Going beyond math and science

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From the "Working" column of today's Washington Post - "The "Bizword Is Science"

The nation's business leaders want you to hit the books -- particularly the math and science books.

Worried about the prospects for the American economy if you don't, groups including the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and TechNet have banded together to put pressure on policymakers and the public to improve math and science education.

Among the coalition's priorities: more support for teachers, incentives for students to become scientists and engineers, more research funding and faster security clearances for foreign scholars. It wants to double the number of bachelor's degrees awarded in science, technology, engineering and math by 2015.

But what's wrong with the nation's future business leaders just studying, well, business?

Nothing, but it's only half the equation, said Asher Epstein, managing director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland. Business is all about understanding how value is created and how to capitalize on it, he said, but that initial spark still has to come from the scientists and the engineers.

"MBA students need to team up with the technologists," he said.

Amen to that. But even entrepreneurship courses aren't enough. Where are the designer, the creative input, the marketing, etc. etc. etc.

Everything that the business coalitions want to do on the science and technology agenda is urgently needed. But these steps won't be nearly enough to survive in the I-Cubed Economy.

In understand the business leaders’ frustration. Over the past few years, there has been a systematically trying to dismantle all the bi-partisan technology policy that we put together in the 80's and grew in the 90's. Congress has, to its credit, resisted many of these attempts. But, to have to be defending the NSF budget and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) at this stage is utterly ridiculous. Rather than addressing the new challenges, we are busy trying to keep the programs that got us to where we are.

What worries me is that because we are so busy defending existing, we can't see how things have changed. We are caught in a post-Sputnik mind set where we think we just need to throw more engineers and technology at the problem. Trouble is, the Chinese and Indian can throw a lot more engineers at the market place than we can - and at a quarter of the cost. We are the proverbial generals fighting the last war.

And then we have well meaning folks like Tom Freidman claiming the world is flat. The world is not flat -- in the sense of the playing field being level (more on this later). The playing field is tilting more and more against us. And throwing money at NSF, etc. is not going to reverse that tilt. Rather than worry about the condition of the playing field, we need to re-invent the game. Yet in Washington, we sit around arguing with the surveyor as to whether his plumb line is straight.

We need to rethink the agenda. More emphasis needs to be on the design/creativity/intangible assets part of the equation as a way to re-invent the game. Industry already knows that. Washington needs to learn it.

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This page contains a single entry by Ken Jarboe published on August 5, 2005 11:49 AM.

Detroit's true innovation was the previous entry in this blog.

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