental research that will have future impact. Some great innovations we benefit from today are long-range innovations the government developed over many years. For example, NASA made major life-changing innovations.
Misperception of Innovation Impact
Many politicians see innovation as the solution to ills their constituents face. The statistics tell otherwise. Less than 10% of U.S. GDP is technology. Only 0.5% of employees are in industries that didn’t exist before 2000. Only 1.8% of employees in Silicon Valley work in new industries.
Another misperception: innovation translates to technology. Innovation applies to all industries, all segments, all jobs. Manufacturing comprises 25% of jobs. Yet, scarce innovation funding is focused in this sector. Politicians need to think beyond Silicon Valley. The Innovators Network highlights innovation in non-traditional industries in non-traditional locations.
Innovation and Inequality
Many believe that innovation creates economic inequality. Innovations may not have universal distribution early on. But they spread quickly. Another concern is that AI and robotics will increase unemployment. Looking at the past, similar fears proved unfounded. In the 1960s, predictions were made that computers would bring a 50% unemployment rate. That has not been the case.
Innovation is a global phenomenon. The boundaries of innovation do not stop at the boundaries of countries. Politicians should be careful of trade barriers that block or protect innovations. In the politics of innovation, politicians must adopt a new way of thinking.
Promoting Innovations that Work
- Focus the search for innovations.
- Crowdsource ideas.
- Learn to experiment and test.
- Get comfortable with failure.
- Don’t expect a Big Bang.
- Do NOT ignore long-range research.
- Internet was multi-decade investment
- Invest in near, mid- and long-term innovations
Don’t let the innovation funnel dry up. JFK’s BHAG put a man on the moon. Consider the destiny we leave for our children and grandchildren. Create the BHAG for today and the future.
We tend to assume that any customer is a good customer. Are there cases when this is not true? The most ardent customers can create unexpected issues for your overall business. You may have to ask the question, “who do I not want as my customer?” Listen to this week’s Five Minutes to New Ideas to hear some creative solutions companies have found to manage customers.
Five Minutes to New Ideas
- If you have comments or suggestions, drop me a note.
- Read about my experiences in the innovation game at PhilMckinney.com.
- You can also find out information about my book, Beyond the Obvious, at beyondtheobvious.com. Get a copy through Amazon or wherever you get your books.
- Pay it forward. When I wanted to repay my mentor for his investment in my career, he told me to pay it forward. Help me pay it forward. Give us a rating where you get your podcast. Help spread the word. Tell others about the show.
- Be part of the conversation between the shows. I hang out at The Innovators Community on Slack. This private community of vetted innovators helps each other succeed.
The Killer Innovations podcast is produced by The Innovators Network.