by Dean Whittaker

What if your region were known globally as the place where ideas are generated, innovation flourishes and new concepts are born? What if your region had the highest per-capita patents in the country? What would it mean socially, politically, and economically? What would it take to make this happen?

Innovation and Design are said to be one of the few sustainable competitive advantages in the global economy.  In the 2006 Federal Reserve Report, the authors found through their in-depth research that patents-per-capita was highly correlated with successful regional economies. The Upjohn Institute had a similar finding in their study to benchmark the Cleveland economy, in which both patents-per-capita and educational attainment made the difference.

So, if innovation is the key, why aren’t more places encouraging it? Why does Ohio have 4.8 patents per 10,000 inhabitants while the nation has 7.2 patents per 10,000?

An answer and possible solution can be found in a book by Daniel L. Pink, A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.  In his book, Pink describes the role the left and right side of the brain play in our thinking. He says that the left side provides the text while the right side gives us the context.  He talks about moving from the manufacturing economy to the knowledge economy and on to the concept economy, where ideas are the currency of trade.  Pink describes how our education system and placement tests favor left-brain, analytical, sequential thinking.  More importantly, he points out that left-brain thinking is now a commodity on the world stage, with engineering being done in India and research being done in China and wherever else there is a well educated workforce. It can already be bought.

Sometimes the workplace mimics our nation’s education system.  We systematically shut down the right-brain thinking in the way we educate, evaluate and reward people. What if we instead re-invented our education system and our workforce development training to re-engage the right side of our brains? By combining a strong left brain education with the creative right side, we would dramatically expand our ability to innovate, create, design and invent.

At Whittaker Associates we have begun to explore ways in which workforce development can be re-focused to teach people about re-engaging the creative side of their brains.  Richard Florida, in his book The Rise of the Creative Class, talks about retaining youth as the key to an innovative future.  I would contend that re-engaging the right side of the brain of our existing workforce would provide an even bigger economic boost to the local economy and differentiate us.

IThe retailer Target has begun a major emphasis on design as a method to compete with other big-box retailers. They are sponsoring the National Design Week and National Design Awards Oct. 15-21.  Take a look at  Walk through Target and notice the difference in the merchandise being carried with that at Wal-Mart.

I would strongly recommend that you pick up and read a copy of A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink.  It’s sure to stimulate some right-brain thinking for you.