The importance of our future

On September 19, I had the opportunity to attend a talk by Prof. Henry Chesbrough from UC Berkeley, who spoke on the subject of “open innovation,” as he has recently released a new book closely related to the topic of technology transfer. A comment within the question and answer session caught my attention. Prof. Chesbrough commented, with statistical data, that investment in research and development (R&D) by the American federal government has decreased (when evaluated as a proportion of gross domestic product) in recent decades because It has been allocated to other items of greater immediacy. The point is that he questioned that action as a bet by the federal government on other activities of immediate urgency, and investment in the future has been neglected. That left me thinking because the Mexican case is different.

In Mexico, immediacy is what governs when “planning” if, when measuring R&D spending, we are the country that invests the least among the OECD countries. However, we cannot put all the responsibility on the federal government; how are we doing at the state level? Does R&D have an essential role in the state agenda? Does it have a part, at least? Well, as we are all responsible for our future, what are entrepreneurs in the region doing? What is each of us doing? Are we investing part of our resources and capabilities in building the future? Are we envisioning that future in 20 years? Ten years? A six-year term? One year? Don’t tell me it is less than a year!

Is this R&D-expenditure indicator relevant? Let’s look at an example based on OECD data. Mexico historically has not exceeded 0.5%, and it is estimated for 2018 to be 0.31%. The one that invested the most was Israel, with 4.94% that same year, followed by Korea with 4.53%. Belgium reports 2.68% above the average for OECD countries, which is 2.38%. Of the Latin Americans is Chile that reports 0.35%.

Let’s go back to the idea of investing in the future and spending in the immediacy: if Belgium spends in its future 2.68%, will the other 97.32% be focused on the immediacy? It is not so direct, but we can assume it that way for the example that I want to highlight. The case of Mexico could be analogous with an expense of 0.31% and an expense of 99.69% immediately. Only that the Belgians are betting on their future 8.6 times more than us (2.68% / 0.31%), and that factor of 8.6 compared to the Belgians is 16.9 times compared to Israel.

Chesbrough’s talk was fascinating; It left me thinking about what is important and what is not.