S+B: So when we get past thinking about threats, we see opportunities for the U.S. to maintain and even enhance its position as a global innovator?
SEGAL: Part of the problem has been this framing of the changing landscape in terms of competition — as a zero-sum game. Instead, we need to realize that the U.S. benefits from the rise of China and India, as long as we can leverage what’s going on. By growing more comfortable with the flowing in and out of ideas, we also strengthen our own position.
Almost all the people I have interviewed in China and India are of the mind-set that they face significant barriers to building innovation systems. They have real problems that need to be addressed and are being addressed, but still have a long way to go. They recognize that the United States has significant strengths, but they also believe that Americans have lost perspective — that the U.S. has forgotten that it has these great strengths that are not easily replicable.
Right now, we have a window of opportunity while China and India are still trying to find their footing. The U.S. is still very well positioned to ensure it will benefit as China and India start making innovation breakthroughs. The other point is that the software of innovation becomes even more important as we move out into the future and innovation becomes even more globalized. The U.S. has a great ability to manage across time and culture in different places, conduct cutting-edge interdisciplinary research, recognize new markets and consumer demands, and welcome new ideas — capabilities that other countries are just learning.
- Laura W. Geller is deputy managing editor of strategy+business.