Closing The Innovation Gap – Reigniting The Spark Of Creativity In A Global Economy



Book Review by Kimberly Cohen – July 2013

Fig 1: Book Cover



Closing The Innovation Gap – Reigniting The Spark of Creativity In A Global Economy by Judy Estrin was published on August 13, 2008, and named one of the “Best Books on Innovation, 2008” by BusinessWeek magazine.

Per Estrin, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of JLABS, LLC, “Innovation does not occur in a vacuum.  It grows from the interplay of three drivers of creative change–research, development, and application.”  This interplay is the “Innovation Ecosystem.”  In her book, Estrin explains how these communities work together to create sustainable innovation.  She also explains how and why an imbalance in this system occurred over time within the United States that plummeted us from our previously held world leadership position and what we need to do to regain our standing and competitive edge.

It is recommended reading for:

  • National Leaders looking to regain our standing in the global economy
  • Business Leaders committed to building innovative companies
  • Policy Makers re-evaluating policy through the prism of innovation
  • Academic and Scientific Leaders catalyzing scientific research
  • Leaders in K-12 educational reform who are concerned about future generations of innovators
  • Anyone interested in the country’s future


The author, Judy Estrin, drew upon her business experiences and educational expertise as well as the results of interviews with more than 100 scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, researchers, educators, and academic and business leaders who are known as contributors to America’s innovative successes to address:

  • America’s role as the primary driver of global innovation after World War II–explaining what worked, the subsequent decline, and how to regain traction
  • The fundamentals required to nurture innovation, including five simple but important values for transforming your organization into a force for productive change
    • Questioning
    • Risk
    • Openness
    • Patience
    • Trust
    • How we can ensure that our businesses benefit from a thriving “Innovation Ecosystem”
    • Examples from both established companies, start-ups, and research labs that illustrate the power of innovation in providing a decisive business advantage and foundation for growth

The following is the book’s Table of Contents:

  • Preface
  • Introduction: Innovation Is Not Optional
  • Chapter 1: The Capacity for Change

The Basic Ingredients
An Innovator’s Mind in Action: Hawkins’ Four Questions
The Process of Innovation
Orthogonal Innovation
No Bigger Than a Jazz Band

  • Chapter 2: The Innovation Ecosystem

Natural Innovation
An Interesting Experiment
Intuitive Development
Absolutely Positively Innovative
Cross-Pollinating the Future
Nurturing the Innovative Environment

  • Chapter 3: Inspirational Innovation

The Endless Frontier
Augmenting Human Intellect
The Reach of Bell Labs
Entrepreneurial Engineers

  • Chapter 4: Narrowing Horizons

Entrepreneurial Innovation Takes Off
Serving Two Masters
Optimizing for Efficiency
IT and Biotech Drive the Market
Loosing our Lead
Accelerating out of Control

  • Chapter 5: Losing Our Balance

Tarred with the Same Brush
The Aftermath of 9/11
Reviving Innovation

  • Chapter 6: Green-Thumb Leadership

Organizing for Innovation
Worth the Risk
Encouraging Questions and Openness
Feeding the Baby Tigers
Planning for Growth
Acquiring Innovation
Short-Changing the Future
Ideas Everywhere
Creating Innovation Magnets
Those with Critical Optimism
Incentives for Success
Open and Out
When, How and Where to Transplant
Rebuilding the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
In the Best Interest of the Shareholders

  • Chapter 7: Reviving the National Ecosystem

We Are Not Alone
A Vacuum of Leadership
Is Anyone in D.C. Listening?
A Fresh Approach
People Policy
Intended and Unintended Consequences
Moon Shot Policy
Research – Strengthening the Roots
Where is all of the Federal Money Going?
Visionary Giving
Prizing Innovation
Home to the Research Community
Relationships of Importance
The Lab Gap
Networks of Networks
America Competes – Isn’t the Problem Solved?

