I came across an article yesterday in the Jordan Times that I found interesting (you can find it here). Apparently, last week a conference was held in Amman about the crisis of scientific research in the region. The crisis, of course, is that there isn’t any. Or at least, there is far too little. Princess Sumaya challenged the people of the region to step up their commitment to R&D. She noted that in Jordan an estimated $8.8 per capita is spent on R&D (can you even buy a book for that amount?). That works out to about $53 million. Sounds like a big number, hunh? Well, not really. It turns out that 3M, a single, private company in the US spent $1.2 Billion in a single year. These would be the people who brought us Post-It Notes, folks. And this is an under-rated field.
A week or so ago, I caught an interesting article on innovation here. The author talks about how innovation is lagging in Jordan and the challenges that presents. It was very telling to see the Jordan Times article less than a week later. Clearly innovation and R&D are on everyone’s minds. And they should be. This is how we move forward. There’s a reason that the US has traditionally held the lions’ share of innovation mindset. Between the government and industry, the US pays volumes of people to (in the words of the wonderful movie Armageddon) “sit around and think $%#! up”.
Really, there are people whose only job in life is to think of new ideas, new things, and new innovations. And once they think of them, there are enforced patent laws that ensure that someone else can’t simply come along and steal them. Imagine a world where some of your best minds were set up to just think and dream and imagine the world as it could be… And you know, the beauty of this is that the US is falling behind a bit in this. As it tried to compete with the rest of the world in math and science, it’s lost sight of that innovation, creativity, and boundary challenging. It’d be a great time for someone to come along and eat the US’ lunch in this arena.
However, to take leadership in this area, it requires investment. To truly build a system of innovation, we have the learn from the 3Ms and the IBMs (largest single patent holder in the world). Both of them dedicate significant resources to innovation. Both of them reward innovation when it occurs and find ways to turn that innovation into money. And both of them continue to innovate, even when their patents will make them successful for years and years to come. So, to get in this game, we need to pony up the cash. Oh, and respect the talent that could do this. Because, frankly, the best thinkers in any given industry find limited opportunity and respect in the region. And if we can’t change that, the brain drain will continue unabated.