“Innovation - identified by MIT economist and Nobel laureate Robert Solow as the driver of long-term, sustainable economic growth and prosperity - has been a hallmark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since its inception.” Thus starts The MIT Innovation Initiative: Sustaining and Extending a Legacy of Innovation, the preliminary report of a yearlong effort to define the innovation needed to address some of the world’s most challenging problems. Released earlier this month, the report was developed by the MIT Innovation Initiative, launched a year ago by MIT President Rafael Reif.
I found the report quite interesting, both because I’ve been closely involved with innovation activities through a great part of my career, and because since 2005 I’ve been affiliated with MIT. Beyond MIT, the report should be of value to anyone interested in the growing importance of innovation to institutions, economies and societies around the world.
A decade ago I was part of the National Innovation Initiative, a major effort convened by the Council on Competitiveness to develop a US innovation agenda. Its final report, - Innovate America: Thriving in a World of Challenge and Change, - was released in December of 2004. The report did an excellent job in explaining the role innovation plays in US competitiveness. It included more than 60 detailed recommendations in three major areas: talent, investment and infrastructure.
Since then, technology has continued to make dramatic advances. But for a variety of reasons, job creation, entrepreneurship and US global competitiveness, - the key measures of a thriving innovation economy, - have not fared so well. A number of recent studies have observed that startup rates, - the nation’s job creative engine, - have been declining across the country, especially since 2000. And while US employment keeps improving, serious questions remain about the impact of the digital revolution on the job prospects and wages of a large fraction of the workforce. In addition, the US is now in 10th place in R&D investments as a percentage of GDP among OECD nations, - having fallen from 2nd place in 1992. Innovation remains a subject in need of serious attention, especially given the emergence of our highly complex and unpredictable digital economy.