Who's to blame for America's loss of innovation?

Who's to blame for America's loss of innovation?

Summary: I blogged about one study of forty nations that showed the U.S.


I blogged about one study of forty nations that showed the U.S. falling in competition and innovation. Down to 6th from its former leadership slot. Can we stop the slide?

The talkbacks posit various interesting theories and placing of blame. Several indicate the deteriorating state of American education. I suspect that is part of the problem. The easy grading of today vs. decades earlier makes it impossible to find out if a "good student" really knows anything. And many of our schools seem to be simply teaching craft not research or logical thinking. [poll id="96"]

It took five minutes for this talkback to appear, read all of it below. "America's future youth is sitting around eating junk food playing XBox Live and PS3. Mean while other countries are making the xboxes and ps3. America will continue to slip farther... down the list unless the country as a whole changes ... attitude. America is a wonderful place but we are becoming fat and stupid." I wish I could disagree. I have two well-educated sons who're successful, one in business, one a scientist with a PhD. Neither lives in the U.S. and it's unlikely they would return. Better jobs, students and working conditions elsewhere.

One talkback says "Oh, Mr. Fuller, I think the primary cause of our "brain-dead" society is not a lack of government funding, but rather the "brain-dead" students turned out by a public school system that cares more about teacher benefits than student achievement. For how many decades have we read about how the average student overseas scores higher on standardized tests than our best and brightest? Thank the enormously-powerful teacher's unions for that."

I understand that unions are cursed among much of the American body politic. I once had a union job for awhile and found the union leaders to be Neanderthal and out of touch. That said, the average student now spends about 30 hours per week in school for about thirty-five weeks per year. The rest of the time he or she is far away from those evil union members. Video games. Two working parents. Endless TV trash. Facebook and email. Cell phones and texting. Earbuds and vacant stares. Don't think the teachers alone are the problem here.

Another talkback: "Our kids spend their time shooting each other on game consoles, and our college students spend their time partying. You didn't really think that this was going to be the kind of preparation that was going to maintain world leadership in anything?"

Hey, a party animal from a rich family can become a two-term President of the U.S. with a C-grade average. What's so bad about partying? Besides the rising tide of American anti-intellectualism from 1980 through 2008 doesn't encourage the kid who is smart and really does want to learn. Our government spent years denying global warming. We're forever fighting over evolution and stem-cell research. That doesn't bode well for science and technology.

One talkback urges, "Don't be political." I'd say, don't be naive. Everything we do, everything we buy or sell, everything we eat or don't eat--all political decisions. Putting paper into a printer has political effects. For too long we've pretended that business, investment, sports, drug regulations, dietary choices, transportation, education can be somehow politically neutral. And it's gotten us where we are today: a corrupted monetary system and an endangered planet. John Muir's Law: everything is connected to everything else. Every decision we make personally or within any group is political. As some guy in Washington keeps saying, time we took a little personal reposnsibility. You could lay-off every union teacher tomorrow and our youngsters wouldn't suddenly go home and study while parent(s) are out hustling work or hanging onto a job.

But innovation needs more than education. It needs drawing the smartest, risk-energized folks from other nations as well as encouraging homegrown brains like Edison and Steve Jobs. It's having the confidence and the capital to support ideas that might not work. That's where Singapore is now more attractive than the U.S. it seems. From Audubon to Intel's founding, the U.S. was where you came to have the freedom and encouragement to create. Now there are other places, perhaps with less crime, more formal encouragement, more openness to immigrants with ideas.

My favorite culprit in the private sector: new style CEOs. As one friend said, when your company's being run by a lawyer or somebody from accounting, your company is doomed. CEOs who don't know the business but only know the numbers cannot encourage creativity or innovation because a new idea might fail and cost money, lowering profits. When I was committing TV back in 1995 the network types refused to even talk about the Internet. Duh.

And the current freaked-out economy is not good for innovation because it's reduced VC money, long a great support for real business innovation in the U.S.

Topics: Mobility, CXO, Emerging Tech, Government, Government US

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  • Mr Fuller.

    There are a bunch of people that can share this blame. Teacher, Unions,Students,State Gov,Federal Gov and whomever else you would like to throw in hell maybe the bus driver. Anyway the point is that all of parties need to open there minds and find solutions to the problems instead of pointing fingers at each other. Personally i think this will never happen since America's is a whiny little brat. I want everything and do not want to earn it. America's future youth is sitting around eating junk food playing XBox Live and PS3. Mean while other countries are making the xboxes and ps3. America will continue to slip farther and farther down the list unless the country as a whole changes there attitude. America is a wonderful place but we are becoming fat and stupid.
    • You failed to mention lazy

      Fat and stupid aren't real problems. Laziness on the other hand is an extreme problem.

