Science is funny. It's a crapshoot. It takes hundreds of people with high IQs, PhDs, and an incredible curiosity, work ethic, and persistence. It also takes critical mass, lab support, the right equipment and instrumentation, peer review, etc. It takes open communication among peers, and other subtle but critical cultural factors. It takes a tolerance for risk. A tolerance for failure. A willingness to think and apply innovation laterally (many of the big breakthroughs were originally aimed at other targets). It takes a culture that attracts, encourages, and rewards the best minds.
The innovation path emerging from success is equally unpredictable. In many cases, the economic payoff is a decade away. Sometimes a decade and a half. And the success can lead in unexpected directions. Who in 1975 could have predicted how the PC would evolve, how it created networking, and giants like Cisco, which enabled the entire online sector and already two generations of blockbuster businesses (from Amazon and eBay to Google and Facebook). Who in 1980 would have envisioned that the work at Bell Labs on novel cellular communications technology would lead to the global mobile revolution that is reaching into the most rural and remote corners of the world, creating millions of jobs and raising productivity and incomes?
Monday, April 30, 2012
How basic research can repair the broken U.S. business model