Tuesday 20 February 2018


Today’s political leaders actively seek innovation—albeit a narrower form of newness in technological innovation—as the basis for fostering jobs, prosperity, and economic growth.

Economists, sociologists, and political scientists have generally seen innovation from a high altitude where it is removed from the small-scale processes that, for instance, move discoveries from the lab bench into the marketplace.

New models for knowledge-making better reflect the experiences of university-based scientists and engineers than those in the corporate world that employs most graduates. Historians who study innovation have produced detailed case studies that provide different perspectives than the broad models of innovation by looking at specific events, institutions, or individuals.

ET3 has extrapolated a broader picture from these well-researched “trees” in order to understand how the whole “forest” works. Understanding innovation is crucial as the U.S. government moves to renew its investment in the innovation infrastructure. Innovation has spanned levels of analysis ranging from specific case studies to general theories of synthesis toward innovation and policy formulation.

First, the heresy. Rarely does anyone question the value of innovation. However innovation would be better spent on alleviating current environmental problems such as water remediation and agricultural productivity.

The USA has ignored the design of future transportation to better serve urbanization. The “national innovation system” making these sorts of decisions is unaware of such transformational technologies for future industrialization advances in village, town and city urban design. It is the components of mobility innovation that we don’t fully understand or explore.

The USA’s “national” space programs, which also depend on much common engineering knowledge, and today’s “national” nano-technology programs, which also build on shared engineering and scientific knowledge are following unfortunately the “silo” principle of advancement. All innovation usually stems from a “transnational” network of knowledge circulation that is somewhat missing at this time. One should think about innovation as a fully trans-national phenomenon. To frame innovation as a matter of national economic competitiveness must be considered for the future of USA maintaining it’s position of power and worldwide influence.

MIT economist Eric von Hippel notes that throughout history the use and re-use of existing technologies has been a powerful driver for innovation as well as the more traditional notion of supplier innovation.

Finally, in the United States, there is hardly an “innovation system” if one means a coherent set of policies, processes, and institutions working in concert. As historians know, metaphors and analogy have power to shape and frame debates and policy. Rather than thinking of an innovation system, with its flowcharts, performance metrics, and feedbacks, a more useful metaphor is that of an ecosystem. Complex and dynamic, ecosystems encompass the local, the regional, the national, and the global.

In addition to the more familiar institutional actors, other components of the system that require additional consideration include visionary thinkers, long-term and sort-term goals, marketing, design, investors, entrepreneurs, popularizes, and skeptics.

This might be just an academic question, but given the heavy investment in research as a tool for economic recovery, the validity of the model itself needs scrutiny. The linear model holds that investment equals societal benefits, but says little specific about job generation.

What the 21st century needs is a better understanding not just of the method of innovation, but its goals, its transnational flows, its systemic nature, and the processes through which the “new” can become accepted, productive, responsive, and responsible.

ET3 needs serious assessment and “in depth” research by an appropriate collection of selective minds found separated in our fine institutions. Let’s get ahead with bringing together these wonderful intelligent minds in the USA with a new focus to thoroughly improve our transportation networks in service of urban settlement distribution in the face of the natural environmental changes to our blue planet.

Graham Kaye-Eddie

M.U.D.                        622 words         11/4/2011

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