CULTURE OF INNOVATION Taking the First Steps on the Quest to Create a Regional Culture of InnovaƟon
Our region can be recognized internationally as a vibrant hub for commerce and lifestyle if we take action to cultivate a true culture of innovation where the predominant mindset is one of openness and collaboration.
Great” conversa on and embrace the changing global economy.
in our area and illustrated how the changing global economy is separa ng regions into winners and losers. According to Longworth, those areas who fail to embrace this new landscape will have no place in tomorrow’s economy.
What steps are required as we begin our quest toward a regional culture of innova on?
We are already witnessing many Midwestern communi es educa ng young people only to see them leave; taking their ideas and dreams with them as they seek out vibrant areas adept at assis ng and leveraging the talents they oﬀer. These increasingly mobile workers, and the companies for whom they work and create, will gravitate to regions that embrace a mindset of inclusiveness – one defined by open networks of ideas, people and capital.
The Midwestern mindset has not always been an ‐ innova on. Companies such as John Deere, Pella, Amana and others became what they are as a result of embracing challenging ideas and taking calculated risks. A er economic shi s and scares of the 1980s and early 2000s, Midwesterners now relish our role and responsibility for being the devil’s advocate, protec ng our turf.
We have many of the assets and ingredients in place or at hand to join other dynamic regions such as Aus n and Boulder which a ract people and capital. When we realize the potential of this cultural shift, These regions truly demonstrate and constantly we will improve the way in which we live and work work to enhance their cultures of innova on. and, as economic development organizations, be more successful at our core work creating, retaining Nothing is preven ng our region from achieving this same kind of success and genera ng interna onal and attracting commerce. recogni on and acclaim. Nothing, that is, except a Introduction deep‐rooted Midwest mindset that all too o en Richard Longworth, Fellow at the Chicago Council on perpetuates comfort with the tradi onal status quo, Global Aﬀairs and author of Caught in the Middle, is overly risk averse, and considers novel thinking as a recently keynoted an economic development event fad challenging tradi onal ins tu ons.
The Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Corridor has fared compara vely well during this most recent recession, but now is not the me to return to business as usual. Rather, it is me to engage in the “Good to
Step One: Understand What it Means to Live in a Culture of Innovation
When confronted with new ideas, we are quick to discuss poten al pi alls, sa sfied that we have helped a friend or colleague mi gate unnecessary risk and in doing so have unknowingly held to the status quo. What appears to be leadership is
actually prejudgment and assump on. We are prone threatened. We must recognize that long term social to ge ng bogged down in the “how” before we truly capital is as important as short term monetary gain understand the value of the “why.” to our collec ve vision and our future success as organiza ons, businesses and Ask anyone who has ever started a business in our individuals, area or state in the past twenty years how communi es. In the end, we will learn that longevity challenging it can be to open minds and gain support is fueled by innova on, rather than seeing them as for a new concept. Be er s ll, ask those who chose adversaries. not to open a business or who le the area A culture of innova on is not merely the realm of the altogether. It is hard enough to start a new venture entrepreneur, but an embrace of a level of thinking without the addi onal challenges of overcoming the for each of us in the Corridor who yearn to achieve antagonists. You may our highest poten al. It is be prone to this state of a systemic rethink of how A culture of innovation is not mind even now, we plan, engage and solve merely the realm of the without knowing it, problems as people, entrepreneur, but an embrace of coming up with reasons professionals, businesses, a level of thinking for each of us why a culture of organiza ons and in the Corridor who yearn to innova on is not the governments. Led by an achieve our highest potential. best approach. understanding that the conven onal may not be It is not surprising the the most eﬀec ve, this state of Iowa is near the bo om of most rankings on new company forma on and capital growth, while cultural shi would move us away from the impulse also near the top in percentage of companies to limit, control, protect, predetermine and restrict. Instead, we would embrace a collec ve mindset opera ng for more than thirty years. It is not that which looks for the possibili es of new ideas and the company longevity is bad, in fact reten on and opportuni es of change. growth are economic drivers. What is becoming increasingly important is developing a balanced A richness of experience and personal growth arise por olio of new and emerging companies with when people begin interac ng and sharing with established opera ons that embrace crea vity and those they have not worked with or taken the me innova on. to understand. We must realize our turf need not Overcoming the status quo mindset will be THE be mutually exclusive and sta c, but will be CHALLENGE. But just like in business, where significantly more solid when flexible and shared. successful companies recognize everything they touch is part of the sales process, so too must we seek to realize innova on should be the founda on of everything we do as a region. This culture will be defined by an inquisi ve nature which is open to serendipity; realizing new markets are found and created when we look beyond sector limita ons and open our thinking. We must reprogram ourselves to accept the merits of new ideas without feeling
Celebra ng and embracing the uniqueness of our communi es, business and people is not diluted nor lost as we build this culture of innova on, but rather this process produces exponen al experiences and opportuni es for us all. Innova on arises when we allow ideas to migrate between and among a diverse set of minds. Rather than cove ng our thought process, innova on
u lizes an open source model, embracing with confidence that the collec ve and the individuals within generate significantly more rewards, credit and profit than any one en ty could have in isola on.
way to direct their own lives; to learn and create new products, services, companies, and the like, and to do so in such a way that we be er our lives and those around us. We should not seek to predefine what this culture will look and feel like, but rather let it take a shape and direc on of its own voli on. This runs counter to how we have tradi onally solved problems or viewed our roles as Midwesterners in the past, but it is vital to reshaping our culture into one that can flourish in the unforgiving global economy at hand.
