Why Are Americans consistently more Innovative and Entrepreneurial?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“What makes America so much more entrepreneurial and innovative than India?” That question has been in my head for many years now.

Obvious recent contributions including FacebookTesla, and the immortal giants, GoogleAmazon and Apple come first to mind. But the world we live in stands witness to enduring American inventions – the airplane, credit card, transistorlaser, the computer and internet; with hundreds of inventions in-between.

Firstly, contrary to popular belief, the US is not the most innovative country in the world. They ranked 5th in 2015’s Global Innovation Index by World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Results by other bodies too put them in a similar ranking.

Two factors seem to distinguish them from the rest. They are perennially innovative across all fields of work. And, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit runs deep in the veins of its masses. For nearly two centuries, it has been one of the most fertile environments for creativity and innovation. This has resulted in the most brilliant minds from the world over to steadily gravitate to it. To Innovate. To Create.

YouTube (albeit American), is filled with the ingenious creations of their average people. Remote-controlled cars, planes, and numerous vehicles and even other unimaginable contraptions built by average individuals like you and me. What makes them impressive is that they aren’t built out of a kit, but using even scrap or materials found around the house. And their customer experience practices have delighted and inspired the world, and set global benchmarks.

So while we can brush-off some inventions as exceptions; what explains the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of the common American?

In my quest to find something that the average American might knowingly or otherwise be doing differently to induce this trait, I quickly concluded it had nothing to do with their super-sugar coated cereals or microwave dinners.  😀

Heredity too didn’t seem like the answer, given the large mix of world population that goes in and out of the US. So how do they maintain a consistent level of creativity even with the influx of foreigners? Is something happening in the background, that nurtures creativity levels?

‘What else are they doing, that subtly but consistently fuels creativity?’

I felt the answer might lie in the power of the right brain. We know the right brain is the seat of creativity. And which in turn controls, and is stimulated by, the left side of our body. So are Americans doing something differently, that might be stimulating innovation?

Left-handed people for one, have been known to have a higher probability of being more creative than right-handed ones. Quoting someone anonymous on Quora, “Lefties have a greater chance of being a genius- or having a high IQ. Researchers aren’t sure why, but those who are left handed seem to make up a disproportionately large part of those who are highly intelligent. For example, 20% of all Mensa members are left-handed.”

But they comprise only about 10% of the world population.

So, assuming a normal distribution of left and right handed people across the world, 10% Americans aren’t conclusive proof of their general creativity. Even if that 10% included the left-handed John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Bob Dylan, Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Tina Fey. Because, for each of them, there have been other innovators, creative people and entrepreneurs who are right-handed. So while left-handedness might give one an edge, what explains its considerable prevalence in the other 90% too?

Still stuck on the right brain and the left side of the body, there seemed to be sufficient studies concluding that when right-handed people use their left-hand more, it tended to improve general creativity. To what degree, is a great topic for a debate at another time. But if using the left side more fuels creativity, is there something Americans do differently than Indians, that might help?

Then a possibility struck. Can their driving give them some edge in being more creative? As absurd as it might sound, read me out.

About 65% of the world population today, lives in countries that follow a right-hand traffic rule (i.e. where you drive on the right side of the road, and oncoming traffic moves on your left), as opposed to 35% in countries that follow a left-hand traffic rule. India, influenced by the British, follows a left-hand traffic rule.

Right-hand traffic countries tend to have left-hand-drive cars, and in turn, use their left hands more, especially for continuous adjustments of the steering wheel. Opportunity to rest the elbow on the side of the door makes that a preferred hand from comfort and proximity perspectives.

But that would mean that 65% of the world should on average, be at least slightly more creative than the others.

So then the only remaining variable would be –how many people in each of those countries drive regularly? That brought me to the vehicular density of countries. Here too, the US seems to have the edge (whether for the good or not). It has the 3rd highest motor vehicle density in the world; that’s 797 vehicles per 1000 people! The first two spots are taken by San Marino and Monaco. Both of whom seem irrelevant to our discussion, given that these city-states have populations under 40,000 people. This makes the US the largest nation with the highest vehicular density. Contributors are the lack of a developed public transport systems outside of major cities, and cheap fuel.  This results in Americans driving cars for everything from buying groceries from nearby, to traveling to other cities and states.

