Innovating Through Artistry

Obama dropping the I-bombs

In Author: Adam Shames on August 12, 2009 at 10:47 pm

The Prez was dropping the “I”-bomb again and again last week, talking up innovation on last weekend’s radio and Internet address and in Elkhart County, Indiana, last Wednesday. It’s nice to know that for the moment “Innovation” is a favorable term for both Democrats and Republicans. But in watching how Obama uses it–and he does indeed use it with panache–can you tell me what it really means or represents for him?

On the one hand, he makes it clear that the United States has long been home for innovators: “The United States led the world’s economies in the 20th century because we led the world in innovation,” he told the Indiana audience yesterday. “Innovation has been essential to our prosperity in the past, and it will be essential to our prosperity in the future,” he said in his radio address.

But he acknowledges that innovation is not where it should be right now, and is now “more important than ever” because of keener competition and tougher challenges. Check out the different ways he describes our Innovation Imperative and the assumed DNA of the United States of Creativity:

“We need to recapture the spirit of innovation that has always moved America forward.”

“We have to harness the potential –- the innovative and creative spirit –- that’s waiting to be awakened all across America.”

“All it takes are the policies to tap that potential — to ignite that spark of creativity and ingenuity — which has always been at the heart of who we are and how we succeed.”

“It is only by building a new foundation that we will once again harness that incredible generative capacity of the American people.”

“Real innovation depends not on government but on the generative potential of the American people.”

Certainly eloquent. But the truth is you can listen for hours and still not be sure what innovation is. Could we substitute a different word for “innovation”–perhaps “change” or “Obama policies”–without much lost in meaning? For Obama the CEO, innovation generally means targeted investments, particularly in new technologies and incentives related to energy, and other policies such as making the R&D tax credit permanent and reducing capital gains taxes for investments in small or start-up businesses. But that’s not what he means when he uses innovation to inspire.

Right now the I-bombs sound good–and offer some juicy quotes for me and you to trumpet the cause of creativity and innovation. But outside of investment and tax cuts, we need much more discussion on what innovation really means as a culture.

For more posts from Adam, visit his Innovation on My Mind blog…

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