Is America’s Innovation Imagination Trivial?

Is there anything new in innovation? In December, the Wall Street Journal published an article by Robert J. Gordon, a professor at Northwestern University, who presented his opinion that the future of economic growth in the U.S. is bleak, even though we have achieved a 2% growth rate between 1891 and 2007. Nobel laureate Edmund S. Phelps took Gordon’s thought process even further in the New York Times when he commented that less innovation has widened inequality in the United States.

These dire predictions may have caught the attention of the White House as President Obama commented in January that, “The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.” He laid out a challenge for the U.S. to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the world. Of course the government’s solution is to throw more money at the problem in the form of corporate partnerships for research and development.

But corporate America isn’t much better at the innovation game. When faced with the challenge of a stagnant economy, a stale product, or fickle consumers, the solution is often to gather top executives in a room for an intense brainstorming session. The problem with this approach, according to Albert Einstein, is that “we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.“