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 / Spring 2012 / Issue 66(originally published by Booz & Company)


How to Make a Region Innovative

Taken together, these attributes allow people to think, act, and move across all sorts of borders — institutional and sectoral, as well as national and regional.

Making Innovation Sustainable

At the Annenberg School, we have seen firsthand the value of this type of collaboration — and the intense, sustained effort it requires. We are deeply involved in a quad-based effort to build an economic cluster in Los Angeles. To accomplish this, we are partnering with top business leaders, senior city and county government officials, presidents of startup companies, local foundations, and think tanks. In our own university, we have set up new practices and incentives, including grants to incipient innovators, courses on innovation and entrepreneurship, and the new industry-supported Annenberg Innovation Lab, where students from around the university can come to collaborate and experiment. The laboratory’s 15 corporate partners include Verizon, Warner Brothers, and the Brazilian oil company Petrobras. We are now recruiting museums and other nonprofits.

We have also explicitly set out to develop competencies — organizational and personal — that can make these connections pay off. We have revamped our staff development practices, recruited new professors who work in interdisciplinary ways to produce innovation, and hired several new senior staff people with experience in non-academic sectors — people who are good at building partnerships.

As with all puzzles, the most difficult part is meshing together and leveraging the separate pieces of the model to create an integrated, mutually reinforcing whole. The quad becomes successful when a shared set of values and norms emerges, forming a common culture that welcomes innovation. As Barry Jaruzelski, John Loehr, and Richard Holman reported in their study of the business innovation practices of 2010 (“The Global Innovation 1000: Why Culture Is Key,” s+b, Winter 2011), the number one cultural attribute cited by successfully innovative companies is “openness to ideas from external sources.”

Even as communication technology makes it easier to connect with people around the world, the value of clusters will remain. Regions will continue to vie to become the next Silicon Valley or Bangalore. The ones that succeed will be those that deliberately cultivate talented, creative people; foster management reforms that promote innovation; and build networks among key leaders. By focusing on those three leverage points, leaders of a cluster can bring together the four critical sectors — public, private, civil, and academic — nurturing a community that becomes, in itself, an engine of sustainable innovation and economic growth.

Reprint No. 12103

Author Profile:

  • Ernest J. Wilson III is the Walter Annenberg Chair in Communication and dean of the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California and former chairman of the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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