Competitiveness Surveys

HBS Survey on U.S. Competitiveness

As part of the U.S. Competitiveness Project, Harvard Business School asked its alumni to complete an in-depth survey on U.S. competitiveness. Nearly 10,000 business leaders responded worldwide, resulting in a first-of-its-kind analysis of data from a broad group of central actors in the global economy. The survey results provide strong evidence that America faces a deepening competitiveness problem and help pinpoint where the roots of the problem lie.

The survey findings inform the March 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review, which presents analyses of critical areas that drive U.S. competitiveness as well as action agendas for restoring America's economic vitality.

Read about the survey methodology and review the survey questionnaire.

HBS requests that if you use the survey instrument, in whole or in part, please ensure that you cite HBS' original work as with any academic publication. We would also very much appreciate your sharing your survey's progress and data so that we may research cross-country comparisons and optimize the learning for the whole community. For all queries please contact

Dean Dean Nitin Nohria, Professor Michael Porter (both pictured), and Professor Jan Rivkin introduce findings from HBS Survey on U.S. Competitiveness

Professors Michael Porter and Jan Rivkin discuss the HBS Survey on U.S. Competitiveness with journalists and alumni

Journalist Megan McArdle (The Atlantic) asks a question about the survey to Dean Nitin Nohria and Professors Porter and Rivkin

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  • 19 Jan 2012

    Michael Stanat

    Some of the strongest markets--South Korea, Germany, Brazil--all with vastly different natural resources and tax structures, all seem to share a series of economic priorities that contributed to their prosperity.

    1. Invested in manufacturing, infrastructure and exporting
    2. Implemented forward-thinking policy at pivotal times (e.g. Brazil's biofuel energy policy)
    3. Aligned education with economic priorities (e.g. provided incentives for talented workers to pursue careers in industries that would cause economic development over shortterm growth)

    In Figure 14, it shows how many believe changing the tax system is a way to address these issues. But key reasons why large companies are building R&D units overseas and doing high level joint ventures in capital goods and advanced technology in Emerging markets is that the infrastructure and 'productive' human capital are there. The reason why many of those markets are growing is not because of simple tax structures or ease of doing business. Some of the highest tax rates and complicated compliance requirements are actually in high growth or well-developed economies. Some large US companies pay a low tax rate, and still set up key R&D operations abroad.

    The countries today considered 'off the beaten path' such as those in Africa are likely to become FDI hotspots tomorrow, and it is also a pivotal time for them right now. It is likely that a handful of those markets will develop the human capital, incisive policy and economic priorities to develop their economies.

    Like the markets referenced above, the US seems to be at a pivotal moment, following the financial crisis. The US can learn much from Emerging Markets about "economy building" and development.

  • 18 Jan 2012

    R Shamel

    Great report! May it indeed catalyze prompt actions to improve our economy. Most Americans think we're headed in the wrong direction. Sadly, I've recently joined those ranks.

    Our biggest risk to prosperity is the delaying of serious US attention to climate change thanks to the efforts of special interest groups who benefit from maintaining the status quo.

    HBS should continue to strive to educate leaders who make a difference in the world by getting back to supporting science. Our economy owes much to honoring science. Let's do it again.

  • 30 Jan 2012

    Antonio Vasco de Mello

    Dear Sirs,

    I duly received the 17th the Survey Report on the US Competitiveness Project for which I thank you very much. I gave it a close reading and would like first of all to really congratulate you for the exceptional job done.

    I do think this survey represents not only the U. S. state of things but the entire developed west: practically the same conclusions can easily be reached in our old Europe. The remedies to be applied are also practically the same; question is do we have the people and the time?

    Let me make to the Survey a few comments on detail:

    1. Fig. 3: Competitiveness assessments by sector. I find the picture rather confusing because one has to understand the concept of the difference between the positive and negative opinions. For the larger public this will not be easily understood.

    2. On Pg. 11, Roots of the U. S. Competitiveness Problem, especially when indicating the 17 Essential Elements of the National Business Environment, there is not one reference to Social obligations and consequent loads. As a European I find this it rather striking.

    I accept we have overdone it this side and are paying for it. But its total absence I find it also bad, and it may have some influence on today's Western problems.

    3 Regarding the last comment on Pg. 18, Business Can and Must be Part of the Solution to America's Competitiveness Problems. I would say that Business is the fundamental part of the solution. There is NO solution if business is not involved; the question of competitiveness does not even rise.

    But my real preoccupation is with business itself: what are its aims, its instruments and mechanisms, its players and their ambitions, their responsibilities, limits to free enterprise and competition, and, last but far from the least, its place in all business environments: political, social and natural.

    Things have changed drastically along the last years, especially so since intercommunication of people and data has developed the way it has been doing and will continue to do. I think that what really matters for the future is how these interacting questions will be managed.

    The traditional paradigm of development based on the increase of per capita income as a natural and good consequence of the stable growth of a Country???s richness is obsolete, because the World does not support such growth in consumption.The so called BRICs (with China at the head) are just copying a gone paradigm, and may not last long.

    My fundamental question is do we have the MEN and WOMEN capable of leading the World to its rightful future without falling into the traditional remedy ??? War. Harvard has a structural responsibility to lead in this quest and consequent education.

    A. V. de Mello Lisbon, Portugal.

  • 13 Mar 2012

    Ron Michaels

    George Bernard Shaw said, ". . . pressing people to learn things they do not want to know is as unwholesome and disastrous as feeding them on sawdust."

