Monday, July 01, 2013

Innovation Hubs for Global Wheels

Here in New Mexico we're very interested in fostering innovation to improve our economy...  I imagine that you could substitute just about any geography for "New Mexico" and make the same statement.  Economic health is a concern for all, and fostering innovation is a proven path for improving economic health.

Our latest local foray into fostering innovation is the UNM/City of Albuquerque Innovation Hub... and with two major National Labs (Los Alamos and Sandia) and easy access to Roswell's advanced top-secret Alien Technologies how could this effort possibly fail?

I tend to think like a programmer... and from that perspective I'd like to make some observations and suggestions about what a innovation hub should be and how it might prosper...

My first observation (which is widely recognized) is that innovative teams are no longer centralized.  Even small startups routinely have team members around the world. Distributed teams are the norm...

So what (if anything) would make a physical Hub attractive to a distributed innovation team? Does having a geographic center for the innovation activity really help? What aspect of innovation is fostered by having people physically in the same room?

Most of us certainly have a gut feeling that being in the same room with our collaborators adds a special energy that fosters innovative thinking. As a member of a huge distributed team I long for the opportunities to meet folks face-to-face, and I always come home energized and inspired...

My second observation is really an opinion...
The Hub, to thrive, must be a Destination...

The first thing a Hub must provide is a really cool destination to visit... Even if the remote folks hardly ever get to physically visit, they really need to want to, and the same goes for your local team members... the trip to the office has to be worth it...

The physical Hub needs to be an attractive and comfortable meeting space with great Feng Shui.  The work space needs to provide fantastic Internet connectivity and meeting rooms (both large and small) with state-of-the-art "Virtual Presence" features.

Outside the Hub, you need a surrounding neighborhood that's special and unique. Nobody is inspired to work in an anonymous building surrounded by acres of anonymous buildings. A pedestrian friendly neighborhood, parks, awe inspiring vistas... Many things can make a space "special", but whatever it is you have to have it.

I'll probably come back to this issue in subsequent posts, but I think I'll close for now.

There's still a need for physical Innovation Hubs (at least I think there is) but it's getting much trickier to understand what that need really is... 
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