Innovation nation: How America can get back to getting creative Featured

8:01pm EDT March 31, 2012
Gary Shapiro Gary Shapiro

From Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers to Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, America has long been a nation of inventors and innovators.

But Gary Shapiro says we aren’t doing enough of it anymore, and it’s why other nations have closed the competitive gap on the U.S.

It’s why Shapiro, the president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, wrote “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream” (Beaufort Books, 2011). Shapiro’s book offers readers perspective on where America went off course, and what can be done to correct it.

Smart Business recently spoke with Shapiro, who is primarily based in the Washington, D.C. area but maintains a Detroit-area residence with his family, about his book and what CEOs can expect to learn from it.

Could you explain what you think business leaders will learn from reading your book?

I have heard from many business executives and CEOs who have read it who believe the fundamental message is true: That innovation is important to our national strategy and their corporate strategy. Almost every week during 2011, I spoke somewhere in the world about the book, and I’ve heard from so many of them. For American CEOs, when it comes right down to it, they feel the success of their business is tied to the health of the U.S. economy. They are concerned about the health of the U.S. economy and feel the book provides a strategic plan for a way out. In terms of how innovation will make a difference in their business, it is a competitive world out there and you have to run just to stay in place. The book challenges them to take a similar approach to their company as for the country.

What drove you to write this book?

In the beginning, I had an experience in China, which affected me. I was raised to believe that if you are not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I have never served in the military, but I'm appalled by the fact that we have hundreds of thousands of Americans risking their lives and limbs while the rest of us are doing nothing for the country but taking from it. The best you can do is to wake up people to make a difference, and do what they can to improve the country.

Why is innovation such a central concept to getting America back on track?

We have three choices now as a country. We can cut spending dramatically, we can raise taxes dramatically, and we can grow. And growth comes from innovation. The numbers don't lie. We have to do something pretty dramatic as a country, and we have had a failure in leadership to do so. So as we wait for the next presidential election, and nothing really significant happens, that is a challenge for us, and hopefully we have this presidential election year where we can refine the debate and challenge Americans to focus on what is truly important in the future.

Given our culture and our system, how do we speed up innovation?

The way we do it is we attract the best and the brightest. We have strategic immigration. We encourage free trade, we enhance the university system, not only to attract the best and brightest, but to have places that can go and encourage science, math and technical training. And also encourage baseline technical skills. There are three million jobs open in the U.S., and they are not being filled due to a lack of people having necessary skills for the necessary geography.

How to reach: Gary Shapiro, (703) 907-7600 or gshapiro@ce.org