    It is assumed that US Competitiveness is contingent on the increased education on STEM courses. As an invited speaker on successful technology commercialization on college campuses (since 1998), I've seen the most startling technologies in the world; most are right here in the US. The rumor that we are "inadequately innovative" and "non-competitive" in the world is false. Yet, we use that implied threat to force-feed an unbalanced and inaccurate curriculum to our students from grade school through grad school. That off-target concentration causes unrest and confusion throughout our entire educational (and political) structure.

    For adults to continue to ignore the fundamental psychological dynamic that is the basis of learning makes the obsession with STEM dangerous. "Children are people, too" is something we seem to have forgot. The fundamental educational approach to children is being compromised to achieve new objectives that are unproved and substantially ill-defined. In the years I've served as an educational consultant, a member of various school Citizens' Committees through all levels of education, an invited lecturer on college campuses (since 1998) on successful methods of technology commercialization, entrepreneurship and business mechanics, I've learned that the majority of licensed educators on whom we depend to educate our children could be characterized as robotic or disengaged. They generally do what they're told and no more. Therefore, it is easy to channel most young people into a curriculum that is "out of touch" with the unique needs of the students. Pres ently, a number of different special interests (both in and out of education) have been vying for their favorite brand of updated technology and educational mechanics. Unfortunately, there is a stalemate between the factions and that results in a hybrid approach to "newness" that has become a detriment to the entire system. Few in education will acknowledge that the concentration on STEM education is even slightly effective in increasing the country???s competitive posture in the world.

    The first step to improving the competitiveness of the US is to recognize that "We have met the enemy and it is us." We are loaded with the most brilliant technologies in the world but we have been determined to trumpet that we are, somehow, behind every other country. We're not. Our educators are using what I call "non-specific comparatives" as the benchmarks to determine our place on the worldwide competitive spectrum. We are trapping ourselves in definitions of terminology that are inaccurate and demeaning and we accept them as a matter of course. We are fulfilling our self-described worst expectations.

    The second step is to recognize what the rest of the world has been doing with technology funding. We cannot create and develop technologies in the US when our European partners make it irresistible to our best scientists, engineers and mathematicians to transplant their product development efforts away from the US to European countries where funding opportunities are available that we can't (or won't) match at home.

    Thirdly, our technology commercialization efforts (and resultant jobs creation) are abominable. In 2008 I submitted to the White House, at their request, a recommendation for job creation that included, as a priority item, university technology commercialization (seen now in the White House's attempted implementation). It was a surprise to everyone that every university president I interviewed privately rejected the concept of commercialization (a "business") in an academic environment. As a result, each university president said that he/she considers his/her Office of Technology Transfer to be "perfectly acceptable as a cost center since it is only to be used as an educational tool and not as a successful commercial endeavor." As a result, insensitive and uneducated internal and outside financial interests often are allowed to roam through a university's intellectual property inventory and extract whatever they wish as a commercialization target. This is almost totally non-productive for either the university, the inventors, or the public. Additionally, these types of outside influences often are a distraction from imaginative, capable efforts that could achieve demonstrable success. The university technology commercialization efforts must be removed both from government control and from oversight by the university administrations who have little experience in this area. University tech transfer usually is managed by an academic, not a business professional. Most often, this academic is hired because he/she has performed the same function at another school. Rarely, if ever, is technology assessment and commercialization done by people who are experienced as successful business creators. External commercialization efforts are increasingly being done by many who have little business development experience and only short-term exposure to the unusual business-development structural needs of new companies.

    We need to change the objective -- slightly. We must accept that it is not necessary to make the US more competitive in the world. We are superior today. The areas in which we specialize places us in an unchallenged first position. Rather, our primary objective should be to take our superiority to a higher and more startlingly effective level of success through improving the focus, the methodology, and the skill level of those charged with this responsibility. A regional and national effort should be mounted to focus on the extraordinary achievements being made every day in our universities (and corporations) and fund those to speed their development and introduction into our economy. Funding should be developed that is implemented by a consortium of corporations (with government loans that are to be repaid to the government) that would be matched by local investors and foundations dedicated to improving the success of their college or university technologies. This is h appening today (without the funding consortium or structure) on a very small and widely dispersed basis and it is very successful when done properly.

    Keeping our technologies here at home would be a huge step forward. We must start by identifying and giving them what they need to be successful without the forcing them to go to another country for sufficient funding.

    The US is still the epitome of successful creativity, innovation, and leadership. We just need a repositioning of our priorities to steer students to a superior education based on individual desire and talent and away from STEM unless the student identifies this as his/her passion. Trying to force it into our society by lining our children up like gerbils to study disciplines they don't favor is akin to "feeding them on sawdust."

    Let's take another look at the objective, redefine it slightly, perhaps, and move forward with the same creativity that has captivated our imitators all over the world and compelled them to emulate our innovative approach to successful new product and new business development.

    Very truly yours,

    Ron Michaels, Founder, CEO The Stratford Group, Inc. Founder, Founding Chairman, COSSA, The Arizona Ronald McDonald House Founder, University Technology Commercialization Institute Founder, Memory Springs, Inc. Mentor, Arizona Center For Innovation Mentor, Eller College of Management Member, Angel Capital Association Member, Desert Angels

  • 16 Sep 2012

    Ather Williams Jr

    Transform our Education System to prepare our future leaders to complete in a Global economic, Energy policy that reduces and/or eliminates energy dependency, re-establish our manufacturing industry, reward Innovation and create a bi-partisan plan to reduce our debt.