Getting More Scientists, Engineers and Entrepreneurs into Government

Thomas Jefferson said, “If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send one hundred and fifty lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour? ”

In the 111th Congress:



Many of our elected officials’ important duties involve running the economy, allocating resources and budgets, and analyzing policies based on their inputs and expected outcomes, yet lawyers have less experience at this than businessmen and economists (the next most common professions in politics). When it comes to deciding on whether to join a currency union, how to direct a trade negotiation, whether to cut taxes or how to design a social program, lawyers appear dangerously under-qualified compared businessmen and economists.

When we are confronted with the greatest crises in the world today – global warming, disease, energy scarcity – lawyers appear to be dangerously under-qualified compared to scientists, doctors and engineers. Lawyers tend to have little substantive expertise in any of these areas, and it is their skill at “politics” rather than “policy” that seems to have enabled their political success.

Decreasing the domination of politics by lawyers will mean that we have achieved some progress in reigning in the influence of money.

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Innovative Business Practices from the Bible

For several years Peter Denning, author of The Innovator’s Way, has been puzzling over why it seems that our innovation adoption rates are low even though our idea production rates are high. The overall success rate of innovation initiatives in business is around 4%. Yet many businesses report that they have too many ideas and waste precious time and resources struggling to select the ones most likely to succeed and then work them through to adoption. We are idea rich, selection baffled, and adoption poor.

What if innovation is not ideas generated, but practices adopted? What if entrepreneurs, rather than inventors, are the real innovators? Should we worry less about stimulating creativity and imagination, and more about developing our skills at getting our communities to adopt new practices. We would approach design not as an expression of ideas but as the framework for new practices.

In The Case for God, Karen Armstrong explains that until the modern period, the major Western monotheisms all concerned themselves primarily with practice, the doing of religion, rather than doctrine [ideas]. A good Muslim was one who stood alongside and supported the Pillars; a good Jew observed Sabbath and remained committed to the Law and the ritual year; and a good Christian embodied the Sermon on the Mount by caring for the marginalized, promoting compassion and peace, and sharing God’s love. This is what it meant to be religious, Armstrong explains:

Religion as defined by the great sages of India, China, and the Middle East was not a notional activity but a practical one; it did not require belief in a set of doctrines but rather hard, disciplined work, without which any religious teaching remained opaque and incredible.

Is there a relationship between our business practices and our religious practices?

[To begin to understand why practices may be more important than ideas,] we must become comfortable with the fact that mind generally does not work the way it appears to. This sounds paradoxical. We expect our introspective sense of mind to serve as a reasonable guide to the actual nature of mind. We expect it to give us a loose picture that, once enhanced by science, will represent the workings of mind. But it is instead badly deceptive. Our loose picture of mind is a loose fantasy. Consciousness is a wonderful instrument for helping us to focus, to make certain kinds of decisions and discriminations, and to create certain kinds of memories, but it is a liar about mind. It shamelessly represents itself as comprehensive and all-governing, when in fact the real work is often done elsewhere, in ways too fast and too smart and too effective for slow, dumb, unreliable consciousness to do more than glimpse, dream of, and envy.

More to come…

Let America Be America Again

America’s problem is not that it does not work like China. It is that it no longer works like America. ~ Richard McGregor

[T]his paper shows that without startups, there would be no net job growth in the U.S. economy. This fact is true on average, but also is true for all but seven years for which the United States has data going back to 1977…. Startups create an average of 3 million new jobs annually. All other ages of firms, including companies in their first full years of existence up to firms established two centuries ago, are net job destroyers, losing 1 million jobs net combined per year. ~ The Importance of Startups in Job Creation and Job Destruction by The Kauffman Foundation

[A] critical aspect of improving the U.S. economy is actually improving the small business economy and making it easier to start a business and to grow small businesses.

[A] magisterial study by Deloitte’s Center for the Edge… shows the rates of return on assets and on invested capital for 20,000 US firms from 1965 to 2011. It shows that “managerialism” has been steadily failing for the last half century.

Economy-wide Return on Invested Capital

The graphic shows that something has gone so terribly wrong with the US private sector—the supposed engine of economic growth and the supposed creators of jobs. When the best firms have rates of return on assets or on invested capital of, on average, just over one percent, we have a management catastrophe on our hands.

An ROA of just over one percent means that firms are dying faster and faster: the life expectancy of firms in the Fortune 500 is now less than fifteen years and declining rapidly. Continue reading