Once again, the U.S. has dropped in Bloomberg's Global Innovation index, falling out of the top 10 for the first time.
The driving forces behind the drop won't surprise you. College enrollment, and therefore the number of post-secondary degrees earned, has been shrinking. This is reflected in the U.S.'s rank of just No. 42 out of 80 countries when it comes to effective higher education. And research and development investment was only mediocre compared to other high-performing economies.
Look around, and it's easy to see these trends manifest in our daily lives. A celebrity obsession that glorifies perfection and splashy successes while overlooking the hard work that happens behind the scenes. A corporate culture that approaches innovation in mostly superficial ways.
Whether you put much stock in Bloomberg's index or not, this year's rankings provide two lessons Americans can't afford to ignore.
The fear of failure is a fail.
If you were educated somewhere in the English-speaking world, your willingness to take risks was beaten out of you over those 13 years--along with your creativity. We have to unlearn the notion that perfection is more important that progress. In its place, we need to internalize the fact that the only real failure is the failure to learn from our mistakes.
The only way to get good at learning from failure is to fail a lot.
Start small. Use the OKRs method to set a ludicrously ambitious goal for yourself this month and chase it hard. You probably won't achieve it, but you'll build mental strength by accepting and processing that. If you do manage to nail it, so much the better.
On the company level, try a hackathon-style event open to the whole organization. In two weeks, our company will embark on its 41st such hackathon, called "ShipIt", which draws participation from every department. And you know what? A whole lot of projects fail before the first round of judging even starts. And that's ok. Ninety-nine percent of the value of these events is in the simple act of decalcifying a few neuro-pathways and swinging wild.
At home, parents and anyone else can help the kids in their lives develop grit. We can praise persistence instead of praising perfection. We can borrow a page from Japan's playbook and celebrate how hard our kids are trying, not how "smart" they are.
STEM needs a shot in the arm.
Even though the proportion of college students participating in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs has been rising recently, enrollment overall is declining. Most of us aren't in a position to influence education policy (if you are, let's talk?), but we can all champion STEM.
For starters, we must unlearn the idea that computing is something one can start learning in college. With countries like Singapore and Iran--Iran; let that sink in for a moment--investing far more in STEM as a percentage of GDP than the U.S., kids can't afford to delay if America is to remain globally competitive.
Even if your neighborhood school doesn't offer programming or other technical education, there's good news for parents. Books, toys, and games that introduce STEM concepts have exploded onto the scene in recent years. Kids as young as six can learn key programming concepts like mental modeling through apps like GoldieBlox, or get exposed to the scientific method with clever books like "11 Experiments That Failed".
For the rest of us, we have a valuable resource we can invest in STEM education: our time. There's not a school around that will turn away volunteer tutors.
Even Google has gotten in on the action with their CS First curriculum, designed to empower even mildly technical adults to volunteer in the classroom, teaching kids and their teachers the basics of computing. (One of my colleagues even blogged about his experience with CS First.)
America's rank on Bloomberg's Global Innovation index has steadily declined from its No. 1 spot in 2013 to No. 11 this year. We can reverse the trend with a full-team effort both in the office and at home.
With contribution from Sarah Goff-Dupont.