Thursday, May 7, 2009

Judy Estrin: "Closing the Innovation Gap"

Judy Estrin's book, brought out this year by McGraw-Hill, is called "Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy." The subtitle is a bit misleading, since Estrin focuses almost entirely on the US. The “gap” of her title reflects her thesis that that we are now living off the fat of the 1950s and 60s, when spending on R&D was much higher than it is today.

Estrin interviewed about 100 business and technology luminaries for her book, including Marc Andreesen, John Seely Brown, Vint Cerf, to name but a few. Many of the problems she and others identify are cultural, e.g., the get-rich-quick philosophy of Wall Street; the waning of interest in science at school, even as technology becomes more and more a part of our lives; and corporations that would rather offshore R&D and lie in wait for promising start-ups than innovate themselves.

Estrin has an interesting CV that includes successful start-ups, academia, and serving on the boards of major corporations. I was fortunate enough to hear her give a keynote at SIIA's NetGain 2009 in San Francisco, and her talk followed the contents and spirit of the book fairly closely, see my review. Her book ends with 'A Call to Action', but one wonders whether or not it's already too late, given the erosion of what she calls our "innovation ecosystem."