Human Potential

Boosting American Innovation

May 2, 2017 at 4:50 AM | Approx. reading time 5 mins.

Once again today, I have this deep sense that we are all standing on the brink of a great revolution. A revolution unlike anything humanity has known before. A revolution driven by computing and digital technologies - fundamentally changing the way we go about our work and lives. And I am glad to have this opportunity - even if in a small way - to guide its development, and grasp the opportunity to direct it to create a future where tens and thousands of people will have a better chance to build for themselves the lives that they aspire to live. While it's certainly not the first time my thoughts have taken this turn, today it's triggered by the announcement we just made to hire 10,000 American workers, and set up four Technology and Innovation Hubs with integrated training infrastructure, in the U.S., to help nurture the next generation of American innovators.

When we think about the context in which we must nurture young talent in our workplaces, we clearly see that automation technologies are already doing much of our problem solving. In fact, solutions to most known, well-defined problems - the challenges that we've cracked before - can now be executed by software. Which means the jobs that were performed by earlier generations are all now ripe for automation, and in many cases, already automated. Then, what's the basis on which today's budding careers must be nurtured? The answer clearly lies in our humanity. In learning to cultivate and put to practical use all that makes us human - our curiosity, our creativity and our hunger to learn and grow. Because, while automated systems may surpass humans in performing well-defined cognitive tasks (problem-solving), spotting new problems worth solving, and new opportunities to build something that does not yet exist (problem-finding) is still an innately human endeavor that no machine has mastered.

This then leads us to an important insight: our youngsters need to embrace, on the one hand, a problem-finding mindset to complement creative problem-solving, and on the other to evolve beyond simply consuming technology to making with technology. And these can be learned. We can all learn to find the right problems to solve, and to re-skill ourselves to make with technology the solutions that solve these problems effectively. Training our talent pools in the Design Thinking approach to dealing with challenges, can help internalize the ways of problem-finding, as repeatable and practical methods to explore new avenues of value-creation and bringing innovation to life. The other focus area must be to work to give everyone access to fundamental knowledge and computing skills relevant in these times, remove the elitism around technology and enable us all to play a part in a future that promises to be increasingly digital. One of the challenges today is that technologies are evolving so rapidly that it is no mean task for large pools of talent to build deep expertise in these emerging technologies. One way to address this is to ensure that talent with closely adjacent skills are continuously reskilled for these new competencies. And this learning must continue throughout our lives -- well beyond the traditional classroom -- furthered at workplaces by enterprises and employers who invest in creating and nurturing creators. This way, new ideas won't be isolated within 'innovation departments' and labs. Instead, a collective creative model in which junior staff work alongside business leaders to develop and implement new ideas and concepts, will thrive. In such an enterprise, breakthrough innovation might happen sporadically, but bite-sized, on-the-job, grassroots innovations-at-scale will always be in the making.

These notions, and the things we need to achieve them have been an integral part of who we are, our priorities, and our culture of education and learning for 35 long years. In fact, our announcement today simply reflects the latest expression of one of our oldest commitments. As traditional industries like banking, healthcare, manufacturing and even farming continue to be disrupted by software and computing technologies, we want to do our bit to make sure that our own colleagues and our talent pool - especially young and local talent - are not stranded on the wrong side of this disruption. The only way out is through rapid re-skilling and education. And our journey continues onward on that long road full of adventure, full of knowledge, enriching us in new ways every day.