Politics of Innovation: How Should Politicians Think About Innovation? S14 Ep16

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?

politics of 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.

RELATED:   Interview with Dan Prosser

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

  1. Focus the search for innovations.
  2. Crowdsource ideas.
  3. Learn to experiment and test.
    • Get comfortable with failure.
    • Don’t expect a Big Bang.
  4. Do NOT ignore long-range research.
    • Internet was multi-decade investment
    • Invest in near, mid- and long-term innovations
RELATED:   Is it better to use internal innovation resources?

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.

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