Hello, Conference Board? What Year Is This?
The Conference Board issued a report on May 7 on innovation and U.S. competitiveness. The conclusion: “Innovation is critical to economic recovery and future U.S. competitiveness, and the focus on short-term cost-cutting risks deflecting attention from this crucial economic priority.”
Now it’s unarguably good to have another big-name business group remind everyone that “innovation is the lifeblood of the U.S. economy,” as this 28-page report does. But I have to wonder whether Microsoft, which funded the research, got its money’s worth. Much of the supporting material comes from a Conference Board/Business Council survey of CEOs from … 2006. Other data, on job skills and immigration, end as far back as 2000.
If CEOs were asked in 2009 whether innovation is important to long-term growth and profitability, 93% might well say yes, as they did three years ago, when the economy was, shall we say, a smidge healthier. But we wouldn't know from this report.
Bart van Ark, the Conference Board's chief economist, acknowledges that events kind of passed the researchers by. He tells me that the board began working on this study in 2007, at the suggestion of Microsoft, and was just about done when, Bam! the recession slammed the world last fall. He adds that the overall message is still valid—that other countries such as China are catching up with the U.S. in innovation.
Far enough. But if this is an eternal truth, then what did this research really yield?