These are traits that define regions like Aus n and Boulder. Rather than fearing those with challenging new ideas, these regions have learned to collec vely support, encourage and provide assistance. They do not relegate this job to a handful of organiza ons, but rather trust it is a part of everyone’s role in the community to ac vely engage in this process. So how will we know when we have go en there? How do we arrive at this culture? When people know our story without us having to tell it. When people, businesses and capital gravitate
Step Two: Make the Commitment to here autonomously, without extensive outreach and Bringing this Culture to Life in the Corridor If we want to live in a region recognized interna onally as having a culture for innova on and an entrepreneurial spirit for everyone, we must first commit to making this our goal.
unsustainable financial incen ves. In fact, this new environment will be our strongest incen ve. We will need a new set of metrics to measure our success in the new economy. This too will be an enjoyable part of the journey in defining who we are and how far we have come; one that will require us to ask diﬀerent ques ons of diﬀerent people than we have in the past.
It has been said that you cannot “create” a culture, and with this we agree. A truly genuine culture of this type cannot be created but it can be envisioned and endeavored with new thinking, new approaches Again, our basic priori es as economic development and by u lizing exis ng assets in more crea ve ways. groups are not changing. We are, however, Moving toward this culture has its own set of challenging the way in which the world sees us, such challenges. Typically when we desire change, a that we are be er able to accomplish our missions. group of leaders seeks to enact it into reality. This runs counter to what we envision, because a culture of innova on cannot be controlled or shaped by a handful of minds. We must resist the urge to overthink and over plan and instead allow this culture to take shape on its own. This type of culture, like each of us, works best and produces more when given room to breathe and aﬀorded autonomy.
So where do we start at achieving such a seemingly ambiguous and ambi ous goal?
Step Three: Start Actively Putting People and Ideas Together
If an innova ve culture is a mindset where ideas flow freely between people and organiza ons and our goal is to create such an invi ng and inclusive region, then we must begin to do just that: bring people and We can begin by injec ng this way of thinking into ideas together. There is already an undercurrent in each of our organiza ons and businesses. We must this market. At mes we see it and feel it. We are support an environment that gives all our ci zens a not trying to create something out of thin air but Page 3
instead ac vely engage in mixing the exis ng To broaden the reach of these events and spaces we will u lize exis ng social networking pla orms to ingredients in a new and be er way. Throughout 2011 we will unveil an overarching expand upon the momentum and linkages created. umbrella brand that will iden fy events in our region Over me, these events and spaces will prove to which capture the essence of this mindset and bring catalyze new company forma on, increase the innova ve minds together. Many of these will be number of workers living in the region working ed to larger global ini a ves which already have remotely for outside firms, and develop new markets some level of brand recogni on we can leverage. from this collabora ve process. Ul mately this Examples would be Jellys, Start Up Weekends, Ignite culture will spread into all businesses, organiza ons Conferences, Tech Brews, Bar Camps and other and government en es in the region to help them similar un‐conferences and events, ul mately be er engage and capitalize on new opportuni es. leading up to highly visible and interna onally The global economy is changing, but it need not be something to fear. Our region can remain vibrant renowned eﬀorts such as TEDx events. and be one of the “winners” if we commit to lead As the economic development en es in the region, and innovate. We must rethink how we support our we can help coordinate and organize some of these exis ng companies, grow new firms and increase our ac vi es, yet as the culture develops, other ideas a rac veness for recrui ng new employers. Our will emerge from outside groups. If these concepts organiza ons recognize the incredible poten al of hold true to the mission of building this innova ve what we can become if we embrace this vision and culture, we can u lize the brand to drive audiences take these steps. Developing this culture will take and resources to help make them successful. This is me; it will be an ongoing quest requiring hundreds how we bridge the tradi onal to the innova ve; guiding and connec ng others. We stand united at preserving ins tu ons while s ll encouraging the foot of the mountain excited for the journey emergent thought and solu ons un l the culture ahead and confident that together we will succeed. takes hold and self generates. Another way we can influence the way people engage and interact is to create physical spaces or encourage development of spaces within the region where innova on can take place. Currently both ends of the Corridor are exploring how to create knowledge ecosystems. These are not incubators as we tradi onally think of them, but rather physical coworking places where entrepreneurs and freelancers work next to individuals from exis ng companies, ar sts, students, writers and visitors on a daily basis. Knowledge ecosystems are places defined by their aﬃnity for a rac ng open minds and facilita ng the ongoing flow of ideas. Similar spaces, including The Hive and New Work City, have started to take hold throughout the country in the past few years.
Supporting this Quest
In December 2008, twelve organiza ons in the Corridor area started discussing a regional approach to economic development and evolved into the Corridor Business Alliance (CBA). Current members of the CBA include: Alliant Energy, Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Entrepreneurial Development Center, Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, Iowa City Area Development Group, Kirkwood Community College and Kirkwood’s Small Business Development Center, MidAmerican Energy, Priority One, the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, University of Iowa Research Founda on, University of Iowa Small Business Development Center, and East Central Iowa Council on Governments.