China – the once dormant dragon of the East is finally beginning to stir from her slumber. Once characterized by extreme isolationism, the quickly modernizing country is today, demonstrating a renewed eagerness to learn from the outside world. In fact, on October 2oth, a conglomerate of executives from Wuhan and Beijing – sent directly by the Chinese government – arrived at our university to learn about open innovation from Solomon Darwin himself. Having given lectures in Russia, India, and China, Darwin was well prepared to help illuminate theories of innovation to the eager Chinese executives.

In his talk, Darwin discussed America’s close tie to the Triple Helix Model and revealed how the collaboration between government, industry, and university has helped stimulate massive economic growth in the United States. In the United States, the spheres of government, industry, and university are well-balanced and work together in an integrated system. Giving specific historical examples, Darwin clearly outlined the cycle of American prosperity. Throughout history, the American government has played a key role in catalyzing economic growth. This economic growth was then used to stimulate the growth of universities that then led to the growth of businesses, jobs, and taxpayers. Finally, the revenue garnered by taxpayers helped bolster the overall economy – completing the cycle of economic stimulation. In this process, we see a co-dependency between knowledge and money. Only with economic support, can universities maximize knowledge. Only with knowledge, can the economy benefit from a long-term and steady growth.

In emerging economies including China, the spheres of the Triple Helix Model are largely imbalanced. Under a large government, the circles of industry and university are noticeably constrained. In such a state, genuine and organic innovation and creativity is hard to generate. Ultimately, this disproportion in power leads to a constrained growth. During his lecture, Darwin urged Chinese executives to create measures that will help liberate knowledge. Contrasting Russia and the nearby Silicon Valley, Darwin showed how a culture of openness is an essential precondition to innovation. Only when governments free their people and their ideas, can countries benefit from the sustained growth offered by innovation.

Apparent from their hours of questions, the Chinese government executives were very much enraptured by Darwin’s theories of innovation. Although government executives were able to ultimately leave their time at Haas with newfound knowledge, they will continue to face a myriad of logistical challenges back at home. With the Chinese government’s firm grasp over nearly all spheres of life, implementing Darwin’s insights on innovation will without a doubt, prove difficult. Although the Chinese came out of the conference equipped with the knowledge of innovation that they need to succeed, the challenge to actually apply them in tangible measures will without a doubt be one full of excitement and marked difficulties.

By Timothy Young