Dreaming Up the Future… Why Jordan is Falling Behind

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.

Happy Dreams!

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10 thoughts on “Dreaming Up the Future… Why Jordan is Falling Behind

  1. The emphasis here is on the word dream. Arabs can do wonders once they leave this region and apply themselves in the developed world. As for the USA, just a visit to Silicon Valley will show you how many Asians and Indians are all over the place be they employees or partners in major start-ups. Wasn’t there a UN study a couple of years ago where they found out that Spain’s total book publishing output was more than the entire Mideast region combined in a single year? How about them apples?

    • Joe, indeed. That is absolutely true. I know many leaders in their field, brightest and best minds, from Jordan. All of them live abroad. Most of them can’t even begin to imagine a role for themselves here. This is especially true of the ones who do research for a living… Sigh. Here’s hoping conferences like the one Princess Sumaya had will help bring attention and thought and (dare I think it?) change!

  2. I think that innovation is a foreign concept to Jordanians. Actually, it does not have an equivalent in the local business Jargons. The closest thing to it is “Tatweer” (development) which hardly captures the essence of creativity. Jordanians also avoid risk like the devil avoids the holy water, and risk is a major element in innovation.

    Something else, our markets are regulated by the government to some extent, heavily taxed, corrupted and monopolized. Corruption and monopolies are the natural enemies of innovation. Why would a company take a risk by investing in R&D when bribes pay back 10 folds for granted?

    • Haitham, sadly you make several very valid points. Actually, I’m going to do a follow up piece about another reason innovation and creativity are lacking. The inspiration hit me while have a lovely breakfast with Kinzi ;).

      When you don’t have a word, it’s likely you don’t have the concept, no (although that fails to explain why there ARE words for order and system, teehee)?

  3. LOL! It seems that an extreme lack of something entitles it to have a word of its own (btw you did not approve my comment so it does not show up yet :D)

  4. Jordan is 100% consumer society whatever the other societies around the world invent, manufacture, design, create, innovate….etc, Jordanians consume.It is sad reality, the way they look at it is: Why should we reinvent the wheel, let somone else spend their money on R & D. We “Jordanians” reap their efforts. Be that through violating intellectual property rights or wait until the patent period expires and start a Jordanian templete identical to the original one.

    • Max, I can’t disagree. There is a tendency towards copying in all its forms. It is rare to see a Jordanian invention. Hopefully we will see that begin to change, but I’m not sure the right catalysts are in place and strong enough to make it happen. Sigh.

  5. My cousins husband in Jordan did his post doc in USA, returned to Jordan, got a good job, wanted to do research, the answer: fish, fish (not available). So he is working now in, ehum, USA… Brain drain, anyone?…

    • Susan, exactly. That’s the challenge we face. And, it’s not only in the sciences. People who become experts in nearly any field have a hard time making it work here. Both from a devaluation of experience perspective (oh, but that was in the US…) and the smallness of the market. It’s a serious problem, for sure.

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