So is it possible, that frequent use of the left-hand while driving, in a country with the highest motor vehicle density, contributes to their innovation and creativity in general?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer. I don’t know if driving of left-hand-drive cars is ‘the’, or even ‘a’ contributing factor at all, to explain their creativity, innovation or entrepreneurial spirit.

However, in the absence of other conclusive factors, doesn’t it beg another look?

 

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Image: source

I’ll look forward to your views on this. Also, hit the ‘Follow’ button if you’d like to receive more such posts from time to time. You can also connect with me on Twitter.

Just Like That

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Just Like That

I have always disliked the idea of businesses buying, and friends forcing ‘Likes’ on Facebook. The number of likes really skews the picture. It makes it difficult to differentiate between a business that has bought 300 likes from one that has earned 200 likes with quality business and customer delight.

Surely, Twitter, feedback, and public reviews help maintain some transparency in the quality of services and show truer pictures of companies. But we cannot always be expected to undertake massive research before taking small decisions.

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image: Link

Here’s a simple question that businesses still considering buying ‘likes’ on Facebook should ask themselves:

“How many, or what percent of your employees ‘like’ you on Facebook?” (of course without you asking, beating or threatening them to, and without offering them some insanely tempting monetary or other benefit to do so)

If that percentage isn’t too high, you might want to re-look your focus on one of your important customer bases, your employees. If they don’t “like” you, how do you expect your customers to?

And there are a few suggestions from an older post, in case you missed that one [Like Endorsing, Endorse Liking?].

I’ll leave you with a good ‘ol song you might ‘like’. [May not be safe for work].

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Look forward to your views. And if you liked this one, consider following/subscribing to my blog (top right of the page). You can also connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

Social Media, What Next?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Hybrids come naturally in most businesses. Hybrid products/ services. The easiest example that comes to mind, is the BMW X6 (something between an SUV and a sedan). I don’t think that particular line has been very popular, though it does look massive, and reasonably cool. A more common hybrid is a mutual fund or similar investment program. Another recent hybrid is the Connected Camera by Samsung. We are surrounded by hybrids.

Hybrids attempt to give you the good of two or more worlds, and unfortunately more often than not,  not the best of those worlds.

Surprisingly, I don’t see any hybrid social media sites yet, that have tried to take a shot at Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (unarguably the top 3 social media sites on the net today) by capturing the good bits from all three.

All three lack certain features, or are an overkill when it comes to certain  features. And they’ve been around long enough for some, if not a lot of us to have started getting bored of them. Here are some of the lacking & overkill features.

Facebook recently added a ton of sections to the Timeline (I know a good number of people who find the Timeline itself way too complicated). Anyway, the new sections include one for movies you’ve watched (bringing to you, the likes of themoviedb, etc.), for books you’ve read (that’s like shelfari or goodreads on FB), for tv shows (phew.!). All in all, overkill.!

LinkedIn’s got a lot missing. It won’t let you add an acquaintance without knowing their mail id. But if you select that person as a friend, it doesn’t complain. Then why the fuss differentiating between everyone from an acquaintance to a long-lost childhood friend? Look at it differently, and I might raise an eyebrow (if I could) if someone I’d just interacted briefly with at a conference added me as a “friend” on LinkedIn. The discussions pages on LinkedIn are just bleeding boring. Plain, dull, and I think its something to do with the layout as well.  Sleep-inducing. I’ve already written enough about my reservations with the endorse feature already.

