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Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to discuss the role of innovation in society. It explores the relationship between societal happiness and economic growth and how innovation is linked to both issues. Design/methodology/approach – The paper briefly discusses the concept of innovation and the instrumental role that innovative people play in generating wealth and sustaining confidence and dedication among the widest possible segment of society. Findings – Based on economic logic and social perspectives, it is argued that innovation is not merely an economic issue but also a social factor that is characteristically linked to societal wellbeing and the position of a nation in the global marketplace. Originality/value – The paper offers a unique perspective on innovation and argues that it is a fatal mistake to view innovation as independent of the social and political aspects of any society. The paper sets the stage for an effective dialogue by which the essence of innovation, optimism, and economic growth can be recognized and reflected on as interrelated issues.
EDITORIAL
Innovation, happiness, and growth
Abbas J. Ali
IUP, Indiana, Pennsylvania, USA
Abstract
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to discuss the role of innovation in society. It explores the
relationship between societal happinessand economic growth and how innovation is linkedto both issues.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper briefly discusses the concept of innovation and the
instrumental role that innovative people play in generating wealth and sustaining confidence and
dedication among the widest possible segment of society.
Findings – Based on economic logic and social perspectives, it is argued that innovation is not
merely an economic issue but also a social factor that is characteristically linked to societal wellbeing
and the position of a nation in the global marketplace.
Originality/value The paper offers a unique perspective on innovation and argues that it is a fatal
mistake to view innovation as independent of the social and political aspects of any society. The paper
sets the stage for an effective dialogue by which the essence of innovation, optimism, and economic
growth can be recognized and reflected on as interrelated issues.
Keywords Innovation, Entrepreneurship, Happiness, Government role, Venture capitalists
Paper type Conceptual paper
Introduction
In an economic sense, nothing assumes historical significance as much as innovation.
It has becomes the mainstay of industrial and economic progress and, consequently, the
wellbeing of mankind. In industries, such as high tech, pharmaceutical, or manufacturing,
innovation has been the primary driver for enhancing growth and sustaining quality and
productivity. This makes innovation an integral factor in almost all aspects of human life.
Of course innovation is not a casual factor; rather, it is cultivated and refined in an
environment that appreciates creativity and independent thinking and offers the support
needed for it to flourish. Across history and civilizations, those who engage in innovation
are talented people who take initiative and risk. Some work individually and some with
groups and organizations. But, in almost all cases, these individuals need backing and
an infrastructure to transform their visions and creative ideas into something practical
and marketable. While individual instinct, imaginative capacity, and propensity are
instrumental in moving innovation projects forward, the surrounding environment and
culture serve as the incubator that facilitates or impedes innovation.
The surrounding environment primarily involves business organizations, including
venture capitalists and support industries, foundations, educational institutions, trade
and industrial associations, and government institutions. The latter plays two
significant roles: direct and indirect. The direct role revolves around offering legal
protection and providing initial financial and logistical support. The indirect role is
almost neglected in the discourse on innovation the role of the government in
providing and supporting a stable and friendly business environment and encouraging
and stimulating the growth of the middle class. In fact, stability and the presence of a
vital, flourishing proper middle class constitute the most decisive factors in stimulating
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
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Competitiveness Review
Vol. 24 No. 1, 2014
pp. 2-4
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
1059-5422
DOI 10.1108/CR-09-2013-0075
CR
24,1
2
creative thinking and engagement. Countries like Germany, France, Russia, and the
USA experienced the rise of philosophers, scientists, and writers when their middle
classes were expanding in an environment of safety, stability, and prosperity. Such an
environment makes it possible for creative ideas to take root and for people to be
confident and positive in their attitudes and outlooks. More importantly, in such an
environment, associations, foundations, and venture capitalists along with major
corporations are willing to provide funding to support new ideas and discoveries. This
makes it easier for inventors to enthusiastically pursue their innovations.
Innovation and the state of societal happiness
Before we address the issue of the link between the general state of societal
hopefulness/happiness and innovation, it is important to look at the propensity for
individuals to innovate. In his commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005,
Steve Jobs argued that “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” In this
statement, Steve Jobs deliberately differentiated between normal work and “great
work.” Ordinary, routine everyday work is important, but it neither leads to changes in
history nor to inspiring people to do their utmost and advance the cause of humanity.
It is great work that is destined to profoundly better the lives of people and leads to
historical turning points on how things should be processed and performed. Great
work brings mankind closer to reaching its goals in its life journey with less time yet
with optimal utilization of natural resources.
