Keys to competitiveness

For former Intel CEO Craig Barrett, 'paranoia' is a motivator


Former Intel CEO Craig Barrett takes questions with ORNL Deputy Director for Science & Technology Ramamoorthy Ramesh after Tuesday's Wigner lecture.Former Intel CEO Craig Barrett takes questions with ORNL Deputy Director for Science & Technology Ramamoorthy Ramesh after Tuesday's Wigner lecture. (hi-res image)

Like any veteran from an intensely competitive field, former Intel CEO Craig Barrett stays, in his vernacular, paranoid about the competition, In fact, his mentor and Intel predecessor, Andy Grove, said "only the paranoid survive" in the open marketplace.

Paranoia nevertheless does not translate directly to pessimism. In Tuesday's Eugene P. Wigner Distinguished Lecture Series in Science, Technology, and Policy at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Barrett spelled out steps the United States should take to compete in an increasingly global economy and rapidly changing technological environment.

Barrett cited education as foremost in creating and maintaining a strong living standard, along with investment in R&D and creating an environment that fosters intellectual property, the exchange of ideas and venture capital investment.

One of the great tech transfer successes was Bell Laboratories' invention of the transistor, which spun off Fairchild Industries, which begat Intel. Other countries have emulated the model of Tier 1 research universities nurturing technological development.

"The U.S. has the largest economy, invests more in R&D than any country, has the best universities and the most Nobel Prizes. We're okay, but are those lagging or leading indicators?" he asked.

Barrett returned several times to fixing education, with a focus on teacher expertise, treating educators like professionals and defining expectations. "South Korea saw the value in education and invested, and their gross domestic product grew accordingly, he said.

In the economy, market shares are gained and lost during transitions, he said, pointing to Motorola and Nokia's decline from dominance in the cell phone market as flip phones and then smart phones roared to the forefront.

Noting Microsoft's finding itself playing catch-up to Google and other competitors despite investing billions in R&D, Barrett said, "one smart idea can bring a giant to its knees. Research universities and national laboratories come up with smart ideas, and basic research spins off smart ideas."

Those basic research ideas take years to find their way to markets, which makes political will critical in maintaining support for Big Science investments.

Barrett served on the panel that created the "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report in 2005 with Sen. Lamar Alexander. In 2010 they reconvened and found little of their advice was heeded (the creation of the ARPA-E program being one exception). He said the lessons from Gathering Storm are still valid.

"I'm optimistic still," Barrett said. "We still have a chance. Industries are in transition. We can fix education, double research budgets and use resources.

"But you have to be paranoid."

See Barrett's entire talk on YouTube. Barrett previewed his lecture during an interview on WOKI radio Tuesday morning. The interview, which can be heard from 7:40 through 15:00 on the first link and from 0:00 to 6:10 on the second link.

Find information of future and past Wigner lectures here.


April 11, 2014

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