In July 1945, Prof. Vannevar Bush introduced the phrase—Science, The Endless Frontier. In his landmark report to the President of the United States of America, he argued that there should be increasing funding for scientific discoveries, leading to technology invention, for creating growing prosperity for the American people. His argument that new scientific knowledge fuels new products, new industries, and more jobs led to the establishment of America’s National Science Foundation and a growing number of academic programs in Science and Engineering. Moreover, the rest of the world, lately developing countries, have paid attention to Vannevar Bush’s argument and have followed America’s footsteps. They kept expanding STEM indicators for opening an endless frontier of growth out of science and technology.
Of course, there is no end to gathering scientific knowledge-creating a flow of new scientific knowledge. But the challenge has been to leverage scientific knowledge to drive economic growth. Despite the successes of creating new products, industries, and jobs, the progress appears to be slowing down. Moreover, success seems to be transient.
Weakening correlation between STEM progression and endless frontier of growth
The economic growth indicators appear to be failing to remain in pace with the growth of STEM graduates, scientific publications, and patents. Even in America, there has been growing dissatisfaction about the loss of jobs in industries that America once created. On the other hand, a growing number of STEM graduates are facing bleak reality in the job market. Despite the exponential growth of publications (growing on average 4% per year, reaching 2.6 million articles in 2018), patents (international patent applications filed via the PCT grew by 5.2%–265,800 applications– in 2019) and startups, there has been no proportionate growth in new products, industries, and jobs. Such reality has been raising the question—why is the new flow of knowledge failing to create proportionate prosperity? Where is the disconnect? What else does it take to open an endless frontier of growth?
Scientific knowledge is not enough for opening endless frontier of growth
The discovery of scientific knowledge is often led by curiosity. Of course, the journey of curiosity of knowing cause-effect relations keeps generating a flow of knowledge. But, until this knowledge is used to fuel ideas for inventing new means or improving existing ones to get jobs done better, the path of prosperity does not open. It happens to be that the supply of new knowledge is not sufficient for creating additional wealth. It needs to be blended with the empathy of helping customers and society in general. We also need tinkering and craftsmanship for experimenting with ideas for applying empathy and scientific knowledge for practical purposes.
It happens to be that empathy, tinkering, and craftsmanship have been disappearing with the growth of formal education and scientific R&D programs. As a result, increasing scientific knowledge is failing to fuel proportionate idea generation for practical proposes. To reverse this trend, we should focus on sharpening human beings’ innate abilities of empathy, tinkering, and craftsmanship. We should expose our students to real-life, and nurture the fellow feeling for creating the urge to make human beings’ lives easier–by offering them better tools in getting their jobs done.
Moreover, we can take the scientific knowledge generation journey closer to tools we intend to improve for bringing real-life change. Careful observations indicate that human beings, particularly at the bottom of the pyramid, have been experimenting with ideas for performing their jobs in supporting livelihood better. However, the lack of scientific knowledge is limiting the scalability of those ideas. Hence, the journey of scientific knowledge generation may begin from the real-life idea experimentation of improving livelihood.
Focus on reinnovation increases the correlation
Furthermore, more or all less, all the products we have been using are going through an evolution. Ideas are being added in redesigning them for serving purposes better at less cost. Such ideas need a flow of new scientific knowledge. Hence, the focus of generating scientific knowledge for supporting the flow of ideas for redesigning existing products offers the path of reducing the gap between our growing stock of scientific knowledge and its application for creating new wealth, jobs, and prosperity.
Inventions emerge in primitive form, generating loss-making revenue
Irrespective of the greatness, every invention appears in primitive form. From the Wright brothers’ airplane to Thomas Alpha Edison’s light bulb, the pattern appears to have been reoccurring. Invariably, innovations around those inventions debut in the market with loss-making revenue. Hence, the relentless journey of perfection is a must for profiting from scientific discoveries and inventions. As opposed to the curiosity of how it works, this journey demands a passion for perfection. This passion should be blended with the science for creating a flow of ideas for making innovations around initial invention success stories.
Often, this necessity does not get focus in the mission of creating wealth out of scientific discovery and technological invention. It happens to be that our formal education is failing to give adequate emphasis on nurturing this capability. Hence, there has been a growing gap between the advancement of indicators like STEM graduates, publications and patents, and new products, industries, jobs, and prosperity.
Evolution through the race of sustaining innovation out of the compounding effect of incremental innovation
The profit-making potential of invention stimulates competition. To take a share of the pie, the race begins to replicate, imitate, and improve innovations and release successive better versions. As a result, the wiliness to pay for an existing version keeps drifting downward. Hence, competition demands the release of successive better versions through the addition of new features and improvement of existing ones. This journey of sustaining innovation keeps changing the profit-making opportunity from one to another. As a result, even inventing companies or countries face the challenge of retaining the profit-making opportunity. Moreover, scientific discoveries, publications, and patents made in one country even may benefit firms of other countries. This dynamics of profiting from invention and innovation demands due consideration to have stronger relations between STEM indicators and economic benefits that firms or countries can derive.
Change of the technology core fuel creative wave of destruction and disrupt industries
The change of technology core of innovations leads to a creative wave of destruction to existing products, firms, and jobs. This transformation may lead to the change of dominant position from existing firms and countries to others. Even inventing firms get bankrupt due to the transformative effect of changing the technology core. Therefore, business dynamics created by the updating of the technology core deserve careful attention. Smart exploitation of such transformation may lead to disproportionate profit-making opportunities between inventors and followers.
Strategy and Policy for exploiting STEM outputs matter for opening endless frontier of growth
the growth of STEM indicators like graduates, publications, patents, and startups alone do not produce economic value and jobs in a country. Strategy and Policy highly matter. Strategy and Policy should create the entry and expansion opportunities of producing economic value out of STEM ideas. In the absence of it, STEM indicators run the risk of being liability—even causing harm to society.
Hence, opening an endless frontier of growth is more than increasing the flow of scientific knowledge. It requires a careful understanding of the way value creation and profit distribution are shaped in a globally connected competitive market economy. Upon having adequate clarity about the innovation dynamics, the focus should be on strategy and Policy to open an endless frontier of growth out of STEM.