And a la Twitter, while quite progressive in thought with the ‘all-you-can-do-with-140-chars’, could have been way more useful from an information sharing point-of-view, if the limit was more like, say a paragraph. Because unless you’re at a school chatting with friends or reading one-liners or short jokes off my Twitter page, apart from getting news updates, most of the interesting stuff is still a click-of-a-short-link away. And the click takes you to a big post or news article. I have a view about a lot of things, but it’s difficult to sit them comfortably in 140 chars. Now imagine if you could tweet a short-link along with a short note sharing your views about a certain event or news item. Kind of like a comment on FB. Maybe even have a conversation about it there  with like-minded people. Wouldn’t that make Twitter more interesting?

What I had in mind about a new social media site, is a hybrid that can be used for professional as well as personal purposes. Firstly, because it would be less complicated than managing stuff across 3 or more sites. And because I believe for most of us, our Facebook profiles would be a better reflection of who we are in real life (if you’re extremely formal and uptight, and are more at home on LinkedIn than for FB, that too would reflect easily on FB, right?) Instead of everyone looking all formal and uptight on LinkedIn when they may be just the opposite in real life and on FB. It would even make it more accurate for your colleagues or prospective employers to understand your personality better (of course, they’d only have a limited view), enabling better job fits. LinkedIn is a little too formal, a little lacking and quite boring. Facebook’s alright to stay connected. And Twitter does really well when it comes to communication, but it does feel a little too restrictive.

So if you do plan to create such a site after reading this, I wouldn’t mind 15% of revenues or the venture funding received 😉

Just kidding there, but let me have your thoughts on it. On what next after Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn?

What Next

Social Media images:Courtesy sayingitsocial and DesignBolts

Like Endorsing, Endorse Liking?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We all remember the notorious financial meltdown of 2007-08 that washed away a lot of dreams. We all know why it happened. Some wise (read greedy) people built a huge structure on an extremely very weak foundation (sub-prime mortgage). And then went ahead and added floor over floor to their fantasy at the cost of the masses, till the foundation and everything with it, buckled.

While the ‘Like’ on Facebook (FB) and ‘Endorsements’ on LinkedIn (LI) probably could not, and definitely would not cause any such global shock wave, it is interesting to see how we are adding to its weak foundation, floor by floor, and to see what might happen when it buckles, and buckle it will.

Paid, Forced or Uninformed ‘Likes’ on FB, and ‘Endorsing skills’ without being sure on LI, are really creating a big mountain of unconfirmed information, which at best, is questionable.

Quite some time ago, when I’d see a few hundred likes on an business’s service page on FB, I’d assume it was probably a respectable/ liked business/ service. But once you know that Likes can be bought, or when you get ‘Like Requests’ from friends & acquaintances that almost forced you to like a page (most FB like requests I receive read like this ‘Hi Shrutin, please like this page [link].’), and when you see people around you obliging to such requests, then those hundred likes don’t seem that impressive any more.

On LI, people endorse skills of their contacts. Which, literally is vouching for a skill that your contact claims she or he possesses. I consider vouching a responsibility, especially since that endorsement is public. It means you know, and acknowledge that your contact is good at, or even just knows, the particular skill that you have endorsed them for. And when you get endorsed for a skill by people you haven’t been in touch for a while, and you are dead sure they haven’t a clue whether you even know that skill, that’s when you wonder about the genuineness of similar endorsements showcased on your contacts page. LI’s recommendation option is fine in itself, as contacts recommend based on good interaction or experiences based on past work done; and mentioning it in words gives more credibility than just clicking ‘endorse’ over some key words.

Like Endorsing, Endorse Liking

I recently interacted with an eminent person from the social media industry, at a TiE session. He was speaking on the advantages of social media for business. I asked him whether he saw concern over the  questionable ‘endorsing on LI’ and ‘Paid/ Forced or Uninformed Likes on FB’  that are creating a false world around us.  He, thankfully acknowledged the problem, which meant it existed. And he added that the average person wasn’t affected or bothered much about it, so life would go on at least for a while.

Many people you know might not have a clue as to what exactly you do, or how good you are at what you do. And yet they’ll go endorse you for certain skills. Which, I’ll agree, makes you feel good. And you might be the best your industry has to offer, but knowing that the person who endorsed you for it doesn’t have clue about what exactly you do, doesn’t that make you question the value of the heap of endorsements that you are piling up?

