Mr. President, the country’s innovation leaders have spoken. Yesterday, just to keep the election fun going, we asked our readers—entrepreneurs, investors, technologists, executives, or just anyone interested in the business of technology—to weigh in on the things they thought were most important for you and the new Congress to focus on when it comes to spurring innovation. Our Post-Election Innovation Priority Poll listed 10 choices and allowed readers to select up to three (they could also write in a new candidate).
And the answer is clear—there is no clear answer. Instead, our readers pointed almost equally to a group of five core areas (among the 10). Individually, none would be enough. But in total, if we can find ways to support them effectively, they make for a pretty darned good innovation policy. So without further ado, here’s what we found.
The five elements, all receiving 13-15 percent of the vote, are:
—Invest in basic research
—Invest in STEM education
—Encourage innovation in healthcare delivery to reduce costs for companies and research institutions
—Focus on policies to foster and nurture startup high-tech companies
—Invest in wind, solar, smart grid, and other clean energy technologies
These five closely grouped areas led the pack, with investing in basic research slightly ahead of the others, and the rest shown in order of total votes.
Closely behind them, but in what I will call a second tier, came:
—Reform tax policy (e.g., capital gains, R&D incentives)
—Encourage talent attraction and retention through visa reform
And, most interestingly in some regards, well back from the above, in a clear third tier, were:
—Enact cap-and-trade legislation
—Reform patent laws
—Invest in liberal arts education (this one only got two votes)
Finally, we got several write-ins. Most overlapped closely with some of the categories above (such as taxes and energy). We had one arguing for reducing federal government spending, and my personal favorite: “WORK TOGETHER.” (C’mon Congress, smile on your brother.)
So what does this tell us? Well, none of these suggestions is a shocker. But you can make the case that our readers are saying that Uncle Sam should focus on taking the long view, investing in fundamental areas of research and policy that create conditions for innovation. And you can definitely argue that our readers are saying, even though we may have to make severe budget cuts, please don’t forsake these areas. At least, that is how I read it, though (also admittedly) I’m reading a lot between the lines.
Perhaps most surprising is the low ranking of patent reform. (Did we already get that right with the America Invents Act, enacted a little over a year ago? Guess so.)
And I kind of thought that investing in liberal arts education was interesting, since one thing pointed to in our Xconomist Report on the Future of Education (in which we asked leading innovators around the world to answer the question: What should students be studying now to prepare for 10 years from now?) was an increasing need for people who can communicate well and apply right brain thinking to left brain issues of technology and data. You can of course argue that even if all our readers agreed with that premise, they might still be against the government focusing on that. I am just pointing out that that our lonely pair of votes for liberal arts might have something deeper to it.
In the end, Congress and the President won’t be surprised by our list. We will be surprised, and happily, if they can find a way to make it reality.