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How much does location matter for innovation?

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I recently wrote about the launch of the new Digital Catapult service in London, which aims to provide help and support for the digital industry in the capital.  Such initiatives are cropping up in cities throughout the world, as governments and officials try and foster creativity and innovations in their cities.

Is it the best approach?  Roopa Unnikrishnan suggests not.  She suggests that rather than looking to locate people physically together in one place, it’s more important to enable virtual networks to form.

She goes on to suggest that the most innovative people and organizations have an incredibly wide net that they cast out in the hunt for ideas and insights.  It means going beyond physical hotbeds of creativity towards something much more virtual.

Of course, it’s not just a case of industry clusters.  Does the proliferation of blogs online and the ready access to top thinkers via various MOOCs render attendance at conferences a moot point?  Whereas previously these events may be the place to go to hear from these great thinkers in between their latest book or academic paper, nowadays you can hear from them much more frequently.  It kind of renders these events as more social occasions than they are forums for learning anything new.

Is the same happening with innovation?  We’re increasingly seeing organizations turn to open innovation for insights and ideas.  In these challenges, location is largely irrelevant, with the only thing mattering is the knowledge people bring to the task.

Is a presence on a site such as Quirky or Marblar now more important than having co-location space at your local innovation hub?  Which environment is likely to get you rubbing shoulders with fascinating minds?

The same is increasingly true of the venture capital world.  Previously you may well have needed to be based in a cluster to benefit from the support services that coalesce around hot companies and institutions, but with the rise of crowdfunding, this is increasingly becoming less important.

I can honestly say that the web of contacts I have online are a far richer source of innovative thoughts and ideas than any I have in the ‘real world’.  What’s more, I’m regularly inspired more by what I read online, and who I talk to digitally, than I am from attending a variety of conferences.

There are a growing list of curation services (yours truly providing one such) that help you to access some interesting people and ideas from around the world.  It kind of makes going to a co-lo space or a conference in the random hope of bumping into someone interesting seem somewhat futile.

My thinking is kinda summed up by a study published last year, in which researchers from Columbia Business School explored the benefits a start-up can glean from the cluster of companies they find themselves in.  They found that their physical neighbors were of less importance than the knowledge that organizations could tap into, be that via physical or virtual means.

Where does your creativity tend to come from?

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