Point of view

Column by Sigrid Johanisse

How do experts from other innovation hotspots around the globe look at the developments taking place in the Netherlands and the EU? We can learn much from the American mentality to do everything faster and differently, says Sigrid Johannisse, Counsellor for Innovation, Technology & Science at the Embassy of the Netherlands in Washington DC.

 

Innovators shape the future! Students at our universities of technology have an important role to play in structuring our society and economy and curbing climate change. Technology’s influence on our lives has increased exponentially over the last 10 years. This places a burden of responsibility not only on the people developing this technology but also on those who wish to promote and regulate it through policy.

More and more people are becoming aware of that responsibility. From electric vehicles to facial recognition and hydrogen. What we also see is a contrast between the different continents where innovation is taking place. In principle, this is positive, because the power of innovation lies in diversity, dynamism and friction.

Difference in mentality

What does the USA excel in? It's mainly a difference in mentality, that determines the results and the speed. If you want to change the world with a product there, people hang on your every word. The investors are at the front of the queue; they love ground-breaking innovations that can be quickly scaled up for delivery. They want to do the unthinkable and to surpass themselves time and time again.

When DARPA was developing the stealth aircraft, they also designed the radar that could detect it. After every challenge, you are once more on the threshold of a new opportunity. ‘Thinking Big’ is the norm. The man on the moon is the real American dream. Always another giant leap forwards, never shying away from risk. ‘Falling Forward’ is the motto.

Silicon Valley

This also shows how Americans see themselves: as a leading nation. It’s a fundamental principle for every American. University students are challenged to make a difference as leaders, translating what they have learned into new applications. You might think that this would produce nothing but soloists. Quite the contrary. There's a strong focus on team spirit and networking.   

Silicon Valley is one big network of ‘connectedness’. If you have something to offer, doors open up right away. This explains why they’re so good at pitching. You get 30 seconds to explain how you’ll change the world and what you need to do it. There’s none of the false modesty that Dutch people have drummed into them from an early age, ‘don't call attention to yourself'.

Winner takes all

The American attitude generates optimism, positive energy and a Can Do mentality. The focus is firmly on the horizon and any obstacles are details to be cleared up along the way. No need for a support base, a good idea generates its own followers! The success of Zoom is a good example of this. First get a million customers and then start solving the privacy issue. The winner takes it all!

Rapid developments also involve risk. They often fail to take account of the wider impact and cohesion. Challenges such as energy & climate, Covid-19 or cybersecurity have now become so big that you need a comprehensive way of thinking to reach solutions. There need to be clear agreements on key issues. Innovation will again play a key role in this. Things must change!

Best of both worlds

Europe excels in terms of in its efforts to prevent problems, it works in integrated solutions with a support base, and long-term thinking. The best of both these worlds will really need each other in the coming 10 years. On the one hand, we can learn much from the American mentality to do everything faster and differently. On the other hand, a global approach is essential to effectively address complex problems. Our future depends on transatlantic cooperation. As the Innovatie Attaché Netwerk (Innovation Attaché Network), we contribute to this by sharing knowledge, identifying trends and collaborating.

 

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