A foundation for winning the future
As President Obama addressed the State of the Union on Tuesday evening, thousands of global executives were just arriving in Davos – in some important ways the themes from both are similar.
Much of the discussion in Davos has been about the “new normal” we must deal with involving the reality of the “dual track” economies of the world. Leaders from emerging markets are brimming with optimism, poised for continued strong growth. Leaders from mature markets, on the other hand, are faced with the sobering challenges of high levels of unemployment, high debt levels and consequently, slower growth rates.
With this as context – where do we go from here? President Barack Obama provided an answer to how America can “win the future” during his address in which he urged Americans and American enterprises to rise to the global challenge with new, job-creating innovations.
Much attention at Davos and elsewhere has focused on the Chinese and Indian economies. But where did their policy and business leaders get many of their ideas and inspiration? As it turns out, the United States.
In examining the conversations at Davos and the President’s speech, I felt a sense of déjà vu. Less than 20 years ago, I was a young associate at Dun & Bradstreet, already thinking about a new company that would become Cognizant. With new businesses and industries launching at a record pace, it was a time of “can do.”
The U.S. economic revolution of the 1990s was the result of a policy environment consisting of low corporate tax rates making the U.S. an attractive destination for global capital investment; smart immigration laws allowing the best minds in the world to come to the U.S. to pursue education and innovation and incidentally made it possible for people like me to start new businesses and create jobs in the U.S.; a vibrant U.S. higher education system acting as a magnet for the world’s aspiring best and brightest; and lastly, federally funded research that created or enabled breakthroughs like the Internet.
Sound familiar? It’s the same foundation for innovation the President outlined in his address and that I heard, in differing ways at Davos.
We are currently in the midst of some major shifts – a new generation of workers and consumers, a new generation of technologies and new virtual business models. Key industries – leveraging fluidity of ideas, capital and labor – have been change masters during prior shifts. In addressing today’s new challenge, future business leaders must embrace globalization, virtual working models and appeal to the desires of the Millennial generation of workers and consumers.
We’ve all heard the timeless advice from essayist George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Is the reverse true? For those of us who do remember the past, can we commit ourselves to repeat it?
At Davos this week, I’ve heard from a new generation of business leaders who are leveraging technological innovation to compete globally, but also of the U.S. policy success that other countries have emulated to drive growth. The question for all of us is whether what has worked for the U.S. in the past will translate into the actions necessary for a new future of innovation. This is the new market environment – but it will only occur with the proper combination of smart policy and determined corporate leadership.
Frank D’Souza is the president and CEO of Cognizant Technology Solutions.
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