Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Measuring Innovation Trap

In my book, where you choose to live doesn't make you any more or less innovative.  It's my strong assertion that innovation knows no population density.  In fact, I would warn those places that equate their higher density to their innovation superiority are brewing a recipe for a failing economy.

Saturday, Steve Layman wrote about the innovative people to come out of little Homer, Ohio, population 300.  I've written about Derwent, Ohio and the amazing energy and manufacturing industry innovation happening there.  Computers per capita in Hanover, Ohio are higher than most anyplace. Joel Kotkin points out "spread-out urban newbies" as the new model for growth.

I know these are mostly anecdotal measures of innovation.  Measuring innovation isn't something that's so easy to do though.  Those that have tried tend to get caught manipulating the results. It's a trap.

Two cases in point.

Richard Florida wrote a piece "The Density of Innovation" in 2010, and it's the whole premise of his "creative class" approach to economic development.  He's advised cities, including developers in Ohio, on how attracting creative people to dense places is the key to a trickle down of innovation in the economy.

He wrote, "Patents are the conventional measure of innovation. Despite their various weaknesses, patents represent a systematic, quantitative measure of innovation and are used by economists as the single dominant measure of innovation. But, as with other measures, economists tend to measure them on a per capita basis. . . Our measure of innovation density is patents per square kilometer."

This 2010 map is Florida's measure of innovation using patents per square kilometer.

The devil is in the details though. His measure wouldn't work for his point if he didn't then aggregate the data to only metro areas.  If he truly only used patents per square kilometer, there would be a ton of small census tracts that would dominate his list and tend throw out his results altogether.

A clip of the Brookings Institution interactive metro areas patents map.
Brookings uses patents per capita as its measure and did in a February 2013 study.  However, they also aggregate to metro areas which means they don't show us all the data.  Since we don't get the whole picture, we are left to suspect that rural and suburban areas are every bit as innovative per capita as dense, urban areas. 

Don't fall into the trap.  In the end, the wise thing to conclude is that innovation knows no population density.

No comments:

Post a Comment