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The Contenders for “Innovator-in-Chief”: Obama v Romney

Will it be President Obama or former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who will offer the best strategy and leadership for helping the U.S. to increase the innovation needed to rebuild its economy?  For those who fully comprehend the direct link between America's economic survival and the role of innovation, this is a question of monumental significance.

To attempt to provide some answers to this question, the Washington, DC-based Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) recently released a 33-page report.  The report provides a comparison of the two men’s approaches in ten policy areas. The ITIF based their analysis on a variety of the candidates' documents and policy statements gathered from a ten-year period.  

According to the ITIF, “the United States is engaged in a fierce race for innovation-based economic growth” that will require the future President to place science, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship at the center of economic policymaking.  The ITIF describes itself as "a nonpartisan think-tank" that does not take a position on which candidate will likely do a better job with innovation. 

However, the report did conclude that neither candidate nor political party is correct on every issue and, therefore, encouraged the creation of a “bipartisan Washington Innovation Consensus." It states that a partisan approach to creating technology policy will only hamper the nation. “Each side has to bend if we are to restore U.S. economic greatness.” 

An article in the Business Journals provides a helpful side-by-side summary of that report:

FEDERAL RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT FUNDING:

  • In 2008, Obama pledged to double federal funding for basic research, focusing on physical and life sciences, over the next ten years.  He’s falling short of that goal, even though he did increase funding for the National Science Foundation.
  • Romney has called for an immediate 5% cut in non-security discretionary spending. Non-defense R&D programs presumably would be subject to this cut — Romney hasn’t said they’d be exempt.

TAXES:

On corporate taxes:

Both Obama and Romney favor revenue-neutral corporate tax reform that would lower the tax rate while eliminating many business tax breaks. They both also favor making the research and development tax credit permanent.

  • Obama, however, wants to collect more U.S. taxes from multinational corporations.
  • Romney wants to move to a territorial tax system, where income is taxed where it is earned with no additional U.S. taxes if companies move this money back [to America] from foreign countries.

On individual income taxes:

  • Obama would raise the tax rate for households making more than $250,000.
  • Romney proposes a 20% across-the-board cut in tax rates, accompanied by the elimination of many tax deductions.
     
  • Obama also has proposed raising the capital gains tax rate from 15% to 20%.
  • Romney would maintain the 15% rate.

BROADBAND/INTERNET POLICY:

Both candidates propose making more spectrum available for commercial use, and both oppose efforts by the International Telecommunications Union to take over the pricing on Internet interconnections and technical standards.

Their biggest difference is on net neutrality — whether the government should prohibit Internet service providers from favoring some web sites over others.

  • Obama favors net neutrality regulations, while exempting wireless networks from most of them.
  • Romney opposes net neutrality rules, instead relying on market forces to ensure an open Internet.
     
  • Obama also would rely more on regulations to address issues such as online privacy and cybersecurity. The president also favors a more robust government role in expanding broadband access.
  • Romney would leave broadband demand creation to local governments and the private sector.

ENERGY INNOVATION:

This is one of the biggest areas of disagreement between the two candidates:

  • Obama is promoting a national energy strategy to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.  That includes government investments in energy innovation, including deployment as well as basic science.
  • Romney wants to achieve North American energy independence primarily by significantly expanding domestic oil and natural gas production.  He would limit government investment in energy innovation to basic research and demonstration projects of new energy technologies.
     
  • Obama wants to continue tax breaks for renewable energy while eliminating subsidies for oil, natural gas and coal production.
  • Romney wants to scale down or eliminate subsidies, grants and tax incentives for clean energy commercialization and deployment.

MANUFACTURING POLICY:

  • Obama has proposed investing $1 billion to create a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation and $2.2 billion in advanced manufacturing R&D.
  • Romney is silent on these issues.

IMMIGRATION:

  • Obama has called for “fixing the immigration system for America’s 21st century economy,” but he hasn’t offered many specifics yet.
  • Romney has proposed raising the limit on visas for holders of advanced degrees in technological fields and giving green cards to foreigners who graduate from U.S. universities in these fields.

TRADE:

Both Obama and Romney support completing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and working to expand exports.

