Next month I have the honor of heading off to the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication where I’ve been invited to be an executive in residence. During my three days in Eugene, I’ll give a keynote, meet with faculty, work with students in a few classes and perhaps participate in a TedX conference.
But what I’m most excited about is that I get to come up with an assignment that students will work on in anticipation of my arrival. So here it is:
Assignment: Make America passionate once again about Innovation.
Not since the days of Sputnik and the genesis of the space program has innovation truly been celebrated by an entire nation. Sure we have Silicon Valley and Steve Jobs. But that addresses but a sliver of the problems and challenges that science, technology and innovation might actually solve – energy, health care, potable water, education, heck even longer lasting batteries for our iPhones.
Perhaps more compelling — despite a flurry of new gadgets, hybrid cars, and the Internet of everything – are facts like these:
- Most experts believe the United States is fewer than 10 years away from losing its leadership position to China and India.
- Those two nations are rapidly becoming the choice of global companies as they determine where to locate their R&D facilities, thanks to their emphasis on math and science education.
- America continues to see an increase in high school drop out rates, test scores that pale in comparison to other countries, and plummeting school budgets that don’t do much to help.
- It’s an epidemic at the college level, too. Consider that at UC Irvine, whose research labs detected the harmful CFC gases that deplete the ozone layer, the reputable program has lost $70 million for research, faculty, and classes.
- NASA’s budget is less than one percent of the total defense budget.
- Wall Street’s emphasis on quarterly profits encourages chipping away at R&D budgets in order to help bottom lines.
Last week, appearing on Tom Ashbrook’s On Point, MIT President Susan Hockfield suggested that if we really want more scientific and technological breakthroughs — the kind that solve big problems (energy, education, health), foster social mobility and spur economic growth — we need a national passion around innovation. “The nation has to fall in love again with science and technology,” Hockfield insists. “We have the have basic elements, but we no longer have the focus.”
So what if we take innovation and make it cool. Turn it into a cause. Get everyone behind it — kids, parents, educators, small businesses, big businesses, government officials, taxpayers.
What if we created this movement by using some of the innovations we have seen in the last few years – Skype, Twitter, YouTube? Or used emerging marketing techniques to do it – gaming dynamics, crowdfunding, and user-generated content? Perhaps we should even invent new products and services as part of the campaign to demonstrate the challenge and the thrill of inventing?
I’m hoping that the students come up with something that makes the idea of innovation viral. Something we root for like a national sports team. Or at least a campaign that extends the conversation beyond the halls of MIT, the broadcasts of NPR and the offices of venture capitalists.
What do you think? Any ideas, links, leads, suggestions to help the journalism and communication students at the University of Oregon get started?