Andy Grove, one of the founders of Intel, on why the U.S. needs to get back on the stick in regards to manufacturing. First of all, we are still the largest manufacturer in the world, by the way. And we manufacture a lot of stuff that the rest of the world wants and can't make themselves. But we have a self-defeating internal story about our decline, its inevitability, and that manufacturing is not interesting anyway - all wrong!
The received wisdom is that "everybody knows manufacturing in the U.S. is dead." If you believe those things and act on them, they're going to be true. I think venture investments are influenced by the "everybody knows" factor before the first spreadsheet is run. And if you don't get the money to scale manufacturing here, you won't do it. And if you don't do it, your suppliers won't move to the United States either.
My favorite part of any city is the low-rent tilt-up building section, where amongst the muffler repair and window tinting and upholstery and martial arts supply shops, there people are making actual stuff in little businesses that are critical to our nation's economy.
Just discovered this blog by Roger Schank - he's a former professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon and a few other schools, now retired. I suggest taking a quick look if you want to get mad fast about the state of education in America, especially if you have doubts about "testing our way to quality." (Anyone in software should know that's never going to work - you can't "test quality in.")
His big hobby horse right now is reforming education in the U.S. because he thinks it's pretty stupid right now, especially with all this testing. He points out that the current high school curriculum is basically from 1892, developed by the then-president of Harvard to suit the needs of a university dedicated to turning out scholars. Schank notes that scholars are typically not doers, and doers is more of what we need in our economy at this point. In fact, we have a surfeit of scholars - a lot more qualified people apply for professorships in academe than there are professorships to fill. And he also points out that the curriculum is full of stuff that is not very useful to us - a lot of stuff that gets memorized by rote in order to pass a test in high school, and a lot of stuff that's of no use to your future when you're in college.
I hire American workers. I particularly like to hire American Ph.D.'s (in Russian Literature, History of Medicine and Archeology to name three recent hires of mine.) I like to hire people like that because they are very smart individuals who have bought the stuff that colleges sell and wound up unemployable because of it. I like how smart they are. I have no use for what they learned in their PhD programs however.
So he's proposing a radical new curriculum, based on teaching people to do things that are useful and productive in society, and letting students - to some degree at any rate - choose what they learn. This will help address in particular one of the biggest issues in schools today. What's the number one word that students in high school and elementary school use to describe what they are studying? "Boring." Why are we teaching kids, who are fascinated by so much useful and interesting and mind-bending stuff, to be bored in school? Schank doesn't think it's a good idea, and I tend to agree with him.
I support the American economy by building learning by doing project-based courses and degree programs that teach people how to do things rather than listen and memorize things. Oh wait. That was the Spanish economy since I built those courses for Spain (and for Peru and soon for some other developing countries.) Why don’t I build them for the U.S.? I did initially, but our universities think that what matters most is the brand name of their degree and not the quality of the education entailed in that degree. The best universities in the U.S. are controlled by very conservative faculty who have no incentive to change the system in any way.
What do you think? Is this the kind of change the education needs in this country? My take is that if we changed education along the lines that Schank is suggesting, the U.S. could regain our economic lead in the world despite our aging population. And if we don't do this, some other country or countries are going to figure it out and leapfrog us. That will not be a good era for the U.S., in my opinion.
Getting new material and process innovations to market takes too long, according to the U.S. government, and observers everywhere. The new Federal Materials Genome Initiative aims to reduce the time it takes for advanced materials to go from concept to market by a factor of two. Encompassing a variety of mechanisms, including:
More extensive use of computer modeling
More open sharing of innovation research and development results ("The materials community must embrace open innovation," states the founding report, Renaissance of American Manufacturing)
Improved use of today's best engineering tools - that alone could reduce the current process from an average of seven years down to two or three, according to the report
President Obama has proposed $100 million for this project so far - let's hope it's enough:
With China rapidly closing the funding gap for science research and development--Chinese government support for R&D rose to $3 billion in 2011, seven times the level in 1998--the U.S. will need more than its reputation to stay on top.
What new material innovations are you looking forward to seeing in the market in the next ten years? Leave me a comment!
As I mentioned the other day, I spent part of January, February, and early March getting addicted to World of Warcraft. I was turned onto World of Warcraft as a model for improving applications in general by several podcasts and online talks I listened to over the past year, in particular those by Jane McGonigal of the Institute For The Future. As long time readers know - and you'd have to be a long time reader to have ready any of this before, since it came out more than a year ago - I am an addicted podcast listener. I get to hear around 45 minutes to 1 hour of audio programming every day on my commutes to and from work, and it's my favorite time. The amount of fascinating, education, and inspiring stuff that goes into my head in a week is astonishing.
I heard another great talk by McGonigal, from the 2008 Ideas Festival in Louisville Kentucky last week, so I thought I'd post a couple of great talks that I've heard recently, including McGonigal's on gaming, and another great talk by another great game theorist, Jesse Schell.
A lot of the books I've read recently are not quite business books, but they are hugely applicable to issues that business face in creating innovative products, getting them to market, and selling them successfully. For example, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath will not only help you understand how ideas or products become sticky, but give you tools for making your ideas sticky. Likewise, their bookSwitchprovides guidance on helping organizations and individuals achieve change, even in situations where previous change efforts might have failed.
On the other hand, if you want to understand why things seem so strange lately in our world, where people seem to act against their own interest, the CEOs of the recently bailed out financial companies feel they deserve raises, and Donald Trump believes he should be president, you can't go wrong with readingThe Invisible Gorilla, by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons. The authors debunk five persistent beliefs that people have about ourselves, including that we pay attention well, that our memories are accurate, that confidence implies competence, and that we know as much as we think we do. The insights are incredibly useful in day to day decision-making, since they help us understand how our perceptions can lead us so easily to making the wrong decisions, and how to mitigate the bad influence of our perceptions to make better decisions.