CEO Jim Clifton was speaking to a group of presidents of American research labs—“NIH and NASA, really good people,” he said—when he posed a question he said goes to the heart of America’s economic future.
“These are outstanding Americans. They’re brilliant,” Mr. Clifton said on March 17 at the 16th annual Robert P. Maxon Lecture. “I asked them, ‘How many of you, in your labs, have inventions that just need business models?’ Every hand went up.”
The Robert P. Maxon Lecture features prominent executives and academics making presentations on contemporary global management issues and is designed to add depth to the understanding of the next generation of global business leaders. The lecture was established by the late Dorothy Maxon’s endowed gift to the GW School of Business in honor of her husband, Robert P. Maxon, BA ’48.
At this year’s lecture, Mr. Clifton said a focus on identifying and developing promising entrepreneurs could be key to creating markets for American innovation and improving the country’s flagging Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate, which has declined in the past two decades to roughly half of what it was in the 1950s and 1960s.
“We finally have an issue that both [political] sides agree on: unemployment and GDP growth,” he said. “But what if the answer is entrepreneurship and not innovation?”
Mr. Clifton, for one, believes that might be the case.
America, he said, has become an expert at developing brilliance—intellectuals, musical and artistic prodigies, athletes—and the country prides itself at nurturing these gifts. The result is “piles of innovation” in technology, media, entertainment, and intellectual property.
“What we don’t have is the intentionality in developing entrepreneurship,” Mr. Clifton said, adding that the country’s future economic growth could be boosted with a focus on treating budding, natural entrepreneurs the same way we do star athletes or intellectuals.
Much like a talented artist, it isn’t hard to identify someone with a gift for business. Social entrepreneurship endeavors, like Lemonade Day, he said, can provide a forum for showcasing and developing young skill. Colleges and universities can play a role by creating forums for people with exceptional talent, similar to what Juilliard does with music, he said.
“We all have gifts we can develop infinitely,” Mr. Clifton said. “If we can make [identifying business talent] intentional, and we can—with testing, with increasing the awareness of where and how we find them—we can identify them.”
Endowed lectureship and speaker series like the Robert P. Maxon Lecture enrich the programming available to the GW community. Learn how you can help enhance academics at GW by visiting campaign.gwu.edu today.