From sea to shining sea, America’s real promise is innovation.
Where does the US stand in terms of innovation? While headlines bemoan middling academics and economic struggles, it turns out that innovation, tracked by the number of patents filed between 1977 and 2015, rules the roost in America. In fact, if states were independent countries, certain US states would push entire countries off the list for most patents filed. So why is America leading the world in innovation?
The most basic reason is that the US has a culture promoting the free exchange of ideas, allowing innovators to put them to the test in both public and private spheres. Americans take this for granted, but the reality is, freedom of the press is about much more than just calling out politicians. More often than not, innovation is a politically inconvenient process; history is littered with stories of scientists, artists, and others being punished for breakthroughs because they made somebody in power uncomfortable.
Innovation abounds in a culture where people can question anything from the political system to the quality of TV shows. Repressive regimes and dictators fear the question “Why?” in any context, so that Americans are free to discuss anything is crucial to our innovative spirit.
The Educational System
Another factor is that the US has a top-notch educational system, especially at the level of higher education. Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Yale and more are all in America, and that’s not even considering the excellent state colleges across the country. The US has more colleges, more college students, and thus more research than any other higher education system in the world. That means more multidisciplinary research across the board, more research into the questions that matter, and more funding for work of substance — whether a company asks a college to study their idea in more detail, or simply pure, detailed scientific work.
This extends to high schools and even grade schools. More foreign exchange students come to the US than leave. Also, despite what you might hear about test scores, the US’s educational culture encourages critical and creative thinking, not rote memorization, which pushes innovation even further.
Innovation is an American tradition.
Some of this innovation is thanks to a handful of companies. Part of the reason California alone filed over 600,000 patents is the presence of companies like Apple and Google. These companies not only file a lot of patents and bring in a lot of Americans to innovate, they also bring in a lot of innovative talent from across the world. Multiple perspectives allow ideas to be handled in more ways and for unique approaches to be considered.
This also opens the door to preventing unexpected problems in other parts of the world, raising the value of American innovation. And it means American ideas can be used to solve problems across the world. Whether immigrants come here for a short time to learn and return to their home, or whether they stay here as citizens, the melting pot of perspectives, ideas, and experiences means no innovation rests in a vacuum.
Innovation should never be taken for granted. In the end, innovation is America’s most precious resource, and we need to foster it as much as we can. To do your part, join our newsletter.