      We encourage innovation by who can score prefect at Guitar Hero and look down at people who actually play guitar. What a bunch of crap that is.

      The statement about the Anti-intellectualism of the 1980-???? needs to end and end in 2008.

      We don't encourage anyone to excel. We have not bothered to tell anyone no for just showing up for class. I have a girlfriend who speaks English as a second language and is still encouraged to write a paper for a group because she speaks English more proper than the Americans in the group.

      I think we need to point out a new Darwinian policy which we can't really avoid. It's called, "Adapt or Die." Currently we are doing a great job of dying.
      • And when people do excel, is it always rewarded?

        As for Darwin, he also looked into eugenics. Aren't we all supposed to celebrate and cherish humankind, instead of using selective breeding or other forms of manipulation to make something we prefer? This isn't adaptation, that - depending on any particular mindset - could be any number of things, including slavery.

        • Eugenics limits Evolution

          When we "purify" ourselves we create a smaller gene pool. And while I would love the idea of wiping out those who drain our society, when we limit ourselves to a select few, we become an easy target. Not necessarily for something such as a bunch of geeks being chased down by polar bears. There are a number of diseases that are prone to wipe out one race or another.

          There is no perfect answer, but diversity is important for survival. Yet for us to survive we must let what is failing die.

          Would you allow a dead branch to sap the life of a plant? Or would you prune the branch to allow the plant to bear fruit?

          American Innovation is very similar to the American Economy in the fact that we continue to fail, we need to figure out what to prune. We also need to figure out where are fruit is coming from and not prune it. They are very complex matters that can not be solved as easily as trimming in one spot or fertilizing another.

          Everyone that I hear wants to blame teachers, parents, or society. I want to blame all three at the same time.

          At least I had a decent reason for not learning Geography as well as I could have. Every month, there were a few new countries in Europe. I didn't have a clue what was going to be on the final.
    • Exactly correct

      And the sense of entitlement comes from the progressive movement. And modern day liberals' ideology is from the progressive movement. And those are the people who have the power across the board to do whatever they want. They can blame it on republicans or CEO's or whatever they please, but if they want to pass legislation there is nobody who can stop them.

      And they are still pushing the entitlement agenda -- you don't have to work for health care, or for your house. Meanwhile I am a fresh college grad TRYING to move out but instead I'm paying for a deadbeat's mortgage. I hope I have a chance at some point to move out of my parent's house after I'm done paying off everyone else's houses.
    • Schooling America went South on purpose

      Read John Gatto and get educated about our criminal educational system. http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en-

      A mark of so call Geniuses was having the time to pursue what
      the person was interested in .
      Teaching children to read before age of 5 is a plus , when reading to
      them point at the words as speaking them . How many parents teach
      their children a dam thing ?
      Home schooling is working colleges like home school students as
      they are high on performance and skills .
      • More subjective conjecture. Is that truly proof?

        I ditched the tinfoil hat when Election 200# was NOT canceled due to any manufactured terrorist attack by purported Republican G W Bush and his purported Republican colleagues in power.

        # = 4, 6, or 8. The ultra-left folks, every 2 years, would chime in with their usual cant about that ridiculous claim too.

        It gets tiresome. Time to look at current reality and move forward. Even with hindsight being 20/20, causes of maladies aren't always what they appear to be.
    • "You're a dork if you don't own one!!"

      Peer pressure and media influence genuinely are as relevant as anything else.

      The myopia presented in many responses, and indeed, some of the progenitor articles, is amusing. (For being innovative, China hasn't bothered to do much with software piracy or pollution, or the last I had read...)
  • simply teaching craft not research or logical thinking

    "The easy grading of today vs. decades earlier makes it impossible to find out if a ?good student? really knows anything. And many of oiur schools seem to be simply teaching craft not research or logical thinking."

    This says it all there is a difference between book smart and street smart. I mean that as applied use of information. Teaching is one thing but learning to apply what you learn is another.

    If one wants to innovate one must get their hands dirty. It is a mentality that is not instilled in the youth of this country. Life is too easy...just pass test and you will get into college. Intelligence should be measure by an application just like written a program in to pass a test. It shows you can apply your knowledge.

    I know so many people who have passed certifications and actually have no idea what they are doing. Stop teaching how to pass a test and more on the thought of why 1 + 1 = 2.

    Blame for innovation can not be put on the economy, teachers, governments or the guy next door. It comes from within a person and their desire to create. Trying to get an idea to market is no easy task and it takes perseverance and a commitment. Look at the struggles every innovator went through before they were considered a success.

    Just my two sense but I do believe the US will be back on top.
    • Sheer weight of obstacles can deter.

