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Continental Drifter -- Wonders Never Cease

Feb. 23, 2006
Sweep away the sands of time and you'll discover a very old approach that pays very modern dividends.

Consider the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, and the rest.

Now think about such equally impressive ancient creations as Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China.

What do they all have in common?

Aside from sheer enormity, there is one pertinent similarity: Each was a product of the same process, which entailed imagination, experimentation, analysis, revision, and, ultimately, fabrication.

In other words, they all came into being because their creators engaged in Research and Development.

Read more by Mark Gottlieb.There are, of course, innumerable differences between R&D today and R&D back when some poor slob named Oonk was chiseling stones for his pharaoh. But the only one that counts is that we now live in an era when just about anyone can make just about anything just about anywhere.

Which means that R&D is more vital than ever before. In fact, intellectual property is no longer a sideshow to the manufacturing process. It is the show -- the main event.

Don't believe me? Then cogitate for a moment about a country located not far from the sites of many of those ancient wonders.

The State of Israel encompasses just 22,000 square kilometers, an area smaller than New Jersey. Its population -- less than 7 million -- constitutes fewer people than inhabit any of the world's major cities. In addition, the country itself has existed for only 58 years.

I have socks older than that.

Yet just six decades after its founding, Israel has transformed itself into a high-tech powerhouse. A nation whose economic base was once 70% agricultural has, in the space of a few years, reduced its dependence on farming to just 33%. What made up the difference? Since 2000, high-tech products have amounted to 74% of all industrial exports.

Israel boasts the world's third highest number of patent filings per capita. Microsoft built its first R&D facility outside the United States in Israel. Motorola developed the cell phone in Israel. Intel's Pentium MMX technology came from...well, you get it.

So how did this happen?

Simple. Israel's annual investment in R&D amounts to 4.8% of its gross domestic product -- the highest percentage, by far, of any country in the world (and double that of the United States). In one particular area -- biotechnology, which includes everything from agricultural and environmental products to human medicines -- annual R&D investment is roughly equal to the monetary value of the country's biotech exports. In other words, Israel puts back into the sector nearly everything it makes from it, in the belief that additional investments in research today will reap even greater rewards tomorrow.

That is the way to build a future -- for a country, or for a company.

So maybe it's time to take a clear-eyed look at your own organization. And you might start by asking yourself this question:

When was the last time we produced a Wonder of the World?

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