U.S. Innovation Economy: Self-Selection is Key

ImageFrom my earliest memories, I can recall being taught that admitting one’s mistake is a sign of true strength. If those teachings ring true, as I believe they do, then my confession of early failure to fully grasp the immutable law of the Innovation Economy, and how it relates to African American prospects for 21st century prosperity, ranks as a nearly herculean feat.
New Civil Rights Movement?
In the late 1990s, I began to engage with what was then called the “New Economy” and think about how this emerging economic revolution would impact African Americans. Holding a basic appreciation of the global magnitude of the New Economy, in those days, I believed the best way to explain the urgency for African Americans to participate was to describe it as the “New Civil Rights Movement.” Moreover, I thought this description was helpful because it invoked the idea that engagement with the New Economy was so vital that a mass movement was needed to ensure our meaningful participation.
Harmless comparison?
At first blush, it may appear that comparing our participation in the New Economy, which is today’s “Innovation Economy,” to the extraordinary Civil Rights Movement was at best accurate and useful, and at worse inaccurate and harmless.
However, while my aspirations for an Innovation Economy Movement remain spot on, during many years of leadership  I discovered that to compare such a movement to the Civil Rights Movement was not only wrong, but it carried within it perilous seeds that could have grown into permanently unfulfilled expectations.
Law of Self-Selection
The breakthrough came with recognition that the unchanging, governing law of the Innovation Economy is self-selection, i.e., we must choose of ourselves to be part of it. Since then, I have fully grasped that the law of self-selection is that which would conclusively tell apart an Innovation Economy Movement from the historic Civil Rights Movement. This tectonic shift in thinking has informed my leadership and advocacy ever since.
Erroneous Comparison: Civil Rights vs Economic Opportunity
Unlike the Civil Rights Movement, which secured for African Americans the rights and privileges owed to every American citizen, in the Innovation Economy, we are owed no rights or privileges to innovate — there is only the opportunity to participate through self-selection.
The Civil Rights Movement was spiritually fortified and legally girded by the confidence and expectation that America would be true to her highest governing law — the Constitution — and ensure that every citizen enjoys equally all rights and privileges owed to all Americans.
Even in the darkest days of the Civil Rights Movement, there was something upon which African Americans could, and did, hang our collective hat. There was nearly 200 years of constitutional jurisprudence in which lawyers could, and did, successfully ground legal arguments. At the end of the day, we acted boldly with confidence and expectation — and maybe even deep-seated certainty — that America could and would, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “be true to what [she] said on paper.”
Reflecting the Civil Rights Movement, if the idea had taken root that we are owed a right and privilege to innovate and connect to the Innovation Economy, then all hopes for our 21st century prosperity would have been anchored in false confidence and misplaced expectation.
Imagine African Americans demanding rights and privileges where none exist. Imagine how much time, energy and prospects would have been wasted if we had undertaken an Innovation Economy Movement based on opportunities being owed to us when none are. You think we’re behind the eight-ball now? These “what if” scenarios would have led to the unthinkable — permanently unfulfilled expectations, as such expectations violate the self-selection law of the Innovation Economy.
 Self-select to compete
Today’s Innovation Economy is marked by radical socioeconomic changes brought about by the further globalization of commerce and democratization of information, exponential growth of entrepreneurship and acceleration of new knowledge creation.
In ways that may be unprecedented, every day, new, explosive opportunities are turbo-charging the pace of change and creating new jobs and untold wealth.
In the second decade of this millennium, African Americans must self-select to join the Innovation Economy. The best evidence of our self-selection will manifest in sustained and robust progress in areas such as: increased education attainment in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines, considerable new private capital formation and investment and substantially more high-growth entrepreneurs and enterprises. Taken together, these are among the leading job and wealth creation tools of the 21st century.
Quite plainly, if we don’t self-select to join the Innovation Economy very soon, in big and demonstrable ways, then many of us will risk being irretrievably left behind as a new and possibly permanent underclass — the consequence of our inability to keep pace with greatly accelerating forces of economic change.
Johnathan Holifield, Trim Tabber