  • Obama, however, places more of an emphasis on putting environmental and labor provisions in trade agreements.
  • Romney also has promised to be tougher on China when it violates trade agreements, particularly when it comes to currency manipulation.

Some Conclusions:

According to ITIF:

  • The Obama-Biden platform is more willing to have government serve as an active partner with industry, such as in helping fund early-stage technology.  They propose keeping the private sector as the main source of innovation while creating government collaborations and intervening in the event of market failures.
  • "Romney would take a lighter touch role for government and have the private sector take the lead" in many areas.  

In general, Romney tends to stress tax and regulatory reform.

Obama emphasizes the need to improve the nation's digital infrastructure and worker skills.

  • The Obama-Biden platform also supports the creation of stronger rules governing the Internet and telecommunications, and fostering the growth of the alternative energy industry.
  • The Romney-Ryan conservative platform also favors eliminating any government policy that steers investment in any particular direction, such as government policy that would assist the alternative energy industry.

A Huffington Post article concludes:

"…the vast majority of the literature that the 2012 Obama-Biden campaign has made available on its science, technology, and innovation policies points to the Administration's past achievements …In general, more specificity is needed regarding the Obama Administration's science, technology, and innovation goals should it win a second term."

The report does give the Administration credit, however, for coming up with a detailed plan for reinvigorating high-tech manufacturing.

The Romney campaign is taken to task for issuing plans that "only addresses energy innovation and not the broader role of federal R&D investment in stimulating innovation in other areas, including life sciences, nanotechnology, or advanced manufacturing."

http://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/washingtonbureau/2012/09/12/obama-vs-romney-on-7-innovation.html.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/14/obama-romney-science-federal-government-role-report_n_1881786.html

http://www.govtech.com/policy-management/Obama-Romney-Do-Their-Tech-Policies-Differ.html

To see the full ITIF Report, "Comparing the 2012 Presidential Candidates’ Technology and Innovation Policies": http://www2.itif.org/2012-obama-romney-comparison.pdf

 

I recently posted about the “Creative Geniuses” that are found throughout Jester organizations.  Again, each of us carries creativity within us.  Some of us may need coaxing in order for our creativity to reemerge.  For all, a certain amount of support and structures are needed in order for our ideas to manifest.

In the recent "Leader as Conductor," post, I outlined some specific ways that managers can foster innovation in organizations.  But in what capacities?  In his terrific white paper, “Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders,” Langdon Morris of InnovationLabs outlines two other essential types of roles necessary to create an innovative culture:  “Innovation Champions” and “Innovation Leaders.”  

 Innovation Champions:  They support innovation by helping creative people overcome the obstacles that otherwise inevitably impede their innovation efforts.

Innovation Leaders:  They define firms’ expectations and policies to favor innovation. 

Working in partnership, these two distinct role models set the stage for creating the environment to grow, direct, and apply the creative genius within an organization.  As Mr. Morris writes, “The genius of firms like Apple, Cisco, and Toyota… [is that] their leaders seem to have found a way to standardize the process of innovation.”  

INNOVATION CHAMPIONS build the practical means for effective innovation by:
  • “Finding creative thinkers and encouraging them [often through coaching and mentoring] to think and work in new ways” or to "seek new experiences that spark new ideas;“ and
  • “They create a regular operations context in which sharing and developing new ideas is the norm.” 

Champions might have any title in the organization, from that of senior manager to front line operations staff.  Regardless of title, they “provide the bridge between the strategic directives of senior managers and the day-to-day focus of front line workers.”

“Hewlett Packard’s MBWA (mgt.-by-walking-around) was a great innovation champion technique for learning about innovation efforts and supporting them.”

Innovation champions “are usually persistent networkers… [who] know what’s going on many levels.”  They know who has the skills, talents, and resources; who needs what; what’s not working, and what can be done to move the process forward.

In his best-seller book The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell outlines three roles he sees as key to the success of ideas taking hold in organizations.  As Mr. Morris sees it, all three of these mantles are embodied in effective innovation champions:

  • Mavens who have deep knowledge that they are keen to share.
  • Salesmen who like to influence others to take action.
  • Connectors who have strong relationships with many people.
     

