In a recent interview I was asked in what technological strategies should the EU focus to achieve digital transformation. They probably expected to propose investments in bigdata, internet of things, blockchain, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, 3D printing or something of this kind. But my answer was in other direction.
To be able to lead any type of activity related to innovation, it is essential to be able to attract talent. It is not enough to create talent, it is not enough to retain talent, it is necessary to go a step further and create an environment that favors the attraction of talent.
And it doesn't mind if it's an entrerprise, any other organization, a country or even a multi-national region. It's not enough to invest to create talent. People tend to think that it is the responsibility of governments to establish educational policies in order to have the talent necessary to maintain progress.
In fact, governmnents do not always succeed. Sometimes they create inadequate education policies that can become the root cause of economic suicide. Those policies have direct influence on what the students choose and can actively discourage them to learn some technical and creative skills needed to fill some of the most indispensable careers required by the fastest growing sectors of the economy.
It is not enough to retain talent either. 'Retain' means that you work hard enough so that other entities do not take away the talent that has cost so much to create. Playing defensively is not usually a good option because it means that others take the initiative and you have to invest your resources in patching holes instead of creating value. Sooner or later you will be struggling with the score against.
The great demographic change of the last century, after the fact that the world population has increased from 1.6 to 6 billion people, is that the population living in urban areas increased from 14% in 1900 to more than 46% in the year 2000. In fact, in 2008 it exceeded 50% and it is estimated that by 2050 it will already be 66%. In other words, two out of every three people will live in urban areas.
Larger cities attract more and more people because they offer better access to education, entertainment, quality jobs and technologies. Cities, despite their shortcomings, are essentially more exciting places to live. They offer more opportunities to establish relationships with like-minded individuals. People attracts people.
In fact traditionally the U.S. has been able to attract many bright people from other countries. In fact it has been attracting people them despite its bad scores on academic ability. The U.S. has always been attractive to people that needs to get away from poverty, political repression or, specially, lack of opportunities to create a better future.
And U.S. science and tech edge has long been fueled by the talented immigrants from across the world. Immigrants have played an incredibly relevant role in U.S. high-technology competitiveness. Foreign talent makes up a huge share of America’s science and technology workforce, and from a third to half of the founding teams of significant U.S. technology startups.
Although this trend has been changing in recent times. Trump's executive orders on immigration threatens what goes to the very core of America's innovative edge: the ability to attract global talent. Even if the ban is lifted, the damage has been done. Global talent has been put on alert.
Furthermore, other countries have already recognized the importance of attracting talent and are making significant investments. One relevant example is China's The Thousand Talents Plan whose mission is to bring in overseas top talents gathering the global wisdom to create the China great exploit.
And how can you know if the strategy is working? Simply look at the results. Are you getting the innovation or digital transformation that you intend to? If not then it's probably not about technology.