Pre-Ramble: Nothing fires me up more than an article titled, “How to Fire Up U.S. Innovation” (WSJ, 4/12/11) … As an adult-onset geek, the mere thought of things being innovated makes my heart beat a little bit faster.
In the piece, Vinton Cerf, chief Internet evangelist (?) at Google, lays out a few key dynamics that factor into a highly functioning innovation “ecosystem” including freedom to pursue ideas, freedom to fail, freedom to access information, and also the freedom to “keep attracting the best talent from abroad” (in a good way).
In addition to singing the praises of tight, innovation-spawning relationships between academia and the marketplace, Cerf also suggests that a significant retooling of U.S. K-12 education around the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and an increase in the rock-star status of engineering and science are crucial elements in the quest to get the homefires of innovation started.
“The American public focuses more on sports and entertainment figures and less on the scientists and engineers whose innovations make our lives easier, safer, healthier and more productive … Our successful scientists and engineers should be made more visible and their voices heard more often …
… [And, we need to] refresh and invigorate interest in and regard for science and engineering in our youth … Young people should understand and experience the thrill of science and discovery.
Like many, Cerf advocates for a comprehensive, collaborative effort to expand school and extra-curricular opportunities for young people in math, engineering and science. He cites success stories like the FIRST robotics program, NASA’s 50-year partnership with the National Science Teachers Association, and Google’s own recently launched global Science Fair. Each of these programs is part of a critical education pipeline that provides opportunities for students to work with experienced scientists and engineers and allows them to learn first-hand.
“We need to help [children] do real science, not just read about it, through collaborative tools that help mentors and students to interact … children learn best by seeing and doing … “
The Take-Away: Sounds like a plan! However, as Chief Cerf and his colleagues are well aware, expanded school and extra-curricular opportunities for young people that’s heavy on “seeing and doing” will take more than a snappy website and a box of rose-colored goggles. At least part of the innovation equation includes: 1) a winning strategy; 2) a couple of relevant, high-profile champions; 3) a force of infectiously fabulous teacher/mentors; and, 4) piles of money.
Post Note: While we’re at it, let’s innovate a way to motivate kids to be fascinated by the world around them. Is there an app for that? As Cerf suggests, maybe we need a little PR push to Twitter-up some action … Wonder if Snooki’s agent is available?