“Russia is one of the countries that couldn’t enjoy the fruit of the fourth technological revolution,” said Loren Graham, an MIT historian of science, in a recent appearance at the Saint-Petersburg Economic Forum. “The reason,” Graham explained, “hides in the difference between invention and innovation. Innovation is the process of transforming inventions to economic value for the inventor and the public as a whole…”
“The Russians asked us how to replicate MIT’s success in the development of ‘the next best thing’, and we tell them that the key to success is not the MIT culture, but rather the environment of Boston or the whole United States – democratic rule, free market, protection of intellectual property, a legal system where an accused has a chance to prove his innocence. A culture allowing criticism, granting independence, allowing a second chance in a case of failure.”
“The Russians coming to visit us could not understand it and kept asking about technologies: “Can this technology, or that one, lead us to success?” Finally, the President of MIT turned to his Russian peer and told him: “You want to have milk without having a cow. You are trying to get the technology, without creating the soil upon which technology can flourish. As long as it goes on, the Russian scientific genius will not fulfill its potential.”
In his book, “Lonely Ideas: Can Russia Compete?” (MIT Press, 2013), Graham (left) shows that Russian inventors have been ingenious in developing scientific and technical ideas, but failed to benefit from them. From early 19th century armories to Skolkovo, Russia’s modernization was always forced by the leadership, and often met with animosity by local luddites; and contrary, inventors were often considered a threat to society, incarcerated or forced to leave. Now, said Graham, Russia has the best chance of finally catching the pace of the developed world. His book was published in 2013, a year before the Russian invasion to Crimea and the economic sanctions that followed.
Can Skolkovo become a successful replica of MIT?
No, it can not, say Adam Bock and David Johnson in their article “The Uniqueness of Stem Cell Ecosystems“, recently published in the Univenture Issue of Coller Venture Review. What works well in one environment may very well fail in another, and only policies supporting the health of the entire ecosystem, rather than specific innovations, are most likely to generate long-term benefits.