Some have obviously been more successful than others, but they have all had one very similar characteristic - a constant stream of young people with ideas, confidence and very little fear of failure. Indeed, this last characteristic is a proven psychological characteristic of all our young folk, the centre of the brain that processes risk do not mature, on average, until you pass twenty-two.
This explains why young people believe themselves to be invincible. It is also this ‘risk assessment’ part of the brain that never matures properly in people like professional racing drivers.
What centres of innovation then do is enhance this atmosphere by making it not feel corporate, but much less rigid, to actually look a bit more like the schools or universities that the young people have just come from. There is an encouragement to share, to collaborate and to bounce ideas off one another, not to keep things secret, or lock them up, or indeed be afraid of speaking out simply because other people might think your idea or comment a little strange - indeed that quirkiness is another positive rather than a negative characteristic in this type of environment.
The really, really good innovation clusters then do one other thing that may appear to be counterintuitive - they provide security. Let me explain. If you look at the success of Silicon Valley it encouraged people to drop their studies and strike out by themselves, primarily from university.
Whilst that may not be seen as a wise thing to do by ever worrying parents, the ultimate goal of education is to be able to achieve, and achieving these people certainly were, and still are. It may be considered that they were moving into an ‘alternate’ education regime. But the clustering of like-minded and like-acting people not only gave them the confidence to jump, it also gave them the confidence that, if their idea failed, they could walk around the corner and work on someone else’s dream.
This is the pinnacle of clustering, where the cluster both encourages and looks after its own and gives people the confidence to be wrong and recover from it.
The lack of stigma associated with failure has, however, remained a largely US phenomenon. In the UK and Europe, failing tends to define you as a failure, or certainly as a high risk. In reality, that makes as much sense as a person who has won the lottery being more likely to win the next one.
Now the fearless innovation is not matched up to every culture in the world, in Asia for example, it is culturally very hard for people to say no, or indeed to operate as peers, because hierarchy and not operating above your station is very ingrained. The US traditionally have been more ‘go-getting’ and have a history of not responding well to formal authority, even that which they create themselves.
The UK has a seafaring tradition and then a history of colonisation. If we ignore the violence of their approach at times, their trade methodology can be transposed into the modern digital age, in particular the fearless pursuit of trade and the willingness to take risks to achieve gain in an ever widening circle of influence.
I ardently believe that ‘innovation’ will very soon become a redundant word in a business context, simply because innovation will be the bedrock and measure of a vibrant economy and its definition within a global context, a natural form of economic evolution. Any country that does not find its place in this fast moving world will simply be managing a decline into amalgamation (merger and acquisition if you like) with countries that are - it is as drastic as that.
Don’t misunderstand what this means; in a digital economy it’s not about how physically big a country is, as the world is the marketplace. It’s actually about how well digital assets and, in particular, knowledge and data, are accumulated nurtured and then capitalised upon, with a healthy side salad of risk and faith.