In American innovation through the ages
, Jamie Powell wrote:
who hasn’t finished a non-fiction book and thought “Gee, that could have been half the length and just as informative. If that.”
Yet every now and then you read something that provokes the exact opposite feeling. Where all you can do after reading a tweet, or an article, is type the subject into Google and hope there’s more material out there waiting to be read.
So it was with Alphaville this Tuesday afternoon reading a research paper from last year entitled The changing structure of American innovation: Some cautionary remarks for economic growth by Arora, Belenzon, Patacconi and Suh (h/t to KPMG’s Ben Southwood, who highlighted it on Twitter).
The exhaustive work of the Duke University and UEA academics traces the roots of American academia through the golden age of corporate-driven research, which roughly encompasses the postwar period up to Ronald Reagan’s presidency, before its steady decline up to the present day.
Arora et al
argue that a cause of the decline in productivity
The past three decades have been marked by a growing division of labor between universities focusing on research and large corporations focusing on development. Knowledge produced by universities is not often in a form that can be readily digested and turned into new goods and services. Small firms and university technology transfer offices cannot fully substitute for corporate research, which had integrated multiple disciplines at the scale required to solve significant technical problems.
As someone with many friends who worked at the legendary corporate research labs of the past, including Bell Labs and Xerox PARC, and who myself worked at Sun Microsystems' research lab
, this is personal. Below the fold I add my 2c-worth to Arora et al
's extraordinarily interesting article.