June 30, 2010    Volume 17, No. 11

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Ronald Reagan Had It Right; Bring Back Project Socrates, The Intelligence Community's International Technology Monitoring Program

By Mike Sekora

To restore the economic health of the United States and its people, decision makers in government, industry and academia must address America's rapidly declining competitiveness, the source of the present economic crisis. To stem the economic and social decline, U.S. decision makers must make a major shift in their thinking. They must come to a new understanding of what constitutes true economic competitiveness. The current government-funded stimulus programs do not address the underlying source of the U.S. economic crisis.

During the Reagan administration, a program called the Socrates Project was initiated within the U.S. intelligence community to address America's competitiveness challenge. I was in charge of that project. Socrates' mission was to determine the true source of America's declining competitiveness, and develop programs to address the source of the problem.

The Socrates Project team knew that the problem was far deeper than the one-liners being used by politicians, like "Japan Inc." We knew that "leveling the playing field" was not a strategy for economic revival. The Socrates solution took advantage of the vast resources of information regarding technology development that was being gathered by the U.S. intelligence community. For the first time in history, Project Socrates was able to create a holistic view and understanding of all competition worldwide.

In its scope and completeness, this view went far beyond the narrow slices of data that were available to the thousands of professors, economists and consultants addressing the issue of competitiveness. As a result, the conclusions that the Socrates team derived about competitiveness in general and about the United States in particular were in direct opposition to what professionals and policymakers had been saying for years.

The Socrates Project concluded that to rebuild America's economic competitiveness, decision makers in federal and state governments, industry, academia and the press needed to make a fundamental shift in their thinking. It was imperative for the United States to drop its focus on "economic-based" planning and move BACK to technology-based planning. If it did not do so, then there would be little hope for an economic revival. The same situation holds true today, but the stakes are even higher.

The Socrates Project found that the world was poised for the next revolutionary step in technology-based planning. We called it the "automated innovation revolution." Socrates recommended that the United States lead this revolution and it developed technology-mapping tools to do so. In order to generate the maximum economic competitive advantage for the United States, it was understood that these tools needed to be used by federal, state and local governments and organizations to develop specific technology strategies. This way, a full range of U.S. resources could be utilized in a coherent, flexible, and independent fashion that was not in conflict with America's democratic society.

Today, the United States must make the shift from economic-based planning back to technology-based planning. Technology-based planning is what was used to build the United States into a superpower. The focus on creating the very best products and services -- using advanced and revolutionary technologies to satisfy customer needs -- is what kept American companies competitive. This technology-based focus on planning is now being used by China and India to build themselves into superpowers.

Meanwhile, the United States has shifted to a focus on economic maneuvering to maximize the bottom-line. The results speak for themselves. Economic-based planning is the primary cause of America's competitiveness problems over the last three decades. Because policymakers have been looking solely at the economic side of the equation, they have not seen the deterioration.

In economic-based planning, every decision made by an organization is focused on acquiring and utilizing funds to generate maximum profit. This is taught at all U.S. business schools and it has been used since the end of World War II.

In technology-based planning, the technology is being manipulated, not money. Only when a culture of technology exploitation is adopted, can an organization execute other types of planning like economic optimization.

Many U.S. companies and organizations claim that they use technology planning. They don't. Rather, they execute economic-based planning for technology. Their planning consists of how to use money to fund research and development. They manipulate funding, not technology.

Because technology exploitation is the foundation of all competitive advantage, technology-based planning is the most effective basis for addressing the wide range of functions that comprise U.S. economic competitiveness, such as trade policy, intellectual property laws and upgrading the country's infrastructure. Using technology-based planning to address all functions of American society is the most effective way to increase economic competitiveness and address the challenge associated with China's rapidly expanding worldwide economic dominance.

In the private sector, technology-based planning is the most effective basis for decision making. The process for generating a competitive technological advantage should become the basis for every decision within an organization. Focusing on building a dominant technology advantage -- as opposed to a financial one -- stops the use of inefficient guess-work for decisions that are based on whims, illogical factors, unknown market conditions and in deciphering the "secret sauces" of competitors. Instead, decision making becomes logical, systematic, efficient and effective.

In the public sector, technology-based planning needs to be the central focus for policies involving trade, taxation, innovation, patents and intellectual property law; vocational training and education; university research and education; and improvements to infrastructure. In order for U.S. companies and institutions to maintain a competitive advantage relative to the rest of the world, these functions should no longer be addressed with economic-based planning.

The federal government's Socrates Project developed what it called a computer-based "Techspace Map." This tool provided a precise and detailed representation of current and emerging technologies. It was used to develop technology strategies for high-priority government programs in the 1980s, and it led to investments that resulted in the digital revolution of the 1990s. President Ronald Reagan was a strong supporter of the Socrates Project. He had an executive order drafted creating a new government organization for the project and gave it the responsibility to support U.S. government agencies and the commercial sector.

But the first Bush administration turned against the idea of technology-based planning and, in its embrace of economic-based planning, terminated the Socrates Project. Since then, the principals involved in Socrates have stayed active and have upgraded the "Techspace Map."

The Socrates Project worked in the 1980s, and it is now time for it to work again. The United States must embrace a technology-based approach to its competitive challenges. A "Techspace Map" can be used by federal, state and local governments to help build competitive companies and regions. It can be used by corporations to regain technological superiority and market dominance. And it can be used to benchmark America's leading competitors that have embraced and are successfully deploying a technology-focused strategy for global dominance -- at the expense of American industries and millions of American workers.

-- Mike Sekora is president of Quadrigy Inc., based in Austin, Texas: sekora@quadrigy.com.

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