  • Chapter 8: Next-Generation Innovators

What Do We Need?
Four Questions About the Future of Education
A Respected Profession
Very Committed Scientists
Reflecting Innovation’s Core Values
Making Math and Science Fun
Educational R&D
No Child Left Behind?
Prepared Minds
The Importance of Cultural Context
Reaching Out

  • Afterword: A Call to Action
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Interviewees
  • View the complete list of interviewees
  • Index

The following is Chapter 2 of the book which is also available through the author’s website at

Double click to launch the PDF.


The following overview is provided on July Estrin’s website located at

“Judy Estrin is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of JLABS, LLC, formerly known as Packet Design Management Company, LLC.  Prior to co-founding Packet Design, in May 2000, Estrin was Chief Technology Officer (CTO) for Cisco Systems.  Beginning in 1981 Estrin co-founded three other successful technology companies: Bridge Communications, Network Computing Devices, and Precept Software. In 1998 Cisco Systems acquired Precept, and she became Cisco’s CTO until April 2000.

Estrin has been named three times to Fortune Magazine’s list of the 50 most powerful women in American business.  She is Chairman of EvntLive, Inc., and sits on the boards of directors of The Walt Disney Company as well as privately held Packet Design, Inc.  She also served as a member of the board of FedEx Corporation from 1989 until 2010, Sun Microsystems from 1995 through 2003 and Rockwell Corporation from 1994 through 1998.  In addition, she sits on the advisory councils of Stanford’s School of Engineering and Stanford’s Bio?X initiative.  She holds a B.S. degree in math and computer science from UCLA, and an M.S. in electrical engineering from Stanford University.


The following editorial reviews of the book are readily available on the book’s back cover.

  • “Judy Estrin has zeroed in on the lack of long-term thinking in business and culture that is one of the gravest problems we face today. Her urgent call to action is a must-read for anyone interested in fostering and accelerating innovation in their business or organization.”

-Bob Iger, CEO, The Walt Disney Company

  • “Deeply thought-provoking.  An extraordinary tapestry of commentary drawn from scores of interviews and woven into a coherent fabric about innovation and why it must be a part of America’s future.”

-Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist, Google

  • “Concerned about the future of America’s role in the global economy?  Then, whether you’re a business leader, educator or policy maker, you should read this book.  America achieved greatness through its ability to engineer, explore and innovate.  Estrin provides a fresh perspective on the importance of innovation to our future, and shines a bright light on the problems we face in rebuilding its crumbling cultural and educational foundations.”

-Sally K. Ride, Ph.D., first American woman astronaut

  • “Judy Estrin is one of Silicon Valley’s greatest entrepreneurs and technologists.  If you care about the state of entrepreneurship and management in the 21st century, her book is a must-read.”

-Roger McNamee, managing director, Elevation Partners

In addition, 18 reviews published on indicate an overall rating of the book of 4.5 out of 5.0 stars.   To read the reviews both favorable and critical, click here to access Customer Reviews


The author is engaging, insightful and interesting.  She provides the unique perspective of a successful entrepreneur who has had firsthand knowledge of Silicon Valley at its apex and subsequent decline.  She shares lessons learned specific to individual organizations like Pixar, FedEx, Cisco, Proctor & Gamble, Genentech and Bell Labs to name a few.

Her focus is to provide the reader with context as to what led the United States in becoming one of the world leaders in the innovation process, what changes occurred which led to the deterioration of that position and what our focus needs to be in order to reestablish our position.

In her words, “Leaders in business and public service must think beyond short-term financial results and understand the impact of globalization and an accelerated pace of change on future economic growth.” Therefore, I highly recommend that anyone interested in gaining perspective of the following read this book.

  • What propelled our nation toward innovative excellence in the 1940s and 1960s?
  • What legislative, economic and other changes eroded our country’s focus on science and basic scientific research?
  • What needs to be done in order for us to recapture our competitive edge and greatness?

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