I don’t have any suggestions for the ‘endorsing’ deal on LI, but if you intend to spam inboxes with ‘Like Requests’, here are a few things you could take care of:

  • Write what the page/ company/ service is about
  • Highlight any achievements, differentiating factors
  • Reasons why I might want to like it
  • And last, and only if necessary, request the friend to ‘Like’ the page if they find it interesting and if they can relate to it. Also offer to provide them with more information if they are interested

Here’s a recent article that shows how this hype that’s been going strong for a few years now, is not much more than just a hype [Quality over Quantity]

Deja-vu(ow)

Reading Time: 1 minute

Ok, I just coined a new word. It’s called Deja-vuow.! That’s Deja-vu-ow.  (a combination of Deja-vu and ‘wow’).!

Different people come across the same messages or pictures at different times on Facebook, as you may have often seen.

So a close friend might suddenly be fascinated by something and share it. And you have that ‘dude, I saw that 5 months ago’ look.

Now, on the other hand, if you see a quote that’s really inspiring, and you’re about to hit the “Like” button and you think, ‘damn, think I’ve seen that on FB and perhaps liked it before’; but you’re not really sure. Now wouldn’t that qualify as Deja-vuow?

Now if you get that ‘I’ve heard jokes this bad, before’ feeling, and you want to hit me, hmm, I’m getting a deja-vu too. Peace.! 😉

Facebook without a Face

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Yesterday, Airtel launched a USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) system based service. The service, jointly developed by Facebook and U2opia Mobile, a Singapore based company, allows users to access Facebook on their mobile phones without the need for a GPRS service. It works on the same concept as the messaging service you use to check your prepaid balance, etc. So essentially, you would be able to check updates, view comments and ‘like’ news feeds, add friends, post on walls, etc. Of course, since it is a message based service, you will not be able to acccess any media content like photographs, videos, etc. It is useful for people with basic mobile handsets too.

Wonder how that’s gonnna be. Facebook, without the media content, would not be half as fun. A Facebook without a face. It would be similar to trying to read the news by way of SMS’s. Quite painful to say the least. And in this day and age, when phones without a decent screen resolution and GPRS capability is almost an unheard of thing. When even people who just about earn enough to make ends meet are probably onto their second or even third mobile phone that supports GPRS and media content, I wonder who would be the target audience for such a service, even if its free, which by the way, it’s not (don’t lose heart, it comes at a nominal Re. 1 per day).

So, back to who might use such a service. Only person I can think of is a Facebook addict, who, when stuck in an area with a weak network signal, not sufficient for GPRS, and is about to break into a sweat wondering about all the updates he or she is missing as the seconds tick by; then, such a service might just save their lives.

I like

Reading Time: 1 minute

I suppose the reason behind people “liking‘ all the pages and songs and tv shows and blah blah on Facebook is that they’re kinda lonely, and are, by some natural instinct, walking around with their hearts and about 50 MB of data from the deepest crevices of their brains, all on their sleeve, for the world to know.

All the movies they like, the soaps, celebrities, ideas, businesses, brands, songs, books, (groan), and what have you.

It’s akin to people dressing their best even when they are grocery shopping at their neighbourhood store, always prepared for a possibility of bumping into their soulmate or whatever. (don’t give me that puzzled look, there has been a study carried out to that effect).

So I guess on one side, you have people desperately seeking attention with an ever-increasing sense of loneliness, who’re adding to their information ‘sleeve’; and on the other hand, an increasing reduction (ok, I’m sure you can use those two “opposite” meaning words together, they’re supposed to attract afterall, remember?)… ok, enough of all that play of words.

Back to the topic. Yeah, so on the other hand, you have an increasing reduction in the amount people care for details nowadays, so who do you think, would have the patience, or be inclined to read your entire bio-data (read info or wall) unless they’re perhaps, in school and going through the phase of their first 50 or so crushes?

So then, what is the point of it all anyway?