How can America, and other Western nations, compete with the new, fast-growing, low-cost, economies of the Far East? “Creativity” is an increasingly common answer.  “We can’t compete on cost but we can beat them with our brains.” Invention, ingenuity, and innovation are what made America great, and can make her great again.

This is the nation that gave the world Ford, the airplane, Coca-Cola, dental floss, IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and even the moon! What can’t America do? It’s the “can-do” and “will-do” nation. Pioneering is an American gene; exploration runs in American blood. When Americans meet boundaries, Americans always win.

Great history…but great future?
It’s a great history. But what about the present? And how does the future look? Maybe not so great.

It’s not that the creative American spirit has been extinguished; there are still many inspiring examples of that pioneering, exploring, boundary-breaking mindset in many American individuals, teams, businesses and institutions.  However, as we look ahead into the future, there’s a fear, an uneasiness, a concern that this historic competitive edge of creativity is not as sharp nor as cutting as it once was.

Sagging confidence
America’s confidence has been dented and shaken by multiple blows over the past couple of decades. The bursting of the dot-com bubble, 9/11, two long and costly wars, the sub-prime mortgage devastation, the stock-market crash, the soaring costs of college education, healthcare fears, the bankruptcy of social security, cancellation of the Space Shuttle program, and the rise of new powers like China, all have combined to deflate American buoyancy and optimism. Sagging confidence and gnawing fear do not dig fertile ground for creativity and innovation.

Alive and kicking, but weak and wobbly
And yet, the creative urge is still alive and still kicking, if a little weak and wobbly. Websites, blogs, and conferences on creativity still attract large audiences. Jonah Lehrer’s best-selling Imagine! presents some fascinating creativity science in a popular and inspirational fashion. And of course, the TED (Technology, Education, Design) talks have proven the enduring appeal and excitement of innovative and creative thinkers, speakers, and doers.

So, which way will it go? Will we see a new generation of American pioneers and inventors? Or will we only read of them in our history books? What’s hindering American innovation, and how can we remove some of the creative blocks? How can we re-sharpen the competitive edge of American creativity? Is Christian faith part of the answer?

These are some of the questions I’ll be trying to answer in a series of blog posts over the coming weeks. We begin tomorrow with a look at one of the creative blocks that obstruct the path to a better and brighter future – a wrong self-image.

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