by Dean Whittaker

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.