Those who engage in great work are intrinsically motivated. They imagine a future
and take the risks needed to transform the landscape of the global marketplace. They are
gifted with a remarkable imaginative capacity and see themselves as pioneers in a world
that is in need of their positive contributions and innovations. The love of their work and
their dedication to producing something beneficial to the world strengthens their
persistence and lifts their spirit. The happiness and sense of responsibility they derive
from their work multiplies their energy and sustains their commitment. As Kluger (2013)
writes, happy people “don’t just accumulate wealth; they invent things [...][They]are
also generous people.” This conclusion underscores two issues. First, happiness is an
important societal quality, as it fosters wealth accumulation and invention. Both create
jobs and give people opportunities to utilize their potential, while being active economic
and social players. More importantly, in a state of happiness people are more optimistic,
confident, and are willing to navigate untested terrains to achieve goals and build sound
institutions. Their work is inspiring and serves to stimulate others to engage in economic
activities and have faith in their ability to contribute positively to economic and
technological progress. This reinforces the second issue: that happy people are generous,
willing to help others, and display a long term-perspective. That is, these individuals do
not lose the sense of history and their place in a world full of opportunities in which they
can participate, create, invest, and build.
Time magazine (Kluger, 2013) reported that since 1972 the rate of unhappiness has
increased dramatically in the USA. It reported that in 1972 about one-third of Americans
described themselves as very happy. Since 2004, the share of Americans who have
indicated that they are optimists has plummeted from 79 to 50 percent. The happiness
that is prevailing in the USA, according to Time, stems not from sowing but from
reaping, not from building but from watching TV. In a report that follows (Gray, 2013),
Time reported that the US Government has severely cut funds for the Institute for
Innovation,
happiness,
and growth
3
Advanced Study; America’s Brain Bank. Time stated that American society
is moving toward short-term thinking and quick results. Thus, the depletion of funds
for the Institute for Advanced Study, which was once a symbol of all that was powerful
about American innovation, has become illustrative of some of the most difficult
questions facing the nation in its quest to maintain competitiveness. The end results
are fewer break-through discoveries essential for growth and economic prosperity.
The magazine Research & Development reported that the USA has traditionally led the
world in all aspects of R&D for more than 50 years due to combined large industrial and
government research spending and investments. But, in recent years, this overwhelming
advantage has changed as the rate of R&D investments in Asia has continued to exceed
that of the USA. The magazine (Studt, 2013) raised the alarm as it took note of increasing
Asian R&D investment arguing that the future driver for technological change will be
Asia. The Wall Street Journal (Galston, 2013) also underscored the risk of declining rates of
R&D, especially in basic research, and has called for the government to play the role of
venture capitalist to stimulate innovation and economic growth.
It is undisputable that the government plays a significant role in encouraging and
stimulating innovation. It can, too, change the state of happiness, commitment, and
dedication in society. Nevertheless, innovation is a crucial factor for ensuring economic
growth, competitiveness, and the wellbeing of society. It should not be taken lightly or
be left to politicians’ subjectivity. What is needed is a concentrated effort for an
industrial policy which encourages entrepreneurship and the culture of independent
thinking, while inspiring people to be imaginative and positive in their attitudes to
what lies ahead. Furthermore, these societal actors and reformers can be instrumental
in enhancing optimism and confidence among societal members.
As globalization fosters interconnectivity and interdependence, a nation’s welfare is
influenced and shaped by events outside its boundaries. As other regions in the world
increase their investment in R&D, innovative and talented individuals are lured to
places where their talent is recognized, appreciated, and deployed. Those societies
which lag behind other nations in attracting talent and cultivating innovation not only
endanger their own national security but also the state of societal optimism and
economic progress. This makes it imperative that innovation should not be treated as
merely a technological issue but as a social and economic factor that is
characteristically linked to the welfare of the people and to that of generations to come.
References
Galston,W. (2013), “Government is a good venture capitalist”,Wall Street Journal,August 28, p. A13.
Gray, E. (2013), “The original genius bar”, Time, Vol. 182 No. 4, pp. 38-43.
Kluger, J. (2013), “The happiness of pursuit”, Time, Vol. 182 No. 2, pp. 24-32.
Studt, T. (2013), “Leaders in research and development”, Research & Development, August 5,
available at: www.rdmag.com/print/articles/2013/08/leaders-research-and-development
(accessed August 27, 2013).
Corresponding author
Abbas J. Ali can be contacted at: aaali@iup.edu
CR
24,1
4
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Government is a good venture capitalist
  • W Galston
Galston, W. (2013), " Government is a good venture capitalist ", Wall Street Journal, August 28, p. A13.
The original genius bar
  • E Gray
Gray, E. (2013), " The original genius bar ", Time, Vol. 182 No. 4, pp. 38-43.
The happiness of pursuit
  • J Kluger
Kluger, J. (2013), "The happiness of pursuit", Time, Vol. 182 No. 2, pp. 24-32.
Ali can be contacted at: aaali@iup
  • J Corresponding Author Abbas
Corresponding author Abbas J. Ali can be contacted at: aaali@iup.edu CR 24,1
  • T Studt
Studt, T. (2013), "Leaders in research and development", Research & Development, August 5, available at: www.rdmag.com/print/articles/2013/08/leaders-research-and-development (accessed August 27, 2013).
Leaders in research and development
  • T Studt