Inside an ecosystem for an innovating clusterClusters that accelerate regional innovation are not simply agglomerations of like-situated firms. Instead, regional innovation clusters form around an ethic of open innovation.

With open innovation, the presumptions on information sharing are reversed. In the old world of our grandfather’s economy, regional actors presumed that information was confidential unless they took steps to release it (hence, the “press release”). In a world of open networks, we presume to share information unless we take affirmative steps to protect it (hence the proliferation of passwords).

Shifting this presumption is important. It leads to collaborations that form more quickly, as well as collaborations that can evolve to higher levels of sophistication. At its core, the shift involves changing patterns of behavior that are often deeply engrained in a region. In places where the old industrial mindset is still dominant, information is not widely shared. Trust levels among civic leaders are relatively low, and the adaptation process slows.

In contrast, some older industrial cities are  moving along a new path. Milwaukee, WI; Rockford, IL; and Holland, MI come to mind. These are places where regional innovation clusters can more quickly form: the water cluster in Milwaukee; the aerospace cluster in Rockford; the electric battery cluster in Holland.

To illustrate the complexity that can quickly arise in a regional innovation cluster, I developed this drawing. (Click on it to enlarge.) The challenge, of course, comes in moving a regional economy in this direction. We have found that old strategy constructs — strategic planning — do not work well in these open networks for a variety of reasons. That’s why we have designed new strategy disciplines expressly for meeting the challenges of designing and managing open, loosely joined networks.

Ed Morrison is Director of the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. For the past five or six years, he has been developing new, agile approaches to strategy in open, loosely joined networks, a discipline he calls Strategic Doing. Prior to starting his economic development work, Ed worked for Telesis, a corporate strategy consulting firm. In this position, he served on consulting teams for clients such as Ford Motor Company, Volvo, and General Electric. He conducted manufacturing cost studies in the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada, Italy, Sweden, and France. Ed started his professional career in Washington, D.C., where he has served as a legislative assistant to an Ohio Congressman, staff attorney in the Federal Trade Commission, and staff counsel in the US Senate. He holds a BA degree cum laude with honors from Yale University and MBA and JD degrees from the University of Virginia.

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