Going beyond the 5 bold steps offered to Reimagine the American Innovation Agenda

I have been reading a report written by Stephen J Ezell of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) along with a guru of innovation, John Kao, of ILSi on their concerns that something is amiss with the U.S. innovation system.

The report “Five Bold Steps Towards a Reimagined American Innovation Agenda“, written in February 2021, argues for embracing these five bold steps of story, stewardship, strategy, scaling, and system reimagine innovation for the decade ahead.

In all honesty, it is a little underwhelming, not just the bold but simple five steps but the short document of five pages. It assumes a position, and that is dangerous.

Their argument regarding innovation is that Americans have come to see U.S. leadership as a birthright, as a matter of course. In my view, they lost the leadership mantle for innovation years back. I totally agree it should and needs to come back as a bedrock of future growth, prosperity and dramatically altering today’s landscape.

The authors quite rightly recognize most innovation has drifted to the two coasts. U.S innovation has got fixated on technology as the ultimate solution (to all our ills). Partly, this is not wrong, but it cuts off all the different types of innovation the U.S needs. It needs a greater regenerative type of innovation; it needs to find ways to fund the incremental or distinctive needs to resolve local, national or logical problems when the time, inclination and appropriate funding can be made available.

Far too much of the investment money is chasing the big breakthrough. The chase for unicorns, fast scale, disrupting existing and constantly reiterating what is successful into the next version. Of course, having companies like Apple, Tesla, or whoever building on monopolies or technology prowess is great. Often this innovation is off the backs of poorer paid countries cranking out the final product, and I think of apple especially here. The money they make, where is this being invested back to build innovation capacity?

Clearly, with the Biden big deals flowing through, who will be hoovering up that money. Will it go to the entrepreneur sitting in the middle of the country, or will those there simply sit back and wait for the payouts and funding offered by the Government?

How is the middle of the country not going to avoid being further left behind as clean energy positions closer to its markets, the coasts and not account for the coal, steel and other heavy industries that can’t escape legacy within a bold reinvigoration plan? Hence why terming innovation reinvigorating allows for a different narrative to be built.

The authors claim, as step one, to reclaim the narrative. They leave it as stories needed that connects with citizens from all walks of society. I would argue firstly, is to find out the stories of the citizens and then build up the innovation narrative. Bottom-up, not top down. to bring positive change (regeneration). I think the U.S is way off what the authors talk of shared national purpose and share national values. Really with all the current destructive storylines, fake or blatant. Will this change? Will the U.S ever reforge a national narrative of shared purpose or values? That is questionable and some time out if it ever does. The idea of “catalytic aspirations”, “great purpose” sounds wonderful, does that gel with what is being faced today and every day by a majority?

Step two: We then get into empowerment, often as an innovator; I die a little hearing this. How often does empowerment really happen? What I like here is the harvest, organize and scale concept. But not through stewardship. America does have enormous innovation value lying in its foundations, institutions, and research bodies, but these are fragmented or lacking real national cohesion.  The authors are right, innovation remains less than the sum of the parts. Find a way to bring those parts together, for example, to transform energy or other big global challenges, and America will begin to find its way back to the top of the innovation pinnacle. Throwing money at a problem is not necessarily the answer but it certainly helps. Others less fortunate rely on ingenuity, then search for the money.

Their suggested steps three and four- develop a coherent national strategy seems so out of fashion in America. They point out disparate policies towards scientific research, technology, commercialization, information and communication technology, education and skill development, let alone tax, trade, intellectual property, government procurement and regulatory policies all need desperately fixing in some form of integrated fashions. Can they be pulled together, or is this too far gone, lost in individual ownership, funding or constraints?

The love of “making it scalable” I do not buy at this point in time. My counter-proposal is to make it accessible, and over time it will scale. We need engagement more than empowerment. Yet as they point out, 80% of the venture capital is in four U.S states. Equitable, fair, or even hope of changing this is not pitched on the scale, where investors articulate as a must. Going back to basics, funding these in local, highly focused ways gets closer to my accessible alternative. People want to start seeing growth in themselves, in their earning, in their self-esteem, and that needs to be local in new infrastructure, economic activity so the community gains and begins to pick up its vibrancy. Not in payouts those simply get spent on keeping going.

