being able to mobilize focus on a topic,” he said. “With the right leadership you can make marvelous things happen.”
If one accepts that position, “you can structure innovation in the world in six layers,” Dr. Mote said. The first layer is the individual. “An individual has to have innovative personality, focus, and capability,” he said. The second layer is organizational—a company, university, or “just two or three people who come together and have an innovative idea.” Sergei Brin and Larry Page, who started Google in 1998, are examples. “They didn’t have a company, just two innovative individuals,” he said.
The third level is regional—collections of organizations and individuals “that may not even have a specific focus,” Dr. Mote said. The next is the state or provincial level. There needs to be leadership at the governmental level “that has the same level of authority and, possibly, inspiration.” The fifth level is national. Leadership typically comes from the president or the presidential equivalents.
Finally, there is the global level. When one goes down the list of great international challenges—such as climate change, water, terrorism, and oceans—“all involve innovation on a global platform,” Dr. Mote said. “That requires leadership on a global scale.” The United States, however, is not well positioned to participate at this level. “We are very much bottom-up,” he said. “We begin to run out of steam once we get to the regional level.”
Efforts by the departments of Energy and Commerce to facilitate innovation clusters are “a marvelously good, important step,” Dr. Mote said. This kind of federal collaboration hasn’t occurred in the United States since before 1945, he noted. “At some point, the national piece will have to come into play so that we can take on these challenges. Otherwise, it cannot happen, because these things must be done through intergovernmental relationships.”
Dr. Mote noted that nations with top-down innovation environments, such as China, Singapore, and Russia, “are all trying to work their way to the bottom, while the United States is trying to work its way to the top. I think the collaborations between us will help us get there, because I think the whole spectrum has to be covered for us to take on these big challenges.”