Our duty is to advance the story of business

At GE, we do a lot of science. Some of us even do science fiction. For a time, Kurt Vonnegut lived in New York and worked in our PR department.

At GE, we do a lot of science. Some of us even do science fiction. For a time, Kurt Vonnegut lived in New York and worked in our PR department. It turns out, not surprisingly, that corporate communications wasn't his passion and he started using his nights to write short stories.

His tips for writing those stories, however, can guide those of us in the profession the established author left behind. My favorite is this: Every sentence should advance the story.

Today, there is more noise than ever, especially in social media. But there is a difference between having a voice and offering a plat-form for people who have something to say.

At GE, we do our best to make sure our digital platforms contribute to a conversation; to advance the story.

The latest of these platforms is our recently launched Ideas Lab website that brings together business leaders, public policy experts, academic thinkers, and the general public to discuss the most powerful ideas about the country's economic future.

Ideas Lab is a twin to Txchnologist, our website that engages innovators and enthusiasts on the latest technology breakthroughs and challenges. We brand these sites lightly and invite experts from around the world to weigh in, even if the opinions expressed are counter to GE's.

We usually do not stir up any trouble for ourselves on Txchnologist during debates. But I suspect - and hope - that Ideas Lab will be different. There will be some sharp elbows when it takes on tax, trade, manufacturing, and other economic policy questions that generate spirited and colorful conversations in America's digital and social living rooms.

GE welcomes the debate, but why? Why would any firm jump into this rhetorical mosh pit when few emerge from it unmuddied?

The answer goes to the role business should play in public discourse and media itself. Trust in business has significantly eroded. If we are going to restore that trust, if we are going to persuade others to advocate on our behalf, and if we are going to align our companies with public interests, then we have to join in the debate. We cannot be afraid to convene, contribute to, and even lead a national conversation.

Last fall, for example, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis released a paper supporting the idea of abolishing patents. We strongly disagree and believe that protecting intellectual property through the patent system and effective trade secret protection is fundamental to innovation and competitiveness not only to GE, but for any enterprise large or small. We believe it is a social contract be- tween inventor and government. On Ideas Lab we posted two counter articles by respected academics and policy experts and included links to the bank's original paper.

Our founder Thomas Edison held a record 1,093 patents. Today, GE has a portfolio of more than 40,000 patents and almost 60,000 trademarks around the world. Why shouldn't we be a part of or host any discussion around patent reform and intellectual property?

GE will be the first to admit that it doesn't have all the answers. The increasingly multifaceted and intertwined nature of our economy means that sustainable ideas and solutions will only come through partnerships and open dialogue. Organizations have to be a part of that, and they want to be.

GE is certainly not the first firm to join or advance talks that address important public policy issues. Recently, ExxonMobil co-sponsored the Teacher Town Hall in New York City as part of NBC News' Education Nation Summit. Other companies, such as Boeing and Microsoft, host blogs and microsites that weigh in on public policy issues related to their industries. These firms understand the private sector has a responsibility to take on issues that extend beyond our warehouses, factory floors, and boardrooms.

This is why GE is launching Ideas Lab - to inform the debate with research, data, and perspectives from across the political spectrum and business landscape. By offering differing viewpoints and aggregating insightful con-tent from the Web, we will focus on areas that are critical to America's growth: advanced manufacturing, technology and innovation, global competitiveness, and jobs and skills.

We hope to question conventional wisdom and push the public discourse forward. I invite you to join the conversation and advance the story by visiting ideaslaboratory.com

Gary Sheffer is VP of communications and public affairs at GE. He also served as chair of judges at the 2012 PRWeek Awards.

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