The investments proposed by the Biden administration in science, technology and R&D of $300 billion will go where. The key industries identified are all or mostly based on the two coasts. These are essential to fund, promote and develop as technology is one of the critical places that must have an American dominance to counter other parts of the world but with the high levels of foreign talent that eventually takes what they know back? What about tackling environmental, climate, and nature challenges on a similar scale?  These can be regenerating the middle of America.

The author’s last bold point to maximize human, intellectual and financial capital takes me back twenty or so years in all the discussions on leveraging the intangible capitals. I am far more in knowledge and nature capital but brought up to date centred around ecosystem designs, so they generate the whole not stay trapped in silos. Information, actionable, honest, believable information tied to knowledge access and relationship connections, will do as much more to restore innovation. Of course, the world needs STEM, but for its grassroots, it needs the rebuilding of Reputations & Trust, Culture & Values, Skills & Competencies that are not technically driven but non-technical.

I know what is wanted in America is a resurgence of its pioneering spirit. We all want that.

Applying these five bold steps might have many parts that need fixing to keep it globally competitive. Still, America’s innovation engine is so lumpy and firing on a few cylinders even with this call to action. Success in a few areas distorts and blinds those who are not seeing a continued hollowing out of any innovation and creativity based in America employed by Americans. These five steps are simply not enough, even to get the conversation flowing.

Innovation to take hold in America needs a deeper, broader fix. It needs to be inclusive but not on technology but on some of its oldest attraction points, hard work, adventure, pioneering, use of both hands and brain to thrive and renewal in itself.

These five bold steps don’t provide the force of change necessary. It needs far more Stephen and John.






Human-centred innovation in a digital world.

Today we are facing many current disruptions where we need to react fast and intelligently. There are many situations we are facing that is a race against time. As we continue to respond to Covid-19, technology has the power to reduce the complexity often faced, speed up and contribute to solutions that help resolve pressing issues.

We recognize that equally as important as the technology are the people using the technology. Having people at the centre of designs enables more intelligent, rapid and lasting innovation.  The Digital Twin is where data from the physical and virtual world come together and is increasingly where people and technology come together to resolve many of today’s challenges.

Applying human-centred innovation

Tony Hemmelgarn, the CEO of Siemens Digital Industries Software, presented “Human-centred Innovation” at the Hannover Messe show (April 12th to 16th, 2021), which was held in a virtual environment. Continue reading

The Critically Important Innovation Narrative

Whatever we do, we do far better when we become emotionally connected. Often understanding a good story builds this emotional connection or simply puts you off. Stories can inspire and spark even greater ideas. The art of storytelling and making connections with the listener or reader has incredible value. Yet, a story has limited value. For me, it is the more powerful narrative that drives innovation, inspiring and gaining identification in multiple ways.

A story is linked to a series of events that take a character from one state to another. In contrast, a narrative is a system of stories that links values and events to establish a broader and often new cultural meaning.

Let’s draw down on so much of John Hagel’s work on narratives. It has shaped my thinking. Continue reading

Going beyond the known of today

There are so many places where innovation is essential within the Energy Transition due to the magnitude, size, and complexity of the change needed to achieve a decarbonized world. There is a world of innovative possibilities.

One of the most important catalysts for changing the energy system into a sustainable green one is by taking our thinking beyond the known into the possibilities we need for a sustainable future of energy based on the ability for renewables to generate all our electrification needs.

We need to build out all our renewable possibilities that include solar, wind, hydro, green hydrogen and nuclear energy.

In this combination of pursuit, nurturing, and expanding our thinking through the thoughtful construction of a vision built on knowledge, exploration and understanding, we can mobilize the changes needed.

My energy journey is being navigated across the three-time horizons. Continue reading

Leadership Alignment Work Mat for making Innovation fully connected.

I believe the value of working the seven domains of this framework, named the Leadership Alignment Workmat has significant value within and across any organization. It brings innovation together, a unifying point for the activity and momentum of innovation to become central to the core of the business in its future investment and value impact.

