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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


"Building a New Foundation for Innovation"

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
Remarks to the NSF Workshop
Partnerships: Building a New Foundation for Innovation

June 18, 2001

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact
The Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

[Title slide]
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Good morning to everyone. On behalf of the National Science Foundation, I'm delighted to welcome you as partners. I'm especially pleased to be here today with such a diverse and innovative group.

I'm grateful to all of you - our PFI grantees and special guests - for your interest and participation in this workshop. I know you bring an eclectic perspective, and that's just what we need to add value to our PFI investment.

[Innovators break all the rules]
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A few years ago, The Economist magazine did a study of innovation throughout the world. In a sidebar to one segment there was a caption that read, "Innovators break all the rules. Trust them."

That's exactly what we have done. Let me explain.

When we first set about designing the PFI program, we had many hours of lively debate about how it should be structured. What guidelines should we develop for prospective grantees? What parameters should we require of the partnerships?

We all knew that PFI would best serve its purpose if it attracted a wide variety of institutions, partnerships, and proposed experiments in innovation. In the end, we decided to place very few restrictions in the proposal description. We wanted to provide the maximum freedom possible for grantees to be innovative about innovation.

As it turns out, we made the right choice. Like so many choices viewed retrospectively, it now seems like the only one we could have made.

The quality and creativity of the proposals we received went beyond our expectations. Each project has a unique flavor that can come only through local knowledge and specific experience, applied to a concrete challenge.

[Map of location of Partnership grant recipients]
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This slide, which shows the location of the first 24 PFI grant recipients, is just a proxy for the diversity and creativity of the Partnerships initiatives that have been launched. I won't describe these programs. I know you'll hear more about them over the course of the meeting.

In other words, we learned from the PFI proposals. And we'll learn even more from all of you today as we explore how each of you has turned ideas into realities. You've broken the mold and moved outside of traditional ways of thinking - outside the box, so to speak.

We fully expect that your pioneering efforts will lead a new generation of innovators. You will "break the rules" with new insight and new action.

Our PFI grantees were chosen for the Partnerships program because they saw new ways to redesign old patterns to meet the challenges of today. Although our national system of innovation is the finest in the world, the world is rapidly changing and we must keep pace with those changes.

I'd like to talk about some of those changes and what they imply about the role of partnerships and innovation in the future. But first, I'd also like to tell you how NSF came to the Partnerships program and what it means for us.

I've taken the title of my remarks from the name of this workshop: Building a New Foundation for Innovation. If you haven't already noticed, that's a double entendre [on-tahn'-dra] - a phrase with two meanings. It refers to what you are accomplishing in laying the groundwork for a 21st century innovation system. But in the context of NSF, it also can be taken to mean "Building a new (National Science) Foundation for Innovation.

Of course, innovation isn't entirely new at NSF! It's part of our vision, and the Partnerships for Innovation program is a flagship in that effort. Let me explain.

[NSF Vision Statement]
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The NSF vision statement is direct and crisp: enabling the nation's future through discovery, learning, and innovation. Not too long ago you would not have seen the word innovation in an NSF vision statement. Now it's there together with discovery and learning.

[Innovation system slide]
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We now realize that not only can scientific research drive technological innovation, but that it can also happen the other way around. In the larger sense, innovation depends upon a mutual, synergistic set of interactions that includes not only science, engineering and technology, but social, political and economic interactions as well.

Our gathering today illustrates this phenomenon. If you turn around in your seat, you might encounter a physicist, the head of an economic development agency, a venture capitalist, a state science advisor, an educator, an electrical engineer, or a corporate officer. I'm not sure if we have any reporters or politicians, but we're working on them!

In a more serious vein, our quest in the 21st Century is becoming a common one. We need new arrangements that foster the kind of integration that supports innovation, and the social and economic well being it enables.

[NSF Outcome Goals]
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At NSF, we've developed a set of goals to complement our vision, a sharply focused set on which we can concentrate our investments, and by which we can be held accountable. We call these People, Ideas, and Tools.

You'll notice that People are at the top of the list. That's intentional. NSF is as much about building a world-class workforce as it is about discovery. Although we continually break new ground with the research we support, we need people to carry forward the continual process of discovery and innovation.

I want to emphasize this point. At NSF, we're putting a renewed focus on preparing the science, engineering and technology workforce needed for the 21st Century. Now that knowledge is the most sought after prize in the world, knowledge workers - scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and educators - are at the center of our vision.

Of course, Ideas, the new knowledge that is powering innovation and productivity in our economy today, will always be central to everything NSF does. And, finally, we need sophisticated Tools to advance the frontiers in nearly every field.

[NSF Core Strategies]
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We've adopted three core strategies to accomplish these goals. These are: develop intellectual capital, integrate research and education, and promote partnerships.

This is where the rubber meets the road. It's where we design the solutions to get the job done effectively.

That we do so is an imperative not a luxury.

