Article | Harvard Business Review | July – August 2009

Restoring American Competitiveness

by Gary P. Pisano and Willy C. Shih


For decades, U.S. companies have been outsourcing manufacturing in the belief that it held no competitive advantage. That's been a disaster, maintain Harvard professors Pisano and Shih, because today's low-value manufacturing operations hold the seeds of tomorrow's innovative new products. What those companies have been ceding is the country's industrial commons—that is, the collective operational capabilities that underpin new product and process development in the U.S. industrial sector. As a result, America has lost not only the ability to develop and manufacture high-tech products like televisions, memory chips, and laptops but also the expertise to produce emerging hot products like the Kindle e-reader, high-end servers, solar panels, and the batteries that will power the next generation of automobiles. To rebuild the commons and restore its wealth-generating machine will require government and industry in the U.S. to make two drastic changes: First, the government must change the way it supports basic and applied scientific research to promote the broad collaboration with business and academia needed to tackle society's big problems. Second, corporate management practices and governance structures must be overhauled so they no longer exaggerate the payoffs and discount the dangers of outsourcing production and cutting investments in R&D. Restoring the ability of enterprises to develop and manufacture high-tech products in America is the only way the country can hope to pay down its enormous deficits and raise its citizens' standard of living.

Keywords: Competitive Advantage; Value; Production; Innovation and Invention; Product Development; Government and Politics; Social Issues; Management Practices and Processes; Investment; Research and Development; Job Cuts and Outsourcing; Competency and Skills; Service Industry; United States;


Pisano, Gary P., and Willy C. Shih. "Restoring American Competitiveness." Harvard Business Review 87, nos. 7-8 (July–August 2009). (

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