The Future of Business, Industry and Knowledge Clusters


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It is not that long ago that everyone working with or concerned about regional growth talked about their cluster and how they could create their own versions of Silicon Valley, High Tech Campus in Eindhoven or even Hollywood.

According to Wikipedia, the term business cluster, also known as an industry cluster, competitive cluster, or Porterian cluster, was popularized by Michael Porter way back in 1990.

Porter claimed that clusters have the potential to affect competition in three ways: by increasing the productivity of the companies in the cluster, by driving innovation in the field, and by stimulating new businesses in the field.

The idea of a business cluster is that a geographical location where enough resources and competences amass reach a critical threshold, can give it a key position in a given economic branch of activity, and with a decisive sustainable competitive advantage over other places, or even a world supremacy in that field.

I still think the idea holds true, but I recently had some interactions in Ireland that made me think about how we need to adjust our views on clusters. My reasoning is straightforward and many already think so today:

Clusters are no longer just about physical location; it has become just as important for a successful cluster to tap into the entire world through virtual communities.

If a cluster based on medtech, drones or something else want to create or sustain a global competitive advantage, they need to tap into a global; not just regional pool of talent and resources. In order for this idea to become really powerful, we still need to improve the virtual collaboration platforms and we need to become even more sophisticated in our use of social media for our innovation efforts.

There is still a lot of potential in social media simply for identifying and connecting with relevant people (think LinkedIn) and stay on top of the information flow (think business intelligence through Twitter). We need to fully explore this and as we improve on this, we will gradually get to the next stages of which many are not even conceived of yet.

We also need to develop better virtual platforms for collaboration and innovation and here, I see the confidentiality issues as some of the biggest hurdles.

If someone enters an idea or innovation portal today as an individual, they must likely just sign off their ideas to the site without even paying much attention to this. Business people cannot do this because what they know does not belong to them, but to their employers.

How can we engage lots of business people on such platforms, when they are not allowed to share what they know? Difficult, yes, but maybe some kind of tiered or layered system in which we have virtual agreements in place that can kick in as the type of conversation and even collaboration develops. The first layer is just open; no shared knowledge or IP so you need to be careful on what you share, but then two or more partners can move into private “rooms” where their companies can apply digital agreements that lay out the terms of how to share knowledge and intellectual property if created. I think you get the idea…

Last, but not least, all of this will not progress if we do not address the most important challenge, which is not even driven by technology as such.

We need to change our behaviors. It does not really matter that we have the technology to make it happen if we are not ready to change how we think and work. Although, this will happen gradually anyways as the younger – and more collaborative and socially adept – workforce grows, we need to get everyone onboard including those, who perceive themselves to be of an “older” generation that do not really believe in or get this new way of working, collaborating and thinking.

This should not be a question of age, but one of the behaviors that we adapt for new challenges as well as new opportunities. As with all kind of important change – which the majority seems to believe in, but no one really wants on a personal level – this boils down to the simple question that I use in many facets of my work.

What’s in it for me?

If we want clusters to be successful, those in charge of the initiatives need to be able to answer this question on behalf of the stakeholders that they would like to engage in the efforts. If they can’t answer the question for the different kind of stakeholders, they are not yet ready and they should spend more time preparing.

Unfortunately, I too often see that those in charge of change driven initiatives have not even thought of this question, which I will state again just make the point.

What’s in it for me?

A simple, yet powerful and important, question.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stefan Lindegaard
Stefan is an author, speaker, facilitator and consultant focusing on open innovation, social media tools and intrapreneurship.


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