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Corporate leaders' short-sighted focus on EPS and analyst expectations leaves the US workforce far behind its international counterparts when it comes to cultivating innovation. It's time we stepped up to the plate.
Who is speaking out, setting strategies, and putting a plan together to rescue this country from lethargy and total lack of focus? Daily headlines weigh in on the religious convictions of Supreme Court nominees, Sarbanes Oxley circumlocutions, and FEMA ineptness, and speculate about the presidential polls. But who is stepping up and speaking out about this country's future, our weakening educational system, our corporate avarice, and most concerning of all, our continued decline in the number of scientists, inventors, patents and in general technology expertise? Where are our corporate leaders in this equation? It seems too many in the Tower Suite are overly focused on EPS, guidance, analysts' expectations, and their own retirement packages. There's an impending knowledge crisis in this country, which needs to be addressed by the best and brightest.
Sander A. Flaum
Tom Friedman of The New York Times recently wrote that in Germany, 36 percent of undergrads receive degrees in science and engineering; in China, 59 percent; in Japan, 66 percent; and in America, only 32 percent. And how about the fact that US 12th graders recently performed below the international average in math and science? Not to mention, without foreign enrollment at the university level, the paltry six percent we graduate in science and engineering would be an even smaller number.
Quoting from two recent reports, "Some of America's Best Minds" and "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," Friedman offers solutions for the educational upgrading of our country and its students and teachers:
1. Annually recruit 10,000 science and math teachers by awarding four-year merit-based scholarships.
2. Strengthen the math and science skills of 250,000 other teachers through extracurricular programs.
3. Create opportunities and incentives for many more middle school and high school students to take advanced math and science courses.
4. Increase federal investment in long-term basic research by 10 percent a year over the next seven years.
5. Annually provide $500,000 science research grants to American universities and colleges.
6. Grant automatic one-year visa extensions to foreign students who earn PhDs in science, engineering, or math.
Other experts add that able students as young as junior high need to be carefully nurtured. Parental encouragement is the first way, followed by placing students on a special science track as early as seventh or eighth grade, and lastly, through the venerable (if not P.C.) solution that Americans often deploy in sports: competition among schools.
Is it nerdy to prize scientific and economic progress? In a commentary published in The Los Angeles Times, David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology, warned that our standard of living and future as a world power are in jeopardy because we are locked in a "fortress mentality"—we aren't making the essential investments. He also says that there's a new and worrisome change in attitude, where "anti-intellectualism and the cult of the sound bite" are held out to be the cool modus operandi. No surprise Bill Gates is looking over our lackluster performance in technological innovation and predicting the decline will continue.
The combination of vocal anti-scientism exhibited by the anti-stem cell, anti-Darwin camps, and anti-post-partum treatment ethos of Tom Cruise, and the unbridled ambition and apolitical embrace of science and technology by our Asian and Indian friends, should have us concerned about our global economic future.
For my new book, The 100 Mile Walk: A Father and Son on a Quest to Find the Essence of Leadership (Amacom Books), my 30-something creative director son and co-author, Jonathon, and I walked one hundred miles discussing what it takes to lead. In talking to leaders, we identified a common trait: paranoia—the habit of a great leader to worry who is right behind her or approaching from a distance. My son, with his Eastern outlook, calls it "awareness," but either way, watching your back affords you competitive advantage. It's the nudge that causes faster change and advances risk taking; it's essential to staying ahead of the competition.
Where are we as a nation headed? Hopefully, our national predilection toward paranoia will find the proper subject matter to be paranoid about and cause our government leaders, with the help of our corporate ones, to do everything in their power to get the US educational system and workplace on the track of rapid technological and scientific innovation.
Sander A. Flaum is managing partner of Flaum Partners. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org