Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Understanding the Emergence of Centers of Innovation: Review of "The New Geography of Jobs" by Enrico Moretti

Enrico Moretti is a professor of economics at UC Berkley.  With his new book, "The New Geography of Jobs," he has made a significant contribution to our understanding of the complex geography of innovation in the U.S.  He argues very persuasively that we are moving towards an economy in which where you live will determine very strongly how successful you are able to be.  He examines the emergence of the major U.S. centers of innovation - San Francisco Bay area, including Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin and Research Triangle around Durham, North Carolina.  The rise of these hubs of innovation is causing significant and surprising disparities in a wide variety of social factors, including education, life expectancy, wealth, and involvement in political processes.  Moretti postulates clearly and convincingly policies for encouraging the continued growth of innovation hubs while at the same time offering suggestions for arresting the decline among the rest of the nation's cities.

The publication of this book is particularly timely for me, since I maintain an office in the epicenter of one of the most successful and rapidly growing centers of innovation - Kendall Square Cambridge and the Cambridge Innovation Center that has served as an incubator for hundreds of start-up companies that are leading the innovation charge in a variety of fields.  I am also about to participate in a Global Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley in July, and the dynamics that Moretti describes will be very much part of the agenda of the gathering of global innovators and tought leaders.

One of the points that the author makes very clearly is the multi-level benefits of  hving innovators geographically close to one another - rubbing shoulders, if you will, with each other.  It reminds me of "The Intersection" described a few years ago in Frans Johansson's landmark book, "The Medici Effect."

"It is not just that people publish more when they are close; the quality of their research is better.  When a team of Harvard Medical School  doctors analyzed all medical research articles published at Harvard and correlated data with the distance between the authors' offices, they found that being less than one kilometer away raised the quality of the research, as defined by how many other researchers cited the article.  The effect was even larger if the authors were in the same building or used the same elevator." (Page 142)

I see these dynamics at work every day at the CIC.  I hear conversations that start during an elevator ride, continue in the common space kitchen on the 14th floor, and spill over into a Thursday afternoon Venture Cafe session on the 4th floor.  From such propinquity is often born serendipitous and synergistic collaboration and innovation.

This book is a "must read" for anyone who wants to understand and take advantage of the factors at work in creating, sustaining and expanding centers of innovation.



No comments: