A Look at Obama's Innovation Strategy

Presidential Seal
“History should be our guide. The United States led the world’s economies in the 20th century because we led the world in innovation. Today, the competition is keener; the challenge is tougher; and that is why innovation is more important than ever. It is the key to good, new jobs for the 21st century. That’s how we will ensure a high quality of life for this generation and future generations. With these investments, we’re planting the seeds of progress for our country, and good-paying, private-sector jobs for the American people.”

-President Barack Obama, August 5, 2009

by Bob Preston

I’ve never been a big fan of pyramid diagrams, mainly because I think they are trite and overused. Every time I see a PowerPoint presentation using a pyramid to represent ‘strategy’ I immediately lose attention for the topic, thinking to myself, here we go again. I just returned from the World Business Forum in New York City where I listened to some of the world’s most powerful leaders and top thinking business gurus. Over the course of the two day event there were several highly successful presenters who had diagrams to represent their philosophies and strategies. Which shape? That’s right, a pyramid.

About two weeks ago (September 2009) I heard that the Obama administration released their Strategy for American Innovation: Driving Towards Sustainable Growth and Quality Jobs. It peaked my interest because I write about collaboration, a fundamental requirement in the process of innovation. So I looked it up online, downloaded the document, and saved it into an electronic file to read sometime on an airplane. While flying back from New York tonight I had a chance to take a look. In a time of deep recession and jobs leaving the US workforce due to unemployment and off-shoring, I’m surprised that more noise has not been made about the plan. Perhaps the reason for lack of attention is that it was released in the midst of the health care debate? Maybe it was overlooked because of the Chicago Olympic bid? Or maybe the shadow cast by the economic recession is so great that the prospect of innovation and recovery seems far fetched?

Obama’s Innovation Strategy builds on $100 billion of stimulus funds targeted to support and establish government policies as building blocks of innovation. A diagram accompanies the plan description on the first page to depict the various “building blocks.” The form of the diagram? Pyramid. It didn’t do a lot to peak my interest but I plowed ahead through the document anyway. Here’s what I learned.

Innovation for Sustainable Growth and Quality Jobs
The strategy plan has three parts as follows:

1. Invest in the Building Blocks of American Innovation
2. Promote Competitive Markets that Spur Productive Entrepreneurship
3. Catalyze Breakthroughs for National Priorities

The paragraphs dedicated to these three parts read like a ‘to do’ list, the respective items beginning with every action oriented adjective in the book. Not that I don’t appreciate the content and effort to push Americans, but it made me chuckle because of the carefully selected adjectives used to describe how the administration will jump start innovation: restore, educate, build, develop, promote, encourage, support, improve, unleash (you have to love that one), drive, harness. Really, check out ‘The Pyramid’ and see for yourself.

Innovation Investment
The Innovation Strategy Plan seems more like a vision for the future as opposed to a true plan. It also comes off as a justification piece for the billions of dollars in funding provided by Recovery Act – how, why, and where economic stimulus investments are being made. I find it to be an interesting topic because it is unclear to me what level of involvement the government should be playing – laissez-faire or stringent oversight. Obama’s plan seeks to “strike a balance” by investing in building blocks, primarily through the economic stimulus, that only the government can provide in sectors of national importance. Ultimately the tip of the pyramid is a new level of innovation that will stimulate growth and generate quality jobs. Bring on the innovation, lose the pyramid.

For more on this topic, check out Cynthia Duval’s perspective.

Bob PrestonBob Preston is a blogger and frequent speaker on collaboration within the enterprise for increased productivity and innovation. He is Chief Collaboration Officer at Polycom, Inc., a leading supplier of voice, video, and telepresence collaboration solutions.

Bob Preston




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