Is Innovation Essential – or Just a “Nonsense Word?”

Innovation.  It’s a popular, misunderstood and kind of squishy term that nonetheless plays a big role in today’s world.  A Google search on it will earn you 1.65 billion hits. 

There’s a reason for that.  Economist Robert Solow won the Nobel Prize more than 30 years ago for proving, for the first time, that 80% of all growth in the economy comes from the introduction or use of new technology. So, if you are engaged in creating or putting to use a new way of doing things, you have a shot at your share of 80% of growth.  If you are devoted to doing the same old things, you can hope for a share of the 20%.  Which would you rather have?

That’s why innovation is one of the six Factors that make up the ICF Method.  There are two aspects to innovation in communities that are working to build inclusive prosperity in this period of digital transformation.  On one hand, Intelligent Communities work to encourage private-sector innovation because it creates employment and wealth.  They bring together the stakeholders who make it happen – business, higher education, healthcare and nonprofits – to form a self-sustaining ecosystem that supports existing businesses and gives rise to new ones. 

On the other hand, they also innovate in the processes of government and how it delivers services.  They work to make government run better, faster and cheaper, which also signals to innovative people and organizations that they have a natural home in the community. 

That second consideration brought me in December to speak with Joel Carnes, president and CEO of the nonprofit Alliance for Innovation, which ICF is proud to have as a partner organization.  This association inspires innovation in local government and connects a network of leaders across North America.  Before running the Alliance, Joel was a management consultant for KPMG, a strategist for Walt Disney, an operations director of a major video game company and of XPRIZE, which is the world leader in using open innovation competitions to address big challenges. 

To call him an expert on the 80% side is an understatement. 

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Robert Bell
Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research, analysis and content development activities.
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