Foreign Affairs Editor Talks Entrepreneurship

The January/February 2015 issue of Foreign Affairs includes a special series on entrepreneurship. To get a look inside the issue and discuss its ideas and implications, the California Technology Council spoke to Gideon Rose, Editor of Foreign Affairs and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

CTC: What prompted you to take this extensive look at entrepreneurship?

GR: Following Schumpeter, we thought it was worth exploring the role of entrepreneurial activity in spurring economic innovation, dynamism, and growth. Everybody everywhere wants to get their economy moving these days, and spurring and facilitating entrepreneurship seemed like a plausible way to get a lot of bang for the buck.

CTC: How did you select the set of issues you would cover in this series?

GR: We wanted a top mainstream economist to give us an overview of the state of play on the subject, and so we went to Bob Litan at Brookings. Mariana Mazzucato of the University at Sussex had written a great book on the role of government in driving innovation, so we went to her for that angle. Clay Christensen and his colleagues at Harvard Business School were obvious choices, and they came through with a neat piece on different sorts of innovation and how it can spur development. Getting rid of the legal and regulatory barriers to entrepreneurship seemed like an important issue, and luckily Jim Bessen had just sent us a manuscript on that topic, which we pulled into the package. The Isaacson and Thiel books made a natural pairing for a review essay, and we all love Jim Surowiecki of the New Yorker, so we were delighted when he agreed to tackle that. And we knew we wanted to get some wisdom from actual doers, not just thinkers and writers, so we assembled a great collection of interviews with some leading practitioners. I have to say, that was actually the most fun part. It was a bit tricky to put together an all-star group that really covered the waterfront, but in the end we were able to, and they were the most incredibly inspiring people you could imagine. It was like they lived inside a Nike commercial--whatever the challenge, they just did it.

CTC: With your readership of leaders around the world, do you think entrepreneurship and innovation is coveted and copied everywhere?

GR: Increasingly so, I think--at least among the smarter ones. In the old days, you could imagine that having, say, natural resources or a large population or sophisticated technology was enough to prosper economically. Today, though, more and more countries are realizing that strong firms and indigenous innovation are crucial for robust and lasting growth. And entrepreneurs themselves are gaining the confidence and support to get things moving across the globe. One of the major takeaways from the package, I think, is that tech entrepreneurship is no longer just a Silicon Valley thing, or even an American thing, but is increasingly a truly global activity. The interviews with Mike Moritz, Niklas Zennstrom, Marcelo Claure, and Mo Ibrahim make that very clear.

CTC: Who has the most to gain from adopting policies in favor of tech's disruptors, economies or the disruptors themselves?

GR: Here I think we came away thinking Schumpeter was right: both do. Yes, there are definitely going to be losers from creative destruction--established interests, the corporate old guard, and the unfortunate individuals working for them. But a lot of entrepreneurship is going to end up creating new markets, opening up new vistas, and making life easier and better for large numbers of people. So however jarring and unsettling it might be, it's a net positive, not just for the entrepreneurs, but for the broader economy and society.

CTC: Do you have any advice to offer to policymakers in regional innovation economies on fine-tuning for entrepreneurial growth in the present economy?

GR: Sure. Have great educational institutions, create entrepreneurial hubs, attract immigrants, and make it easy for start-ups to emerge and thrive. A lot of the articles in the package have great practical advice, so anybody interested should read them carefully.