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Economics

  1. If the class is having difficulty coming up with an innovative idea, it may be helpful to divide innovations into categories (medicine, energy, entertainment, education, transportation, and the like) and have them research current challenges in each category. (MIT's Invention Dimension Web site provides listings of inventors by category.) Then they can try to develop an entrepreneurial idea within one of the categories. Make sure students follow all the necessary steps of introducing a product, from finding ways to mass-produce it, to creating interest in the product through advertising and setting up distribution networks that enable the product to be available around the country.

Geography

  1. Students should study what consumers are offered in the U.S. and overseas, and note differences. In India, for example, where cows are considered sacred, McDonald's would have a hard time selling hamburgers. Likewise, certain Muslim countries frown on the consumption of alcohol, while in Western Europe a McDonald's might do well selling wine or beer. Poverty is also an issue; for a fast food restaurant to succeed, prices must be matched to a person's ability to pay, and what may seem inexpensive to an American may be unaffordable in poorer nations. Also note that Barbie dolls may sell better in a particular country if the doll's skin tone matches that of the inhabitants.

Civics

  1. A good debate can focus on whether or not a successful innovator should be able to drive all his or her competitors out of business and potentially stifle future innovation. Consider the case of Giannini, whose massive financial empire and enormous Bank of America holding company ironically drew power away from the "little guy" his banks were created to assist. Beginning with the Sherman Act of 1890, the United States has enacted and enforced a variety of antitrust laws designed to prevent the harms of business monopolies. Students might want to research the background and purpose of these laws at the Web site for the Antitrust Division of the United States Department of Justice, then consider how they have been used against one of the most innovative companies of our time, Microsoft. Take a look at a Web site the company created to provide information about the antitrust cases, tellingly called "Freedom to Innovate." Now read consumer advocate Ralph Nader's editorial in the San Francisco Bay Guardian online, criticizing the company. Was the government right to go after Microsoft?

History

  1. Notable innovators who faced crises include: John Fitch, Samuel Insull, Edwin Armstrong, Edwin Drake, Charles Goodyear, and Theodore Judah.

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page created on 6.30.2004
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