      You make a good point that no one thing can be scapegoated and individuals with a vision do move towards something. I do believe the shear weight of obstacles that have been built up one has to go through to get something to fruition; if one isn't a member of the privileged and protected that have thought up the obstacles in the first place, is part of the problem. The reason for these obstacles is fear which pervades a lot the real issues. Those that have create obstacles to protect what they have and to gain more mainly to attempt to feel safe. All the fences though don't really give safety because the divide causes those that don't have an animosity and will circumvent the obstacles in order to have. Fear says there isn't enough to go around and everyone caught up in it brings out a never ending cycle of more and more protective behavior. Fear is in the have nots as much as the haves only in some cases their motivation may come from real needs. Stealing to obtain bread from the haves in past centuries then getting sent to Australia or hung as punishment for being hungry.

      To me the real answer is for us all to start tackling our fears from a place of awareness and not reactivity. A real challenge as fear is very pervasive in most things. Just look at the soap cosmetic industry and how it has grown mainly because we have learned we aren't good enough the way we are to others judgments. Waking up to our fear motivations one at a time and tackling them attempting to find a conscientious life giving approach to all concerned may be where the hope is.
  • One astonishingly simple solution

    Just let the money now allocated for public school education be attached to the student, not the bureaucracy. Here in socialist Oregon we spend about $10k per student per year. Fine; suppose through some miracle of common sense the legislature suddenly passes a bill that attaches that $10k to little Johnny instead of the district. Johnny's parents can send him anywhere they please, private or public, and can add to that pot of money if they wish. Suddenly you would see a mad scramble for all those kids, and schools would be doing what they had to do to get those funds. If a non-union school said, "We will do a much better job with Johnny because we will have school 2 hours longer every day and will have a longer school year as well" then the parents would probably send Johnny there (the non-union school could do so because non-union teachers cost less and can be fired for poor performance, just like you and I).

    Of course, this will never happen, because people have been brainwashed over the years. Don't think so? We had a serious school budget deficit here a decade ago, and NOT ONCE did politicians discuss a non-union option or detaching the funds from the district. It's the Third Rail, you know.

    Anyway, congrats on your two kids and their careers. They made it despite the odds.
    • Sure and privatize social security too

      [i]Of course, this will never happen, because people have been brainwashed over the years.[/i]

      Sure and pretty soon a third of the kids will be in some religious school where they have to work in the fields half a day and spend the other half in Bible studies.

      You don't have to be brainwashed to see the value of quality public education. The school system we have now isn't working because No Child Left Behind was based on the Houston Miracle. Like so many things from that brain dead bunch, the Huston Miracle was a fraud based on Enron-style accounting. If the schools aren't working, fix them, don't replace them with anarchy.
      • Not allowed to fix

        The problem is, the teachers and administrators
        at the schools do not want to even think that
        some of what and how they have been teaching is
        part of the problem. We were told by these
        "progressive" folks that little Johnny doesn't
        need to learn how to spell, that is fine.
        Little Jannie doesn't need to learn their
        multiplication tables as we have calculators.
        All that matters is that the children feel good
        about themselves (and that teachers/admins
        continue to get pay/benefits for life and
        cannot be fired, no matter how poorly they

        It is not the teacher's fault, so much as
        societies fault as we have allowed the schools
        to move to this feel good agenda. That is also
        what was taught to these "educators" in
        college, so they might not even know any
  • RE: Who's to blame for America's loss of innovation?

    Simple explanation when you value business management over actual business then you fail.

    In other words when you spend more money on management than you do anything else, how can you develop/design anything !!

    There is no incentive for young folks to go for any type of engineering when the job market for engineering types is tight and low paying relative to getting an MBA.
  • RE: Who's to blame for America's loss of innovation?

    I laughed a lot at the amount of incorrectly spelled words and gramatical errors in this article. No excuse in this day and age people.

    • LOL. Ditto from the people who chime in and say Americans are stupid...

      Oops, irony alert!!! :)
    • Sigh again.

      And while we're at it, words do not come in amounts, they come in numbers. Therefore correct wording would be: number of incorrectly......

      I could continue:
      number of people (not amount)
      number of dollars (but amount of money)

      Another pet peeve: "Try and ...." when we should say "try to....." (in virtually all circumstances). At lot of people who say "try and...." also say "trying to...." which I find rather interesting.

      • Try and... depends on the context

        Try to see, would indicate the act of mere observation.

        Try and see would indicate the notion of a personal attempt at a matter and observe.

        Thanks for trying to neuter out the flexibility of the English language. I do agree that the language is slaughtered by those who do not understand how to communicate their own ideas properly.
      • Spelling...

        You guys can't even spell colour or favour properly!!!



        Before anyone gets too upset, I am joking.
        • I try

          By the way, I have always loved the colour of ZDnet's background. What would you call that? Slate?