Steve Hardis contributed an interesting article in the Harvard debate (Is the U.S. killing its innovation machine) on U.S. competitiveness titled: Beware of Government Solutions for America’s High Tech Sector.

My comment to the HBR blog is shared here as follows:

While I can appreciate Steve’s commentary on the negative impact of government on innovation, I disagree that reinforcing the past will work moving forward — indeed our approach has been outdated for over a decade.

I don’t see many here involved with tech transfer, or innovation for that matter, but I can say that the reality I see in the trenches doesn’t support either big government or global corporation’s view on innovation. Since our universities serve primarily government and corporations now, particularly in research, then I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at the content of the sermons, regardless of merit.

The U.S. enjoyed a dominant role in technology innovation that has only occasionally been challenged within certain sectors in the post war period. That dominance was achieved largely through a command and control structure with gatekeepers on information and capital, increasingly through institutions suffering from the extension of the dysfunctional bureaucracy. In the past decade and a half, much of the world has improved significantly while the U.S. has deteriorated.

Business professors need to invest a bit more time reading scientific journals. MIT provides the bulk of its publication online for free as a matter of policy, but is no longer within the top five in computing worldwide. One can argue about ratings models, but the actual work I consume tends to support the ratings — not only is our K-12 system declining rapidly, so too are our universities relative to the world. As is the case with our investment in education and healthcare, we are investing increasingly more in higher education with deteriorating returns. The same is true with the bulk of investment in R&D both in the public and private sectors. (MM: suggesting a cultural problem).

Moreover, our financial markets have lost much of their credibility from seed to maturity, while much of the world has emerged as direct competitors, now leading the U.S. in many areas.

After 15 years in the trenches, it has become obvious to me that we need a more fundamental revolution in our thinking about models of incentivizing innovation. The models of the past will clearly not work moving forward– the ground has shifted, the environment completely changed, and the dominant markets have become hyper-competitive.

This debate has been interesting, is long overdue, but is not yet itself approaching competitive solutions, in large part due to lack of incentives for those with the knowledge to engage. As is so often the case today in our society, we hear primarily from those with conflicts; not those with solutions.

Mark Montgomery
Founder & CEO

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