As more and more communities are faced with the reality that their traditional industries are no longer competitive in the global economy, we are challenged with how to re-create the economic engine that has brought prosperity to ourselves and our neighbors. How do economic development practitioners working with local leaders create a sustainable, competitive advantage that will allow our constituents to regain their economic footing in a rapidly changing world?
Tom Peters, in his book The Circle of Innovation, warns that “Whatever made you a success in the past, won’t in the future.” Innovation is the key to competing in a global economy. How, then, can we create an environment that supports and promotes innovation? What do we need to do?
John Mickelthwaite, managing editor of The Economist lists a set of actions that helped make Silicon Valley a place of innovation. These activities include:
- Accept Failure–don’t punish those who try new ideas and learn from their mistakes.
- Tolerate Treachery–allow the free flow of information among employees within the same industry across company lines.
- Seek Risk–realize that risk is part of innovation and accept it.
- Invest Continuously–put money in as needed.
- Have Enthusiasm for Change–embrace change as part of life.
- Promote on Merit–recognize and reward contribution.
- Be Obsessed with Product/Service–be passionate about the industry in which you work.
- Let Anybody Play–provide easy access to opportunities for those willing to invest the time and energy.
- Encourage Diversity of Leadership–let the organization’s leadership reflect its constituency.
- Be Collaborative–share control with others so that all will benefit.
Innovation-led economic development may be the wave of the future (or the past). A strong connection between intellectual property and well-educated and talented workers able to create and apply new knowledge will enable a region to compete globally. Product life cycles and corporate life cycles will continue to shorten as the speed of innovation and change accelerates geometrically. With change comes opportunity.