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Conditions for Innovation ( 创新的条件)

已有 7827 次阅读 2009-4-11 21:33 |系统分类:海外观察

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Note added below (4/21/09) about MIT innoivation summit in Beijing in June 2009 .   

A Chinese American friend of mine (note 1 below) who has been working in various part of Asia (including China) for a multinational organization for the past decade was on his home leave and visited me. We got to talking about his experiences and the subject of “innovation or 创新”. He pointed out to me and we discussed three conditions that enabled the US to lead the world in this endeavor.
1.      Anti-monopoly tradition – Any student of the US has probably heard of the Sherman Anti-trust law in this country. It has been used successfully since enactment to break up various monopolistic and predatory organizations in private industry. Recent examples are the breakup of the near monopoly of the telephone service of the American Telephone and Telegraph company (aka AT&T or “Ma Bell”), and the prosecution of MicroSoft for predatory practices. Less emphasized and taken for granted is this anti-monopoly attitude in public governance. The US has three co-equal branches of the government. While the President has vast power and can govern with executive orders, he cannot implement anything, and spend a single cent without the Congress approving his key executive appointments and his budget. All federal laws must be legislated and passed by the Congress. But these can be declared void and unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Thus the “tyranny of the majority” or the “ will of the people” can be thwarted by just five members of the Supreme Court. But the court cannot institute changes on her own. An elaborate legal process must be followed by anyone one or a minority wishes to overturn some perceived wrongs. This “check and balance” is first and unique in all democracies of the world. There is no such thing as absolute power (垄断) in the US.
“Against monopoly” means “ encouraging competition” which must be one of the foundation stones for innovation.
2.      Liberal Immigration Policy – America is a nation of immigrants since day one and continues to welcome newcomers. Since 1965 it has a nondiscriminatory (i.e. non European centered) policy of admitting new citizens. The inscription at the base of the Statute of Liberty clearly and eloquently states her desire to attract all the venturesome, talented, dissatisfied, and prosecuted peoples of the world. The leadership in science and technology since the 1930s and the boom of Silicon Valley during the past quarter century were to a significant degree powered by European and Asian immigrants. The best and the brightest still look to America as that “shining city on the hill” to go to. America has benefited accordingly to this day.
3.      Tolerant and anti-discriminatory Society – Yes, covert discrimination still exist in the US. But I have said this publicly before. As a minority I would not want to live in any place in the world other than the US. Despite all her faults and shortcomings , she is the most tolerant society both in law and in social attitude and the most faithful advocate of meritocracy in existence. The election of Obama is the most recent proof.
Put it another way, it is the combined effect of (i) the system of government, (ii) continued infusion of new blood, and (iii) tolerance and fairness that make the “perfect storm” for innovation possible.
On the other hand, if you talk to younger native born Americans, they would consider a fourth reason that fosters “innovations” in America, i.e., the acceptance of failures. They think the acceptance of failure is equally if not more important. In fact this is emphasized in American folklore and from elementary education onwards. For example, it is common knowledge that A. Lincoln had several electoral losses before he won the presidency, and that Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) received dozens of rejections from publishers before he was accepted." There is a culture in which failure is accepted.  That is, you can try things, if they don’t work it is not such a stigma that it prevents you from trying something else,  i.e if you fail in one thing, it doesn’t mean YOU are a failure, it just means that that particular venture failed.  You can try another venture.  In fact, if anything you are better prepared for the second venture since you (one hopes) learned something from your first failure.
The main conclusion seems to be that for “tolerance of failure” to work in China, other systematic reforms in science administration must take place simultaneously. Otherwise, more abuses will occur using it as an excuse. This is consistent with the point above that it is not just a single condition or law that promotes innovation but a CULTURE including the conditions (reads environment) mentioned above that will foster its development.
But we should also remind ourselves that innovation is not without its dark side. The invention of the financial instruments – Collaterized Debt Obligations (CDOs), and Credit Default Swaps (CDSs) - were widely embraced by the western world but eventually led to the current mess.
Finally, here is question inspired by one of my adult daughter for which I am not knowledgeable enough to give a satisfactory answer - “Japan is an Asia country, what cultural environment enables her to win Noble prizes and produce endless series of electronic innovations since 1960s onwards?”
While I am not an expert in “innovation”, have no intention of starting an argument/debate, or to pass judgment on the extent these conditions are fulfilled in modern China, it is nevertheless worthwhile (in my opinion] for the Chinese Science Net readers to reflect objectively on these observations without being nationalistic or defensive about them.
(Note 1. This Chinese American, like me, has the 1.5 generation mentality.  See my blog article http://www.sciencenet.cn/m/user_content.aspx?id=16643 . For obvious reasons he shall remain nameless but I am grateful for his remarks/ideas and to comments of my adult children from which this article was derived.)
A Welcome from
Susan Hockfield

Susan Hockfield, sixteenth president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, welcomes you to the inaugural MIT China Innovation Summit on June 15, 2009. Read the President's welcome

June 15, 2009

Shangri-La's Kerry Centre Hotel
No.1 Guanghua Road
Chaoyang District
Beijing, 100020


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