A Presidential Call to Action: Reigniting the Spirit of Innovation

Reigniting the Spirit of InnovationReigniting the American Spirit of Innovation

On Tuesday, January 12, 2016, President Barack Obama gave his final State of the Union (SOTU) address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. in which the theme of innovation was discussed. According to Nielsen TV Ratings estimates, an average audience of 31.3 million people watched the SOTU across 12 television networks; and according to Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings, about 9.8 million people in the U.S. saw one or more of the 2.6 million tweets about the 2016 SOTU.[1] Did you watch the 2016 SOTU? (Note: For the full text transcript of the 2016 SOTU, click here; for the full video recording, click here).

Obama’s lease is almost up at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.; however, his final SOTU wasn’t about him, but rather about the future of the country: “But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year. I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond. I want to focus on our future.”[2] In his address, the President laid out his plan to seize opportunities before us: “So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer — regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress.”[3]

What was your most memorable part of Obama’s final SOTU address? Was it when Obama emphatically (and perhaps symbolically?) dropped the mic (see video clip here) at the end of his address? First Lady Michelle Obama’s sunny marigold shift dress?

As a business leader, innovation coach and practitioner, and author of two innovation books (Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival and Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation), my interest in the SOTU perked up when Obama said, “And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer: How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?”.[4] The President continued.

Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight. And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.

Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA. America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver. America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride. America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world. That’s who we are.

And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit. We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online. We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day. But we can do so much more.[5]

Innovation should be on the forefront of everyone’s mind. If you want to succeed in today’s rapidly changing business world, innovation is imperative and absolutely necessary for continued success. As emphatically phrased in Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival: “Innovate or die.”

Innovation was a central theme of President Obama’s 2016 SOTU, but was 2016 the first time Obama used the word “innovation” in his SOTU address? If my memory serves me correctly, I think he has specifically used the term innovation before; but to be sure, I did a little research down SOTU memory lane. Check out the following table:

Year Mentions “Innovation”? Pulled Quote(s)
2016 SOTU Yes (1) “In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative. And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer: How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?”[6]
2015 SOTU No (The 2015 SOTU didn’t specifically use the term “innovation”, but it did use the term “innovators” once.) • “I intend to protect a free and open Internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community — (applause) — and help folks build the fastest networks so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.”[7]
2014 SOTU Yes (2) • “We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow.”

• “And let’s pass a patent reform bill that allows our businesses to stay focused on innovation, not costly, needless litigation.”[8]

2013 SOTU Yes (2) • “Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio.”

• “Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation.”[9]

2012 SOTU Yes (6) • “After all, innovation is what America has always been about.”
• “Innovation also demands basic research.”• “Support the same kind of research and innovation that led to the computer chip and the Internet; to new American jobs and new American industries.”• “And nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy.”• “We can also spur energy innovation with new incentives.”• “But there’s no reason why Congress shouldn’t at least set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation.”[10]
2011 SOTU Yes (9) • “The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.”
• “In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives.  It is how we make our living.”
• “Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation.”
• “But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.”
• “We need to get behind this innovation.”• “But if we want to win the future -– if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -– then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.”• “All these investments -– in innovation, education, and infrastructure –- will make America a better place to do business and create jobs.”
• “Cutting the deficit by gutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine.”
• “Our success in this new and changing world will require reform, responsibility, and innovation.”[11]
2010 SOTU Yes (3) • “Next, we need to encourage American innovation.”
• “And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy.”
• “We’re working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science and education and innovation.”[12]
2009 Joint Session of Congress[13] Yes (2) • “It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes short-cuts and abuse.”

• “And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.”[14]

This table shows us that Obama’s talk of innovation in his 2016 SOTU was not a new topic or theme for the President to highlight in his address; but rather something that he has highlighted in his addresses every single year of his 2-term presidency.

Nurturing the spirit of innovation is essential for launching this country (and your business) into a successful future. It is an imperative for success that crosses party lines and is relevant for everyone. With your business, how will you help create not only a thriving culture of innovation but also effectuate the actual implementation of innovation?

For more information on how to promote and implement innovation within your company, check out the innovation books Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival (to order, see Amazon) and Robert’s Rules of Innovation II: The Art of Implementation (available as of December 8, 2015 on both Amazon.com and at selected bookstores; to order today, see Amazon).

[1] http://variety.com/2016/tv/ratings/state-of-the-union-ratings-2016-1201678895/

[2] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/12/remarks-president-barack-obama-%E2%80%93-prepared-delivery-state-union-address

[3] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/12/remarks-president-barack-obama-%E2%80%93-prepared-delivery-state-union-address

[4] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/12/remarks-president-barack-obama-%E2%80%93-prepared-delivery-state-union-address

[5] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/12/remarks-president-barack-obama-%E2%80%93-prepared-delivery-state-union-address

[6] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/12/remarks-president-barack-obama-%E2%80%93-prepared-delivery-state-union-address

[7] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/01/20/remarks-president-state-union-address-january-20-2015

[8] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/01/28/president-barack-obamas-state-union-address

[9] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/02/12/remarks-president-state-union-address

[10] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/01/24/remarks-president-state-union-address

[11] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/01/25/remarks-president-state-union-address

[12] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-state-union-address

[13] Like the four past presidents (Reagan in 1981, George H.W. Bush in 1989, Bill Clinton in 1993, George W. Bush in 2001), President Obama did not give an official State of the Union address his first year in office. However, on February 24, 2009, Obama did give his first major address to a Joint Session of Congress.  See http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2016-01-12/questions-and-answers-about-the-state-of-the-union-address

[14] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-barack-obama-address-joint-session-congress