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Innovation Nation: How America Is Losing Its Innovation Edge, Why It Matters, and What We Can Do to Get It Back Hardcover – October 2, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Alarmed by the lack of innovation in the United States today, former Harvard Business School professor and current consultant Kao diagnoses the situation, describes best practices, explains how innovation works and puts forth a strategy proposal, all in an attempt to squirt ice water in America's ear. Kao-who has been an entrepreneur, a psychiatrist, an educator and a pianist for Frank Zappa-is clearly passionate about his premise. Aimed primarily at policy makers and legislators, his three-pronged agenda is designed to help the government create a culture committed to constantly reinventing the nature of its innovation capabilities. However, his authoritative and history-rich book is not necessarily useful to the everyday reader, as Kao includes few small-scale strategies. His one effort to bring this down to the citizen's level-in fictional short stories about the future-is a little contrived, jamming in statistics and leaning on flashbacks. But overall, the book does its job. The question is, will lawmakers look at it and follow its lead? (Oct. 2)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Tom Friedman sounded the alarm and gave us the big picture about the flattening of the world, and the decline of education and innovation in the U.S.A. John Kao gives us the specifics on exactly why and how the U.S.A. is losing our most valuable asset -- the ability of Americans to come up with great ideas, from light bulbs to PCs. Most importantly, Kao points in the direction the U.S.A. ought to go if it is not to become a global also-ran."

-- Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution

"The arms race of the last century has been replaced by a new global brain race -- and the U.S. is in danger of unilaterally disarming. This inspiring book frames the challenge facing us and offers immensely practical advice on how to regain our place as innovation leaders."

-- Paul Saffo, Roy Amara Fellow at the Institute for the Future

"John Kao hits the nail squarely on the head. In an engaging and highly readable way he delivers a timely message with important implications for our future -- that the global race for innovation is on, the field is filled with highly focused competitors, and our biggest mistake would be complacency."

-- Sean Randolph, President & CEO, Bay Area Economic Forum

"A nation's capacity for innovation will determine whether it will be rich and powerful or poor and weak. In his insightful exploration of the world of innovation, John Kao makes clear the challenge that America faces as its own capacity for innovation erodes even as the rest of the world's abilities are growing. America's postition of power and wealth will be determined by whether it can rise to meet the challenge of the innovation agenda that Kao lucidly sets out."

-- Peter Schwartz, Chairman, Global Business Network

"It should be a surprise to no one that John Kao's new book is a highly innovative approach to innovation. He analyzes with crystalline clarity the challenges to U.S. innovation hegemony from ambitious and hungry competitors, China, India, Finland, and even Estonia. He does not shrink from advocating specific solutions, including the creation in the United States of 20 $1B Innovation Hubs and a National Innovation Advisor. His vision is not, however, American. He shows us how the whole planet needs to accelerate its capacity for innovation. For those of us who lead institutes dedicated to innovation this is a Bible and a Koran."

-- Reg Kelly, Chairman, Bay Area Science and Innovation Consortium, and Director, Institute of Quantitative Biomedical Research

"An insightful, and scary, account of the innovation challenges faced by the U.S... A very useful book that punctures America's complacency about innovation."

--Business Week

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (October 2, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416532684
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416532682
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #766,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By J. Groen VINE VOICE on May 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For a book about Innovation, there is nothing Innovative about this book. The stories about Singapore, Finland and Ireland are well known and can be found in Business Week or Wall Street Journal. Yes, and well read readers will know that we are losing our innovation edge to China and India. No new information there. And, his answers are not new - use the internet, improve our education systems, entice outside talent, better offices, etc. In fact, I would even question his definition of innovation - jazz is innovative but classical music is not? He starts with the assertion that innovation is not just about technology and science and then labors onto technology and science. Further, at the end of this book, he used the "I" word so many times to emphasize his opinion, that I lost count of it. I can go on about this book, but let me leave it with this - this is the worst book on innovation that I have read. A lot of borrowing from others, a lot hype on what he will provide for solutions and then NO delivery. Don't waste your time on this book.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Frank T. Manheim on April 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The author's book offers what may be considered by Europeans as a curiously anomalous idea: that the United States's main problems stem from insufficient innovation. Can one describe as lacking in innovation a nation that produces out-of-the-box ideas like community colleges, sending a man to the moon, Borlaug's green revolution, Internet, web browsers, CD ROM and DVD, - including its revolutionary introduction of reader reviews (no, I am not a paid agent for Amazon), Ebay, blogging, Apple products, and endless Nobel prize winners in biology and medicine?