Collaboration & Trust:
Champions forge collaboration and trust while also helping to develop infrastructures that support innovation.  This includes creating environments that allow for the face-to-face partnering that is indispensable.  “They build collaboration, and they build the trust upon which effective collaboration occurs.  Innovation is a collaborative endeavor… There is little innovation without collaboration, and there is no collaboration without trust.”

Film edit director All the World's a Stage…
My undergraduate degree was in theater (Go, University of Detroit!).  As one whose right brain is well developed and who naturally thinks in terms of connections and similarities, I'll share how I see the roles of champions and leaders in terms of the parts they would play in artistic productions, as in theater or film. 

I envision the role of champions as similar to that of theater or film directors.  Collaboratively honing the production vision, they take the various tools and perimeters; the scripts and story-lines; the stage/sets, budgets, and timelines given to them by the producers; the talents, experience, strengths, weaknesses, and personalities of the actors, design and crews — and they orchestrate all of these.

Sometimes, depending on the size and budget of the production, the role of director is shared and divided among various people who serve as executive director, art director, assistant director, etc.  Similarly, there is (or should be) more than one champion within an organization.

Champions and directors work with "the talent" to create a shared, organic vision and then to manifest it.  While keeping their focus on the progress of the various production teams, they also work closely with the individuals.  They coach the actors to explore and hone their roles and to interact in the most effective ways with the other cast members.  They work similarly with the design and set crews.   

Key to the success of many directors is that they develop trusting relationships with the various individual artists in order to bring out the best in their talents, while building the collaboration and high trust that is needed for great ensemble productions and (what is called in the non-theater world) high-functioning teams.

Enter the other indispensable player… 
INNOVATION LEADERS influence the core structures and the basic operations of an organization in order to support innovation.  Such core structures include:

  • The design of the organization
  • Policies and underlying principles – “The Rules of the Game”
  • Metrics and rewards.

In keeping with my theater arts metaphor, I think of innovation leaders as the "producers."  Without a producer’s backing, there will be no show.  Producers don't have to be particularly creative themselves, and they don't need to be involved in a hands-on manner.  Nonetheless, they either "set the stage," or else they sabotage the production by the resources they provide (or fail to) and the perimeters they establish.  Some leaders are creative themselves and will be involved artistically, just as some producers are.  (Examples of top leaders with a hands-on approach: Immelt at GE and Iger at Disney, who has helped to design games himself.)

Given that innovation needs to be treated as a strategic concern, “innovation leaders are typically, though not exclusively, senior managers” who have the authority to make key decisions, related to questions such as:

  • Do budgets include a line item such as “investment in innovation”? 
  • Are there seed funds to invest in promising new ideas, or teams of people to manage ideas that do not fit inside existing business units?
    — If not, then innovation isn’t likely to happen.

In his book, Permanent Innovation, Mr. Morris asserts, “There is no innovation without leadership… Top managers can be powerful champions of innovation, or dark clouds of suppression…. They [need to] work diligently to eliminate the many obstacles that otherwise impede or even crush both creativity and innovation.”  

In closing, dear audience… 

Hat’s off to those Champions and Leaders who orchestrate creative genius and make the great innovations that move us all forward possible!

 

English miss

(Blog author, on another stage, long ago… )

 

Click on the link to download a free copy of Langdon Morris' excellent book:  Permanent Innovation: The Essential Guide to the Strategies, Principles, and Practices of Successful Innovators

And for his white paper: "Creating the Innovative Culture: Geniuses, Champions, & Leaders"

 

 

 

 

Proud mantis

As discussed in previous posts, it is commonly held that there is creative genius in each of us.  But, along with our innate curiosity (creativity’s inextricable partner) most of us found our creativity repressed by the tender age of thirteen by the pressure to “fit in,” not be seen as “weird,” [i] not ask too many questions, and as we got older, to go by “The Rules,” and do as we’re told if we want to succeed.   I wholeheartedly agree with Langdon Morris of InnovationLabs who wrote that “It may only take only the right mix of context, curiosity, support, and environment for it come abundantly forth.” [ii]