The Leadership Alignment Workmat provides a unique examination of the executive’s role in innovation; it offers a framework that the organisation’s leadership can adopt to ensure linkages and synergies between strategy and innovation, innovation and capabilities, innovation and culture.

They often lack the communicating medium to help clarify and shape the innovation story to provide the guidance necessary for achieving that essential engagement and encouragement they would like to align organizational efforts required from innovation to the strategies envisioned.

Benefits of applying the Leadership Alignment Work Mat

From an investment in an executive work mat exercise, you receive four significant benefits. Continue reading

Mapping Out Your Innovating Way Forward

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com


Mapping any innovation journey can be complicated. There is a fairly detailed journey needed to be undertaken for mapping out your future direction of innovation.

Let’s get straight into it and the process and sequence needed within any innovation journey.

Firstly you have to work through the Strategic Needs– this needs to cover the type of approaches, the scope and intent, the assessments of the required impact for the end customer and organizational value, the understanding and outlines of this becoming organizational-wide in its integrated needs.

This approach does need a systematic approach, continuous up-dated toolboxes and visible metrics and tracking. Lastly, to build and quickly test, adopt and scale as knowledge and understanding are gained.

Second, there is the need to build reference points for future innovation activities, so duplication and learning can be built into understanding. Here it is vital to have gained the continued support and engagement of high-level participation, where we recommend the Leadership Alignment work Mat approach, Continue reading

Designing Unique Workshops is hard work

Finding opportunities for Innovation and Growth is hard work. It is the value of having good, interactive, highly participative workshops that breaks much of those initial barriers to allow the hard work to begin more cohesively and collaboratively.

I believe any workshops design must meet your needs, push the thinking, and generate new returns in innovation understanding.

Boilerplate designs might look initially attractive, but knowing your needs, limitations, concerns, and ambitions can transform a workshop into one that lasts in the participant’s minds. They felt it was “clearly” designed for them.

Which end of the innovation spectrum do we need to go to?

  • Workshops can mean different things to different people. Find ones that are 100% focused on engaging with and accelerating innovation. They need a couple of simple rules.
  • Conducting ‘open’ dialogues or focused conversations should always have a sound context, so the contributions slowly build-out and hold real promise.
  • Discoveries can start with different ‘fields of enquiry’ to achieve different connections and deepen our perspectives.

A great book, written by Bill Sharpe, explaining the Three Horizons often comes to mind. I wrote about it here “Three Horizons- fields of future, full of foresight.”

Then I find the Divergent / Convergent approach in thinking as highly valuable.

We need to always challenge ourselves, and taking you through a set of lenses of discovery that go from ‘divergent to convergent‘ is important. Continue reading

Building Capability and Capacity to Expand Capabilities for Innovation

A new equation

For innovation to be successful, the bottom line is the commitment and focus made for building the capabilities and competencies in innovation as people make us the real value and ARE the innovation success equation in my opinion,

So we must simply invest in them by focusing on the 3 C’s of developing peoples Capability, Competency and Capability.

As we set about to build and expand capabilities, we need to consider:

  • How we can accelerate the uptake of innovation activity around the conditions provided through investing in them
  • The need to trigger engagement and achieve growing attainment of knowledge acquisition and dispersion skills- essential for collaborative innovation
  • Setting about building practices for greater synergies, relationships and networking conditions, for ongoing learning and absorptive capacity
  • Extracting the right cultural, design, climate and environmental conditions,
  • Placing increasing value on evolving the structures, processes and technology application
  • Investing in lessons learnt through validation and resolutions to challenges to build an ongoing adaptive capacity.
  • Recognizing people solve the critical bottlenecks and find solutions to overcome the constraints, they become increasingly motivated to find solutions and resolve gaps through their ability to be creative and inquisitive.
  • The ongoing building of capabilities and competencies clearly leads to a more sustaining and determined innovation future.

Increasing capacity through coaching

There are many benefits from having an intense course of one-on-one coaching, irrespective of the level of responsibility you have for innovation within your organization. Continue reading