Thursday, March 5, 2009

Innovation Panel of Experts

I've been lucky enough in the last week to see not one but two different sessions on Innovation. The first, held here at HP, was a talk by Judy Estrin on her new book, Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy. The second was a panel discussion at the Churchill Club which included Judy Estrin as well as Josephine M. Cheng (IBM), Rick Rashid (Microsoft), Sue Siegel (Mohr Davidow Ventures) and the moderator-Michael Mandel from BusinessWeek.

Both were great talks and really had me thinking about the lack of investment in Innovation and pure basic science in the last 8 years. I remember when I was a biochemist, there were months where we would obsessively write and rewrite grant applications to help fund our lab. And the requirement that we tie our research to a hot topic -since it was the early 80's the first year it was cancer, the second year it was Aids. But once the grants were done there was something about doing pure science that was extremely satisfying - endlessly refining the processes and protocols, becoming better and better at replicating results, and the days where there were actual breakthroughs that were thrilling.

I can't imagine how it has been for scientists in the last 8 years as the last administration literally closed the doors on areas of research, barring them from moving things forward. Hfrustrating for the scientists, and how horrifying that we've delayed finding cures for diseases by 8 years. Having lost both my parents to cancer, my dad when I was just a kid, the thought that some other child might lose a parent because of this 8 year delay is extremely frustrating.

But from these talks it's become clear that Innovation has been thwarted in many directions - not just the biological sciences. I'm enjoying reading Judy's book and last night's session gave me a lot to think about in terms of the need to embrace and promote pure research. And also about the need to find the time to think and be creative is critical to all our futures.

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