Production and the Innovation Economy

I spent this morning at the National Academy of Sciences where leaders of the MIT Taskforce on Innovation and Production released their preliminary findings, which will be published in an expanded book form later this year. The preliminary findings are facscinating, and based on an interesting mix of new research, including extensive interviews with manufacturers on how they innovate.  Long-time manufacturing policy wonks won’t be surprised by the findings, but the study does bring a fresh persepective with its focus on rebuilding an innovation ecosystem that is closely tied to home-based production capacities and systems.

If there’s one message I took from today’s proceedings, it was the message from Suzanne Berger (the project’s co-chair) that, when it comes to innovation, US firms are “home alone.”  If they develop a new innovation, it’s solely up to them to scale it up and bring it to market.  In contrast, foreign manufacturers can tap into a diverse network of resources, including specialized funding, training programs, technical assistance and the like.  American firms continue to innovate, but success often depends on heroic effort, massive risk, and lots of luck.   A more robust innovation system, which links firms to resources for research, worker training, and financing tools, would reduce some, but not all, of the risks in developing new products, processes, and services.  We need to rebuild the “industrial commons,” and the preliminary ideas from this Task Force are a good place to start.

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