posted 6 Mar 2006 in Volume 9 Issue 6
Cities of the future?
On the shores of the Gulf in the Middle East, in the
More than $100bn is being spent in a bid to build a future for
In addition to the skyscrapers,
Furthermore, it wants the city to become the strategic base for companies targeting the emerging markets of the Middle East,
Around the world, national and regional governments are building the infrastructure to support so-called ‘knowledge cities’ – innovation zones where young, high-achieving knowledge workers can gather and share ideas, facilitating the development of the next generation of products and services. The reason, of course, is that such people are regarded as key wealth creators and governments want them creating wealth in their territory, rather than their neighbour’s.
The inspiration, in many respects, comes from the
Santa Clara, California-based computer chip giant Intel, for example, was set-up by technologists from Fairchild Semiconductor in 1968, which itself had been established only a decade earlier after the so-called ‘traitorous eight’ had stormed out of Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory to form Fairchild.
The desire in both cases was for the freedom to pursue their own intellectual pursuits, but pursuits that could at the same time be turned into highly profitable business ventures, of course.
The ease with which such companies in
However, Edvinsson today is less sure that the
Nevertheless, the access to funding alone still makes the US one of the most enticing environments for young, ambitious ‘knowledge workers’, a fact reflected in the number of students who go there to study – about one-third of all post-doctoral researchers in the US are non-American. “It’s an open society providing good structural capital and affluent financial resources,” says Edvinsson.
The power of coffee
Back in the 1990s, policy-makers wanted to create their own
Remarkably, this ad hoc arrangement outlived Lloyd and lasted more than 100 years, when a formal exchange was established.
Coffee shops, it seems, are one of the constant themes of innovation zones throughout the ages. At about the same time that Lloyds of London was being caffeine-fuelled into existence, the same was happening in the coffee shops of
“You could say that one of the innovation zones of the old days was the ‘knowledge café’ in
Unfortunately, no one thought to study the dynamics behind Edward Lloyd’s coffee shop or the Viennese coffee-house ‘scene’ at the time. In modern times, the study of innovation zones is rooted in economics. “The history goes back to Porter’s value chain, but then people began recognising that the chain concept didn’t quite cover the needs of knowledge-based organisations,” says organisational change management specialist Oliver Schwabe, founder of Eurofocus International Consultants.
“Then, there was a wave of looking at so-called knowledge clusters. So, from the idea of knowledge as a chain, to a ‘flow’ of knowledge, moving into clusters and networks. That brought social-network analysis people into play and turned it into organisational network analysis,” he adds.
Today, there is a strong belief that there are certain conditions that can encourage like-minded people, often with complementary skills, to gather in one place – to communicate, to share thoughts and to develop new ideas together. That, combined with a conviction that the essential essence of knowledge cities or innovation zones can be distilled into a set of ingredients, which can be replicated and reproduced anywhere.
In addition, unlike just ten years ago, there is less emphasis today on developing the technology industry and greater belief in the value of facilitating knowledge sharing per se. Regardless of whether someone is a technologist, a financial expert or an artist, the idea is simply to put like-minded, but ambitious people together and to let them work out among themselves whatever emerges.
Research into knowledge cities has, likewise, changed. “In the 1990s, it was more about the hidden values of cities, regions and nations. Today, it’s more refined, focusing on the ‘in between’ dimensions that I call the relational capital,” says Edvinsson.
That relational capital simply refers to the tools, skills or circumstances by which two different people can communicate. “If you and I do not share English, we wouldn’t be able to communicate. So you need to have a taxonomy, you need to have an openness to be able to relate to the surrounding dimensions,” says Edvinsson.
The language, however, does not just refer to English or French, for example, but the professional language between two people in the same industry. The language of someone working in semiconductor research, for example, will be incomprehensible to all but a few outside of that specialised sphere.
Once researchers, such as Amidon, have identified the main ingredients of a successful knowledge city or innovation zone, they hope to be able to use this knowledge to facilitate the construction of many more knowledge cities in the idealistic notion that it will fuel wealth creation and make society more meritocratic.
Amidon has therefore spent much time studying the world’s knowledge cities and has written a report on her findings. “The knowledge innovation zone, for us, is a general description of a class of diverse project initiatives,” she says. Not all of them are geographically anchored, either. A number are what she calls ‘virtual knowledge networks’. “All have, nevertheless, a shared and common purpose,” she adds.
“Their main objective is to focus on ways to leverage creativity, know-how, talent, technology and innovation as major inputs. Their ultimate desire and motivation is to achieve higher performance outputs that matter to citizens, business people, communities and governments in the global knowledge-based economy of today… The aspiration is to create wealth, growth, prosperity, high quality employment, a modern connected lifestyle… in an amenity rich, entertaining and stimulating urban milieu.”
Knowledge city is, perhaps, an inaccurate term. What Amidon has come across includes neighbourhoods, ‘creative districts’, science parks – although these have been a tool of local and national policy makers for decades – campuses, clusters and regions (such as Sophia Antipolis in the south of France), as well as knowledge cities.
While most of the factors driving interest and the growth in knowledge cities and innovation zones are universally acknowledged and agreed, their key ingredients – coffee shops apart – are highly intangible and subject to debate.
The typical knowledge workers targeted by innovation zones or knowledge cities are young graduates between the ages of 20 and 30. “What we have recognised, I think, is that they are spaces that attract. You have to create the mood at the place where people will be comfortable, where they will be happy to go,” says Schwabe.
He adds: “The zone itself is a space where innovation happens at a very rapid pace and which attracts other people. It’s a hot spot, so to speak, of development. That space can be a geographic locality, such as
Or in other words, with knowledge cities, nothing succeeds like success – that attracts other knowledge workers, keen to follow, as well as companies and investors.
In the old industrial quarter of
And not just from across
Research into such areas as
However, Amidon’s research suggests that there are shortcomings in the design and leadership of many innovation zones. Too many, she says, are still focused too closely on particular areas of activity, such as science or culture, when a broader remit would make them more attractive.
At the same time, both knowledge entrepreneurs and venture capitalists operating in such zones do not fully appreciate the potential of the intangible assets of the knowledge economy and are therefore not as well equipped to exploit them as they should be, suggests Amidon.
However, despite the amount of research and volume of papers produced, specialists are still far from able to produce a shopping list of ingredients. “There’s no blueprint for actually creating them,” admits Schwabe. Furthermore, the increasing intervention from government – some might call it interference – may in some cases be detrimental.
It is all very well for national governments to embrace the knowledge cities idea and to build the infrastructure required to support it, but in many cases those same governments can be wary of people exchanging political ideas or ideas that ruling elites may consider subversive.
For example, in
Across swathes of
Similar criticisms, however, could equally be levelled at many of the countries of the
It raises the question, however, of just how much knowledge people will be allowed to share, not to mention the utility of some of the knowledge cities that are being constructed across the world – or whether knowledge cities and the technology that underlies them can, or will be, a positive force for change.
Knowledge cities identified Jo’burg, Palmerston North, Source: www.inthekzone.com
Knowledge cities identified
Debra Amidon will be presenting her latest paper on Knowledge Innovation Zones® at the 5th International Roundtable and
Oliver Schwabe has written a paper detailing his project with the Egyptian government. It can be downloaded from www.euro-focus.com.
For more information about knowledge cities and knowledge innovation zones, please see www.inthekzone.com.