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10/21/2010
12:40 PM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Innovation Mandate Gets Glenn Beck Shout-Out

The Fox News commentator, citing InformationWeek Analytics research, says the U.S. has gotten soft. But are we underestimating just how technically strong we really are?

On his nationally televised program on Fox News earlier this week, Glenn Beck called attention to InformationWeek's Innovation Mandate research, focusing on one particular data point: that tech workers no longer are "hungry" enough to out-innovate counterparts based abroad.

Before those of you who lean to the left roll your eyes (argh, Beck!) and move on, please allow me to extrapolate on that data point: 21% of the 427 business technology professionals we surveyed who think the U.S. is losing or has lost its IT leadership position cited "a corporate culture where tech workers no longer are 'hungry' enough" among the top three reasons for their concern. On his program, Beck focused on that hunger, or lack thereof, in transitioning to a discussion about the genius and "99% perspiration" of this country's greatest inventor, Thomas Edison.

What Beck didn't note was that survey respondents cited five other issues as even more challenging to this country's tech competitiveness, including shortsighted decisions that ship tech jobs and innovation abroad (66% of respondents put that among their top three reasons) and the failure of the U.S. education system to produce workers who excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (58%).

Still, there's a strong undercurrent, voiced not only by Beck but also by scores of IT pros who have commented on various InformationWeek.com columns and articles over the years, that the U.S. is deteriorating into a nation of couch potatoes. Here's one online commenter's view on a column I wrote last year:

"Are you surprised? You shouldn't be. Dad is the football addict who is stuck to the TV every weekend. We and our kids watch sports galore and shows like American Idol on TV, spend big bucks on sports events, scream passionately at the Little League coaches when we think they made a wrong call. Why, sports and entertainment are practically the fabric of our lives. At least the part of our lives that we enjoy. I was told many years ago by a man who had a science degree and was working a second job as a real estate agent that science was one of the 'hardest careers for the least amount of reward that you could go into.' I have to agree with him."

At the opposite extreme are those who think Americans are entitled to a job and a comfortable standard of living, ostensibly because we've paid our dues as a society and shouldn't have to lower ourselves to compete on an "uneven global playing field." According to this line of thinking, ensuring full employment is the responsibility of kinder, gentler (less greedy) employers and/or government jobs programs. While this notion is gaining traction of late, it dates back to at least 1973, when the Humphrey-Hawkins Bill stipulated that every U.S. citizen "able and willing to work" had the right to do so. The fact that that bill never came to pass indicates that it's the stuff of political dreaminess and not economic reality.

Today, any suggestion that employers are having trouble finding qualified people, especially in IT, when so many are out of work is met with disdain, as if companies are just making excuses so that they can shop for cheaper labor abroad. But a recent Innovation Mandate interview with Patrick Byrne, CEO of discount retailer Overstock.com, which doesn't use offshore IT talent after some bad experiences, suggests that some employers really are struggling to find qualified people at home.

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