Certainly, the nation's educational problem is dire. But does Kao really believe that innovation is the key to fixing the U.S.'s systematic deterioration in economy (deindustrialization), infrastructure, fiscal soundness, pension security; that clever ideas could deal with our anomalous levels of crime and violence compared with all nations of comparable GDP,political gridlock, or our degraded popular TV and entertainment media?

I might hire Kao to rev up innovation in my company if I were an industrialist, but I would not elect or appoint him to advise on public policy issues. Instead, I suggest that Kao may be a symptom of the fragmentation and willingness to settle for superficiality that has developed in the U.S. over the past 45 years.

The EU is not as flashy and exciting as the U.S. But it has evolved a civilized pattern of cooperation. It leads in environmental policy and acting on (not just writing or yelling about)global climate change. The Dollar is sinking ever lower with respect to the Euro (now trading at 1.55).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By George Bush HALL OF FAME on April 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Between 2005-06, some 30,000 professionals left the U.S. to return to their native India; China has made encouraging the return of their educated expatriates a priority. Meanwhile, U.S. students continue to rank poorly, and innovation is increasingly becoming a government priority for other nations. In the U.S., however, we are becoming the Detroit of nations, taking the path of least resistance, basking in fading glory, and bogged down by old values and thinking. Example: The U.S. got a major 'free ride' from German immigrants in the 1940s, and mistakenly claimed their contributions as evidence of our superiority.

'Green" has become the new red, white, and blue - yet, is blocked by lack of consensus on need, impact, funding source, etc. The U.S. ranks 17th among 30 OECD nations on R&D tax incentives.

Large-firm CEOs have lately deinstitutionalized innovation, instead eg. buying upstart biotech firms with valuable technologies - innovation by M&A instead of R&D. Even more recently - deliberate outsourcing and offshoring of R&D.

Robert Solow won the Nobel Prize in economics demonstrating that as much as 80% of GDP growth comes from the introduction of new technologies. Similarly, Boston Consulting Group, in a study for BusinessWeek, found innovative companies achieved median profit-margin growth of 3.4%, vs. 0.4% for the S&P Global 1200 median. Disruptive change (eg. introducing the Sony Walkman, the PC) is much more important to boosting GDP than innovative improvement (eg. adding to Oreo's brand extensions, 'me too' drugs). Opportunities abound for disruptive innovation - addressing global warming, education, communicable diseases and cancer, energy sufficiency.

Some assorted background facts contained in "Innovation Nation:"

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dennis DeWilde on March 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Acknowledging the same reality, but offering a glimmer of National hope to Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat" thesis, John Kao lays the framework for an "Innovation Solution" toward the vision of America becoming: "...accelerant for global innovation by steering the world toward addressing the formidable range of wicked problems we face..." It is a brilliantly written, comprehensive analysis; filled with possibility and promise, even as it accepts the reality of our shortcomings and the enormity of these "Wicked Problems".

Defining innovation as, "the ability of individuals, companies, and entire nations to continuously create their desired future", Kao takes the reader on a quick trip around the globe to demonstrate how the key success factors for innovation are no longer domiciled within the U.S.A. He demonstrates how Talent, Capital, Government Investment, and the Silicon Valley concept are now everywhere - Bangalore to Singapore and Finland to Ireland. It is a shocking view of reality that will be shared by most readers who are regular travelers to countries abroad.

The author then offers his proposal: "...the United States specialize in a more comprehensive, transformational style of innovation, one that allows for placing big bets on the future, deploying its enormous resources, carrying out ambitious and mold-breaking experiments, reinventing the way we educate our young, aligning our federal, state, and local agendas, and recharging the magnetism of openness and opportunity that has historically attracted the world's talent to our shores." And, chapter by chapter he demonstrates how the components of innovation work, and how the U.S. might re-create these components as the foundation for addressing what he has called the wicked problems we face.
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