Innovation: Moving from Knowledge-Creation to Knowledge-Exploitation

If you’re looking for new and interesting thinking about innovation, you could do worse than to check out the regular reports and features from Great Britain’s National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts (NESTA).  I’ve become a huge fan of their work.  Their latest working paper, Local Knowledge: Case Studies of Four Innovative Places ( examines four very different approaches to “making innovative places.”  The case studies cover a wide range of locations from London’s Brick Lane neighborhood to the Milton Park science park located near Oxford.  The case studies are useful on their own, but the lessons learned are particularly relevant.  The basic theme of the study is this:  too many regions and communities are focused on creating ecosystems that are in fact “self-contained factories of knowledge creation and exploitation.”  This focus on “local isolated autarky” is misguided; it does not have to be “invented here.”  Instead, the authors suggest that regions focus more on knowledge exploiation as opposed to knowledge creation.  You don’t necessarily have to develop new ideas or invent new products or services.  Instead, a successful region simply needs to access external knowledge, plug into national and global supply chains, and anchor that knowledge in the local economy.  That can be easier said than done, but it far less onerous than trying to build the next Silicon Valley from scratch.  So, instead of building one’s own home-grown Silicon Valley, think about how to link your region to other centers of innovation and entrepreneurship.   Even better, there is no one single best way to achieve these goals.  Each community can do it in its own way–as the report’s case studies highlight. 

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