Pearl in oyster And so, smart managers understand that good ideas come from everywhere in organizations.  “Hence, the average Toyota worker, including those on the assembly lines, is said to contribute on average more than one hundred ideas each year.”  Despite some of its recent troubles (and current tragedies in its homeland), Toyota is universally recognized as the most efficient auto manufacturer on the planet.[iii]

Gathering and Channeling the Collective Genius:

Referring back to the top layer of the cake as described in “Let Them Eat Cake!” a couple of posts ago, below are some suggestions I have found for creating an entrepreneurial environment throughout the organization, as recommended by the innovation leaders surveyed in the 2010 IBM CEO report. [iv]

 

Mardi Gras Float Create and Communicate a Shared Vision of What Innovation Looks Like in Your Organization:

    Use cross-departmental input to create a shared language and lexicon.  (Jorge Barba) [v]
    Go beyond the mission and vision to make innovation the responsibility of each and every employee (“50 Ways…”) [vi]
    Involve as many people as you can at the beginning to get upfront buy-in.  (“50 Ways…) 

 

Co-create A Vision for Innovation with Everyone in Your Organization:

Help employees to present their ideas and make their cases:

  • Establish an Entrepreneurial Environment: Ideas come from everywhere. Give every “intrepreneur’s” idea an objective hearing. Provide management support in building the business case* in presenting the idea. (“10 Crucial Elements…,” Jim Miller) [vii]

    * I discussed this point in my 2/12/11 post on "A Shared Failure to Communicate". 

    • Ask employees what gets in the way of their ability to offer contribute creative solutions and innovation, and work to remove those blocks.   

    Create Efficient Systems for Collecting Ideas: Easter egg basked

    • Create formal opportunities for offering ideas: Intranet repositories using an idea 
      management software, internal conferences, etc.  (“10 Crucial Elements of Building an Innovative Company,” Jim Miller & “”50 Ideas…, “)

    Embrace the Numbers Game:

    • “…Harness everyone’s creativity by involving them in the ideation process; generate lots of ideas, for only a few winners will result, and then broadening your view of innovation to not just technological, products, or services, but also innovate the business model.” (Jorge Barba)
    • Have a number of ideas in the works. Short and long-term, incremental, and discontinuous.
    •  “The main difference between companies who succeed at innovation and those who don’t isn’t their rate of success – it’s the fact that successful companies have a LOT of ideas, pilots, and product innovations in the pipeline.” (“50 Ways…”)

    Create Efficient Systems for Low-Cost, Rapid Prototyping:

    • “Fail often to succeed sooner.”  Tom Kelley, GM IDEO.
    • Prototype using videos and models or other quick and cheap methods early on to visualize which projects to further develop and which to discard. (“Get Creative,” Bloomberg Businessweek [viii] and “50 Ways…”)

    Support Cross-departmental Collaboration:

    • Reroute reporting lines and create physical spaces for collaboration. …collaboration requires more than lip-service to breaking down silos… team up people from across the org chart. 
    • ‘You have to…get down into the plumbing of the organization and align the nervous system of the company.” (J. Andrew, BCG) [ix]
    • Provide “Skunkwork” spaces with visual tools like white boards everywhere, even on ceilings and floors. (“50 Ways…”)
      • Encourage informal, cross-functional networking and exchange of ideas through shared space, social activities, etc(“10 Crucial Elements…,” Jim Miller)

     

    A nd  Let Go! Confetti

    • “Innovation requires no fixed rules or templates – only guiding principles.  Creating a more innovative culture is an organic and creative act… Don’t make your innovation processes so rigid that they get in the way of informal and spontaneous innovation efforts.”  (“50 Ways…”) 

     

     

    I’ve only scratched the surface here regarding employee partnership in innovation.  Please, share your ideas, experiences, and success stories!

     


    [i] Get Weird! 101 Innovative Ways to Make Your Company a Great Place to Work, John Putzier. AMACOM,  2001.

     

     

     

    [iii] “The World’s Most Innovative Companies,” Bloomberg Business Week. (April 24, 2007).

     

     

     

    [v] Jorge Barba, http://www.game-changer.net/

     

     

     

    [vi]  “50 Ways to Foster a Culture of Innovation,” The Heart of Innovation. Idea Champions

     

     

     

    [viii] “Get Creative,” Bloomberg Businessweek

     

     

     

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