The Spectrum of Talent

Economic growth, many argue, stems from technological innovation.  Does technological innovation depend on the flow of STEM talent from our educational system?  That certainly was not the case in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Inventors emerged from all corners of society, few equipped with degrees in science and technology.

The transformation from inventions to innovation more significantly depended on highly educated people to design factories, create supply chains, and fashion communications that attracted consumers to fuel increasing demands for digital devices, communications platforms, designer clothes, sports and entertainment.  Turning a good idea into a pervasively desired commercial offering takes talent.

It seems to me that great ideas – inventions – emerge from a wide range of insightful, creative, and committed sources, many steeped in experience more than education.  Educated talent is brought to bear to scale technical inventions into market innovations.  Many, perhaps most, inventions are not scalable and do not “make the cut.”  A few do and are enormous market successes.

What limits success?  Do we need more inventors or innovators – or both?  Another possibility is that the market can only absorb so much success.  Are we all ready for digital devices, driverless cars, teleportation, and space travel?  Perhaps innovations happen when ideas converge with compelling needs.  Then, educated talent makes sure we learn about, embrace, and can afford inventions that become innovations.

Talent, then, is waiting in the wings for inventors to create things that can be transformed into innovations.  How might we facilitate this?  It seems to me that we need to get inventors and innovators to frequent the same pubs.  Transformation is a social process that, while watching one or another sporting event, gets people talking about what each other does.  The key is bringing ideas and talent together.

I am not limiting this idea to scientists and engineers – creators and exploiters of technical knowledge.  The pub needs to be welcoming to artists and artisans, humanists and historians.  The currency is ideas and insights, not bucks and bitcoins.  Enough alliteration.  You get the idea.  We need the full spectrum of talent to address problems and create valuable solutions.

Here is a crazy idea.  What if pubs had agendas, say on Mondays to avoid competing with sporting events?  Each Monday would address a different challenge – education, energy, healthcare, etc.  Each pub would somehow capture all the ideas discussed and provide them to a national clearing house.  The ideas from thousands of pubs would be aggregated and presented on a weekly PBS show, What America Thinks.  I realize polls try to do this, but they don’t offer pub food and drinks.

We need the discussions and debates to be live and hands-on, not filling in forms on your tablets or laptops.  Teams, Webex, or Zoom might provide the venues, but I want to see if the person I am arguing with drinks beer, wine or vodka, and has fries or a side salad.  When he or she makes a great point, I want to buy them another drink.  I want to be able to show them pictures of my grandson, my favorite red panda at the zoo, or the classic 1940s car I am restoring. 

I think we have the talent, energy, and enthusiasm to address and resolve major societal challenges.  However, this cannot be an academic exercise pursued by specialists.  It needs to be a team sport that we pursue together.  While I advocate meeting in pubs, it could be in churches or at social clubs where all perspectives are welcome.  The venue has to allow all values, concerns, and perceptions to be heard, not necessarily agreed with but heard.

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