[21st Century World]
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The world of the 21st century is very different from the world of only 10 or 15 years ago. Today, advances in science and engineering and technological change are the driving forces of the economy. We recognize that the capacity to create and use new knowledge is the key to our future prosperity.

Complexity and rapid change will shape the 21st century world. In the last ten years, the winds of change have literally swept across our institutions. They have reshaped the once familiar landscape of the economy and have forced us to clear new paths in business, in research, in science and engineering, and in education.

These changes have occurred at a speed that has left many of our research programs in the dust. Whether we welcome it or not, the pace of change is unlikely to lessen anytime soon. We haven't seen the end of the information revolution, and we're only beginning to feel the impact of biotechnology in our everyday lives. New technologies are already visible on the horizon. Nanotechnology, for example, is likely to create reverberations that many believe will make the information revolution seem insignificant.

If rapid change is now ubiquitous, then we need to enable a workforce that is flexible and agile in adapting to change.

And if innovation is at the heart of progress, then we need to understand the skills that foster the capacity for risk taking, for imagination, and a tolerance for unfamiliar and uncertain territory. That in turn will mean that our institutions must evolve to engender these skills.

[Heinz Pagels quote]
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I like this quote from Heinz Pagels' [Paw-gels] book Perfect Symmetry, because it captures the spirit of what continuous learning and innovation is about.

"The capacity to tolerate complexity and welcome contradiction, not the need for simplicity and certainty, is the attribute of an explorer."

We're all explorers here, and we all know that these skills reside throughout society - in academe, in business, in government.

We also know that they exist throughout the world. Peter Drucker recognized this some years ago and pointed out the implications. He said, "the only comparative advantage of the developed countries is in the supply of knowledge workers.......this means continual, systematic work on the productivity of knowledge and knowledge workers, which is still neglected and abysmally low."

[Drucker slide on productivity]
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Enter innovation, center stage. Where we once thought of productivity in terms of work per laborer, we now increasingly must think of the productivity of knowledge and knowledge workers. That's what innovation is about.

Partnerships are the other side of the same coin.

Good partnerships always present new challenges. We often run into hurdles that we haven't anticipated. One of these is simply the differences that partners bring to the table - differences in perspective, in experience, in institutional culture, and in goals.

You may have heard this story about a Texas rancher and a Vermont farmer that illustrates my point. The Texas rancher was visiting Vermont and stopped along a rural road to talk with a local farmer. "Just how big is your spread?" he asked the Vermonter.

"Well, it goes up to that elm tree you see ahead of us, along that fence line yonder, and then back along that stream."

"Shoot," said the Texas rancher. "I can get in my truck and drive all day long and still not reach the end of my property."

"Yeh-up," replied the Vermont farmer, "I once had a truck like that myself."

Partnerships introduce an added level of complexity to any undertaking. This is true because the task is new and none of the partners has experience in accomplishing it.

If partnerships present all these challenges, what are they good for?

Something new happens in the process of integrating the different intellectual skills, experience, and perspectives of the partners. A singular or separate dynamic emerges from the interaction. You could say that the whole is greater than the sum of the partners!

I mentioned earlier that we need to focus on integrating research and education. Linking support for research with training the next generation of scientists and engineers has been the intent of NSF from the start.

It's also a powerful way to ensure that the two-way road between the academic research laboratory and the larger world stays open and engaged. That's one place where we welcome heavy traffic!

The borders between discovery, learning, and innovation are becoming less rigid. Increasingly, scientists and engineers are working across many different disciplines and fields and in different sectors to make the connections that lead to deeper insights and more creative solutions, and to getting things done. Our workforce of the future will need this capacity to integrate knowledge in new ways. We're forming partnerships, and we'll need to partner even more.

I like the way Peter Senge [Sen-ghee] of MIT describes this phenomenon in terms of learning organizations.

[Senge quote]
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"A learning organization is a group of people who are continually enhancing their capabilities to create what they want to create."

It's the capacity to discover, to learn, and to innovate that can weather the storms of change. Senge's characterization also implies intention or design - the shared meaning and goals that are both the motivation for forming partnerships and for sustaining them.

I think of us here today as just such a creative group. We're setting out together to explore the terrain of innovation. And if we break a few rules in the process, so much the better!

Let me conclude by summing up the journey on which we're embarking together.

[Where Discoveries Begin]
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The National Science Foundation aims at nothing less than U.S. world leadership in science, engineering, and technology. Our task has been to strengthen the nation's science and engineering in order to brighten our economic and social future - even though we don't know precisely what that future will be.

With the community's peer advice, we do this by choosing the most capable people with the most insightful ideas. That's you! Through you and with you, we provide the risky opportunity to advance our understanding in a new direction, accelerate its pace and, increasingly, help it build bridges to new territory.

The Partnerships for Innovation program fits this last description to a tee. We've reached out to find the capable people with the best ideas to begin the extraordinary process of transforming our innovation system to meet the needs of the 21st Century.

That's precisely where you come in. So I'll leave you with these thoughts. We're anxious to learn from you and gain your insights.



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