Next week I will be in Japan attending a joint US-Japan Innovation Summit, co-sponsored by the US Council on Competitiveness, Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and a number of other organizations. The conference will focus on strategies to promote innovation, national productivity and overall economic growth and is intended to foster a dialogue among private and public sector leaders in the US and Japan on ways in which the two countries can share ideas on innovation.
The Council on Competitiveness sponsored the National Innovation Initiative (NII) in the US, in which I participated, which delivered its findings and recommendations on December 2004 in a report titled Innovate America: Thriving in a World of Challenge and Change. Since then, the Council has been working to implement the NII recommendations in the US, as well as sharing its experiences with other countries. The US-Japan Innovation Summit is part of this global outreach.
I will be giving a keynote speech at the summit, and as part of my speech I will briefly review the key NII recommendations, which were organized into three broad categories. First talent -- "the human dimension of innovation, including knowledge creation, education, training and workforce support." Second investment -- "the financial dimension of innovation, including R&D investment; support for risk-taking and entrepreneurship; and encouragement of long-term innovation strategies." And, third, infrastructure -- "the physical and policy structures that support innovators, including networks for information, transportation, healthcare and energy; intellectual property protection; business regulation; and structures for collaboration among innovation stakeholders." The NII report goes into considerable detail in each of these areas.
As I was working on my keynote speech last week, the events around Hurricane Katrina were unfolding, and like most everyone around the country and around the world, I was following the news and watching the pictures of the devastation in the Gulf Coast area and New Orleans in particular with a mixture of horror, sadness and frustration. I have continued to follow the disaster relief operations, where we all need to help in any way we can, at the very least through financial contributions to the Red Cross and other organizations involved in the Katrina relief and recovery efforts.
Although of a magnitude and seriousness that is far beyond the technology, business and economic problems I usually deal with, Katrina nonetheless confirms my belief that innovation, science and technology are more important than ever. Why? Because it underlines as few man-made events could do that we are living in an increasingly fast-changing, unpredictable world.
I wrote about our increasingly unpredictable business and economic worlds in a blog last May where I said: "In any kind of system or organization, the more components the system has, the faster those individual components are changing, and the more integrated the components are, the harder it is to predict how that system or organization will evolve into the future. The system becomes "emergent," a term used to describe highly interactive, complex systems whose behavior -- indeed, whose very nature -- is essentially unpredictable."
So, how does an emergent phenomenon caused by a hurricane and the devastation it caused remind us about societal and economic emergent phenomena? As I thought about what we, especially those of us in the technical community should do, and how one can apply the highest levels of innovation to national and global problems of the magnitude of Katrina, I kept coming back to the three areas in which we made recommendations in the NII report, namely the increasing need for talent, investment and infrastructure.
The NII report described the challenge facing America as the need to unleash its capacity for innovation in order to drive productivity, standards of living and leadership in global markets at a time when American businesses, workers, government and universities face an unprecedented acceleration of global change, relentless pressure for short-term results, and fierce competition from countries that seek an innovation-driven future for themselves. In such a highly complex, fast-changing, "chaotic" economic and political environment -- or, for that matter, in a world where storms, attacks and revolutions can come from anywhere and with lightning speed -- I strongly believe that the best insurance you can have for the future is to have the best possible talent, supported with investments in long term fundamental research, as well as a solid physical and policy infrastructure.
I am not naive enough to think that science and technology by themselves are the key issues we need to focus on in the inevitable discussions and debates that will ensue from Katrina. But I do believe that superior technical talent, sufficient investments in long-term research, and a well supported infrastructure are absolutely essential if we are to do as good a job as possible anticipating, planning and responding to highly complex, fast-changing national and global situations of whatever kind. I really hope that, amidst all the discussions we will have in the coming months, we seriously consider how to unleash America’s capacity for innovation on the critical, unpredictable national and global problems that we will continue to face in the future.