My final conclusion is that the answer lies in an intricate combination of many factors: American culture, capitalism, availability of systems, research focus, immigration, and an attractive innovation environment.
In the American capitalist system, you get paid according to the value you add to people’s lives. Your value is less about your education or what you know, and more about what you actually do. (Now, compare this situation with what is valued in many other countries.) Capitalism explains why you can buy tea imported from China for pennies in the US, even though, for example, the cost of flight from the US to China is certainly much more expensive. It’s is also the reason why you can talk on the phone across the Atlantic Ocean for less than a dollar, even though it took decades and tens of billions of dollars to lay the fiber optic cables on the sea bed of the Atlantic Ocean. Other examples: corporate lawyers make so much more than teachers even though teaching is a very worthy profession, and CEOs make millions of dollars, while their employees make a mere fraction. Thus, in the US, you can become fabulously wealthy by adding value to people’s lives. This is America! The quest for wealth in this manner propels Americans to innovate and add value to our lives.
Culturally speaking, the US is very different from virtually everywhere else in the world. For example, American culture doesn’t reward deference or not stepping out. While people from other cultures may describe Americans as “loud,” “in your face,” “very confident,” and “full of themselves,” these are precisely the characteristics of people who develop and pursue ideas and actually believe that the ideas will work. Note that confidence comes in very handy when you try to innovate. As Jack and Susie Welch put it, you need confidence in order to simply business processes, while the simplicity in turn helps you move on ideas with speed.
Additionally, when compared with people from other countries, Americans are not as afraid to fail and so they take a lot more risks. If an idea does not work, Americans abandon it quickly and move on to the next “big thing.” Compare this to the “honorable” suicides of Japanese businessmen during the Japanese economic crisis of the 1990s.
The US values knowledge and, if you know where to look, the system provides whatever you need to grow and utilize your knowledge, while you, in return, use the knowledge to help develop the country. This respect for knowledge is very motivating as it encourages folks to try even harder to discover new things that can benefit the human race. Also, discoveries do certainly provide great legacy.
Americans are, by a large margin, the most hardworking people on earth. There is no doubt that Americans put in the long hours to make their ideas work. When you combine risk-taking, incessant experimentation with ideas, hard work, persistence, burning desire (chief aim), and definitely-planned work, you’ll record a lot of success. This seems to be the American story.
Let’s face it. In addition to being “the land of opportunities,” America is also the land of rules, regulations, and laws. I don’t believe there is any country in the world with more rules and regulations than the US. America is also the land of “systems.” The country is highly organized such that everything falls neatly and nicely in place. That is, you can predict the outcomes of inputs, with precise timelines. Also, there are consequences for breaking the laws of the land, no matter who you are, and the consequences scale with the gravity of the offence. This situation is certainly not the case in many developing countries, including Nigeria.
Attractive innovation environment
It’s much easier to obtain funding for promising ideas in the US than in other countries. There are government contracts and grants available for innovative ideas, some of which could decidedly be risky; that is, with very low probability of leading to an innovation. There are venture capitalists, whose main job is to find new ideas to fund under very attractive conditions. Not only are venture capitalists not available in most other countries, the cost of borrowing money can be prohibitive. In the US, if your organization is appropriately set up, you can also “enjoy” bankruptcy protection if your ideas don’t work out as planned. (According to one statistic, over 75% of American billionaires have filed for bankruptcy at least once before they hit it big.) You can walk away from the failed business and start another one. After all you can start a company in the US in days, and you do not need a lawyer. (It could take up to 6 months or more to form a corporation in some countries, and you need lawyers.)
The main idea of this article is that the US leads the world in innovation because of several factors, some of which we have covered in this article. The remaining factors – immigration, the educational system, and specialized research, will be covered next week in this column.
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