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

Recognizing different innovating capabilities to develop and grow

IFD Complexity WebA firm’s ordinary capabilities are the ones that enable us to perform efficiently and effectively, those essential routines and practices that often require having a high level of technical need supporting these activities.

In contrast, dynamic capabilities are those higher-level competencies that determine a firm’s ability to integrate, build, and reconfigure both the resources and skills to possibly shape, they have the power to transform, and then be deployed to meet rapidly changing business environments, to take advantage of these changing conditions. We need to seek out the dynamic ones and nurture these as they give us the real ability to grow and build our new capacity.

Recognizing the importance of Dynamic Capabilities

Dynamic capabilities are about selecting the right things to do and getting them done, while ordinary skills are about doing something right. The former implicates dynamic efficiency, the latter static efficiency.

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Cracking the complexity code

Cracking the complexity code of organizationsThere was a good article within the McKinsey Quarterly published way back in 2007 entitled “Cracking the complexity code,” written by three authors Suzanne Heywood, Jessica Spungin, and David Turnbull. It still has a lot of relevancy in my mind today.

They lead this article with “one view of complexity that holds that it is largely a bad thing- that simplification generally creates value by removing unnecessary costs.” Yes, we all yearn for a more simplified life, structure, organization, approach to systems or just reducing complexity in our daily lives to find time for what we view as improving its ‘quality.’

Within the article, they argue there are two types of complexity – institutional and individual.

The former concerns itself with the interactions within the organization; the latter is the way individuals or managers deal personally with complexity.

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Dynamics within the system are always dominated by the slow components.

The worrying thing is within any dynamics within the system they are dominated by the slow components, and the rapid components simply have to follow along.  Look at how larger organizations operate when they are discovering and learning. It seems to take for ever.

They will often wait while one part of the organization is reluctant to make a decision, even when their part of the ‘collective’ decision is not one that has real implications, it is that ‘they’ expect to be within the decision loop and will undermine any deicsion they were not partly too. So many ‘breaking opportunities’ get caught out in the lack of dynamics or that real energy and purpose to decide. It goes into a perpetual loop.The opportunity becomes a struggle to execute upon.

“Slow constrains quick, slow controls quick”.

The only way to ensure speeding up is to be more coherent on the purpose, clarify the bounds and governing principles that need to be enacted and expect delivery on a clear, set timing. If one part simply ‘sits and waits’ what chance do you have of injecting something that might have a real impact, it gets reduced down, it gets pushed back, to a point where an original idea is unrecognizable when it finally emerges. Continue reading

Organizations suffer constantly from unhealthy Innovation tension

How often do you feel the tensions surrounding innovation?  A tough part of managing within larger organizations is in reducing the layers and competing forces, the underlying tensions that innovation (uncertainty) brings out?

Hierarchy so often dominates or dictates the speed of what we do. That is so often set in weird logic and a shrug of the shoulders.

Confronted by the need for gathering facts, innovation often struggles as much of this takes significant time and is often outside the organization’s present understanding.

It is in the pursuit of logic, and often this lacks real (hardened) facts that hold innovation back, as it runs on a very different ‘timeline’ too much of our everyday organization processes or approaches.

In this post, I aim to tackle the question of “Reducing the tension in the layers or structures for innovation.” It follows on from a recent post I wrote on “peeling away the layers of your innovation reality.”

This is a more extended read than usual, about eight to ten minutes, so be ready for that, please.

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Peeling away the layers of your innovation reality

So do we have a clear understanding of where we are in our current innovation capabilities?

We have to establish a way to map our ‘terrain of innovation reality’ is not just how we are performing but what lost opportunities have slipped through. Why well simply because we lacked the awareness to seize on these opportunities when we first spotted them.

We have significant gaps in our innovation capabilities and competencies. Have you ever really audited them? Taken them through a structured examination?

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Achieving a more dynamic innovating environment

There is a growing need for having some dynamic tensions within the organization’s innovation system; this helps generate better conditions for innovators to thrive.

We are continually learning more about all the different tools, techniques, and approaches available for innovation that will certainly help in putting the learning tensions into our work, making them more dynamic, linked, and increasingly relevant to the work-to-be-done.

We do need to embrace a more open, experimental approach to explore and then extend concepts, tools or frameworks that seem to work. I say “seem to work” as each situation often needs different paths to get the best out of any innovation work.

Yet before we jump into all the frameworks and tools that are available, let’s think about establishing the “common” environment innovation needs. Set this up, and you have the potential to create those dynamics out of your innovation activity. Continue reading