Why are We Falling Behind in Innovation?

This past week, I was looking for insight into this question: “Why has the United States slipped down in the innovation rankings for the developed countries in the world?” There is not much doubt about this reality—we certainly have slipped. There seems to be no consensus on why, but I ran across an article that prompted a little reflection (including a little self-reflection) by Nancy Artz: Why is America Falling Behind in Innovation?

Here’s the key quote:

Why is America falling behind in Innovation? Perhaps you are thinking of an oft-cited explanation such as a decline in math and science literacy, taxes on business income, insufficient government funding of basic R&D, or a reverse brain drain in which U.S-educated Indians and Asians are returning to their native countries. Innovation guru, Doug Hall, offers another reason: Baby Boomers. Too many boomers, according to Hall, have an end-of-career mentality. With only a few years before retirement, these business leaders often lack a sense of urgency to develop innovative offerings or otherwise transform their firms for long-term success. 

This seems like a promising explanation to me. I know some Boomers who think and act this way. It is as though they have already left work—at least mentally and emotionally, they’ve left.

I suspect I have had thoughts like this myself at times. Have you?

It reminds me of the counsel Sheryl Sandberg offers in Lean In. She writes about women who kind of “leave work” when they first start thinking about having children. That is, they leave work emotionally and no longer show up to work with the kind of drive they had before they started thinking this way. This happens a few years before they actually have children. Ms. Sandberg’s advice:

“Don’t leave until you leave.” 

In other words, work all-out, all-in, right up to the last moment you walk out the door. Really work! Think about innovation, tackle new initiatives, keep driving for change for the better, for constant improvement. Work hard, work with high energy, work with thoughts of and energy toward creative innovation right up to the very last minute you finally do actually leave. Work until you leave, and don’t “quit” work even a split-second before you leave.

Pretty good counsel. And, as I reflect on this observation about Baby Boomers, I wonder: “Have we lost the innovation edge because so many people have lost their personal innovation impulse, their constant thinking and striving for innovation before they should—before they leave/retire?”

In other words, don’t retire before you actually retire. Don’t leave before you leave.

Randy Mayeux

Contributed by:
Randy Mayeux
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis

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