Name this country's most unique advantage in international trade competition.
The answer is the innovative instinct that has produced thousands of entrepreneurs and their unconventional new companies and millions of jobs in the past decade.
Now name the most important class that isn't given in business schools.
The answer is a course to turn MBA candidates into entrepreneurs and innovators.
"I don't know of one such course," said Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr., dean of the School of Business Administration at the University of Michigan. Whitaker is a member of a committee of experts who are studying the state of business management education in this country for the Business-Higher Education Forum.
A draft of the committee's report was presented last week to the Forum, a group of more than 60 presidents of universities and chief executives of major corporations in this country.
The draft report, filled with tentative findings and proposed changes in business management education, had no recommendations on how to turn students into entrepreneurs.
The problem, to paraphrase U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's comment on pornography, is that educators know entrepreneurship when they see it, but don't know how to define it. Nor how to teach it.
It involves "a drive to make things happen which comes out of a person's soul," said Whitaker.
"There are lots of students who are committed to an entrepreneurial approach. But the question is, could we develop that spark in people who don't have it? I don't believe we've found the way," said Whitaker.
It is not for lack of interest. At the University of Michigan and other leading schools, there are courses to help students who choose the unmarked path -- courses with names like "Managing High-Growth Companies" and "The Formation of New Enterprises." And the entrepreneurship club is one of the newest and most popular among Michigan MBA candidates, with about 100 members out of 800 at the school.
But the professors in those courses tend to be preaching to the choir -- the committed believers.
Business schools also bring in the famous entrepreneurs to inspire the MBAs and explain the pitfalls. But they have only a limited ability to pass on their knack to others that don't have it already, Whitaker said.
One obvious reality is that most of the upsart entrepreneurs of the computer industry didn't come out of business schools. Whatever they have, they didn't find it there.
Nolan Bushnell, one of the first Silicon Valley whizzes, grew up as a ham radio experimenter and amusement park junkie -- pasttimes that were arguably as significant as a college engineering degree to the future creator of Atari and the video game boom.
Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the founders of Apple Computer Co., were teen-aged computer hackers, skilled at breaking into telephone lines to make free phone calls all over the world. Both were college dropouts who taught themselves to be computer wizards.
But if most MBA candidates don't carry the genetic code for innovative genius, they have an essential role of their own, said Whitaker.
If the entrepreneurial spirit is to be transmitted into larger corporations, there must be managers who can recognize the original thinkers, and help them instead of beating them down, said Whitaker. "Management needs to be aware of these people and be listening to them."
Some managers have the ability to do that, said Lewis Lehr, chairman and chief executive of Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. and a participant in the Forum's discussion last week on business school education.
But there are other managers "who have an inherent ability to kill entrepreneurship and innovation," Lehr said. "To me, the most important skill is managing, recognizing and helping the development of the innovators."
That support for innovators is an attribute that has stuck to 3M even tighter than the tape it pioneered. How does 3M produce, in one recent two-year span -- "a suntan lotion that won't wash off when the wearer goes for a swim; a stapler that a surgeon can use to close incisions quickly with metal staples; a film for offset printing that requires no costly silver; and a potion that makes the grass grow slower," as Fortune magazine put it?
By striving for a system that encourages people with ideas, said Lehr. "I guess the secret is to make people constantly aware -- managers and supervisors -- that one of their jobs is to manage innovation positively.
"When a person over here has an idea and wants to carry it through an organization, it's very difficult, because the organization says, 'ah, we've got more important things to do.'
"So someplace in the company there has to be a sponsor at a higher level, someone who can work with the innovator. We're pushing to develop that -- to get people to sponsor, recognize and reward the innovators."
"3M has a culture that tries to do that," says Whitaker. "There are not many companies like that."
And at the same time it is scouring its work force for the innovators, a company has to get its work done, meet its deadlines and get its products out, Whitaker noted. "It's a challenge. You have to pick and choose." It is one of the challenges that business schools don't understand very well, he said.