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Geology of Innovation: Wish you were here!


We know that innovation is important. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) states that “innovation as a major driver of productivity that can strengthen economic growth and development” and that governments the world over need an innovation strategy. With governments vying to be the ‘best place’ for innovation a geological taxonomy appears to be erupting! Probably triggered by Michael Porter’s research on economic clusters.

Of course, it’s not just innovation but technology innovation, in particular, that seems so attractive yet so illusive. The peaks, or more correctly troughs, of silicon with geological features include:

  • Silicon Valley - the first, biggest and best-known example
  • Silicon City – well London’s Tech City but the words didn’t fit!
  • Silicon Coast – centred around the Southern Spain’s Andalucía technology park (PTA)
  • Silicon Fen – particularly networking around Cambridge University
  • Silicon Fjord – with a whole countries GDP seemingly depending on Nokia. In the decade spanning most of this century Nokia represented 30% of the R&D spend and 20% of exports all of which resulted in nearly 25% of corporation tax revenues. Little wonder Nokia’s glacial tussle with Apple’s iPhone is so important
  • Silicon Glen – once seen as the antidote to Scotland’s faltering manufacturing base
  • Silicon Savannah – new kid on the innovation which is leap frogging computers to mobile devices fuelled, in part, by over 70% mobile phone use by Kenyans. So what makes Nairobi a potential treat to the emerging technology clusters in Bangalore and Tel Aviv or even Silicon Valley?
  • STOP PRESS Silicon Country – Can a whole country build a cluster? The lure of Chilecon Valley for startup entrepreneurs.

Could there be a new recipe for innovation policy success of geological proportions?

The right environment, which seems to include: funding (seedcorn), space (low cost), support (policymakers), networks (of all kinds) and a secret ingredient …

What is this ingredient?

Something about the place and people that’s so hard define? It be driven by good location, unmet needs, technology, demographics, societal changes, legal, commercial or even political pressures.

However, one thing is clear and that is why policymakers are so interested the geology of innovation ... who wouldn't want to grow the next Apple - especially if it's worth $623bn!

Prof Nigel Lockett FRSA

Professor of Enterprise at Leeds University Business School