Trolling for the Innovation Jobs

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So what are these new jobs that will help America get back on its feet economically?

The fact is America has lost most manufacturing jobs simply because labor costs in less developed nations are lower, much lower; and we are steadily losing service sector jobs because now every country, every individual, can afford the most powerful computer that is made at a fraction of the price computers cost thirty years ago.

According to a story in The New York Times, President Obama asked Apple founder Steve Jobs, “What would it take to make iPhones in the United States? Why can’t that work come home?” Mr. Jobs’ reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back.”

The secret going forward is creativity and innovation or as one moderator at the Aspen/ULI event put it: It is ‘Innovation, Design, Education and the Arts.’

Yet, although everybody is talking about how innovation is what we need and will solve our jobless dilemma, few people know what innovation is or how we get it, or critically, what our schools must do to give our young people the innovation skills they so desperately need.

Not that we aren’t saying the right things. President Obama, in his State of the Union address last January, said: “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.” According to Forbes magazine, “If there was a central theme to the president’s remarks, it was innovation.”

The administration however, has been slow to define this bight new future.

Webster’s Dictionary says innovation is simply “the introduction of something new or a new idea, method, or device… a novelty.” In business terms it’s more complex. According to, it is “The process by which an idea or invention is translated into a good or service for which people will pay, or something that results from this process.”

BusinessDictionary continues:

To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need. Innovation involves deliberate application of information, imagination, and initiative in deriving greater or different value from resources, and encompasses all processes by which new ideas are generated and converted into useful products. In business, innovation often results from the application of a scientific or technical idea in decreasing the gap between the needs or expectations of the customers and the performance of a company’s products. In a social context, innovation is equally important in devising new collaborative methods such as alliance creation, joint venturing, flexible working hours, and in creating buyers’ purchasing power through methods such as layaway plans.

We do know that being innovative means thinking differently-experimenting, observing, questioning, networking-letting the creative person out.

Jeff DeGraff, University of Michigan Business School Professor and author of Innovation You: Four Steps to Becoming New and Improved has said: “The challenge I think for us is learning to paint, learning to sing, learning to dance, learning to play an instrument – these things that involve us in the creative process in a very direct way … It just strikes me as very curious. What we really ought to be focusing on is this much more hands-on approach to integrating science and the arts in our young people.”

In a Forbes magazine article entitled “Creating Innovators: Why America’s Education System is Obsolete,” Erica Swallow characterizes Harvard Innovation Education Fellow Tony Wagner’s research: “Knowledge that children are encouraged to soak up in American schools — the memorization of planets, state capitals, the Periodic Table of Elements — can only take students so far. But “skill and will” determine a child’s ability to think outside of the box, he says.”

Sure, we need to try to get some of the jobs back that we have lost to off shoring and out sourcing. But Steve Jobs is probably right. The jobs we are losing or have lost are gone or going in the wake of globalization, and not likely to return.

Alan Weber, co-founder of the successful business magazine Fast Company, said at an Urban Land Institute event last month, “we are living in a start-up economy” in which education is one of the most important issues facing us, that merging art and science in the curriculum, and importantly, reinventing the curriculum in to meet the challenges of the new age of innovation is critical.

It’s also imperative the whole community-particularly the business community- gets engaged in solving the problems of education and figuring out where the new jobs are and will be and how we get there.


John M. Eger

Professor of Communications and Public Policy and Director of the Creative Economy Initiative, San Diego State University

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Trolling for the Innovation Jobs

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