Super Cities №31 - Innovation Across Time and Space

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

“From the advances that put a computer on every desk to the discoveries that led to lifesaving vaccines, major innovations are the result of both government investments in basic research and the private-sector creativity and investments that turn them into transformative products.” — Bill Gates


On September 12, 1962, nine months after his inauguration, President Kennedy gave a speech about the race to space. The speech is remembered for this classic line: “we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things … not because they are easy, but because it is hard.”

But my favorite passage of the speech came at the end:

Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.

Like Mallory four decades earlier, Kennedy focused his attention on the pressing issues of his time. He didn’t describe innovation as an abstraction; instead, he named the challenge and charged us — young and old, man and woman — to solve it.

Leaders around the world are following Kennedy’s example.

Australia recently released its 2030 Strategic Plan for Innovation, Science and Research System. Its Chairman summarized:

“The thinking here is to coalesce a national innovation culture around projects that will provide a step-change in capabilities throughout the innovation system as well as provide significant economic and social benefits for all Australians. Big projects that will inspire Australians of all ages about the possibilities of what can be achieved when we back our scientists and researchers and entrepreneurs working in collaboration.”

Germany calls its innovation blueprint — to be reached by 2020 — — Industrie 4.0: “in which people, devices, objects, and systems combine to form dynamic, self-organizing networks of production.”

By 2018, China will likely top $600 billion in annual in development research, more than twice the United States. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stated: “Innovation is the primary driving force for development and must occupy a central place in China’s development strategy.”

The world is more complex today than it was in Kennedy’s time. In the race for innovation, space is now just one of many frontiers.

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