Last month I presented at the Strategic Innovation Summit: Enabling Economies for the Future held at Harvard University. The summit proved to be extremely worthwhile as discussions with my fellow presenters and attendees left me with a new and deeper perspective on innovation and how we should nurture it.
My main takeaway was this: innovation is a process. It requires scaling and ‘democratizing’ new technologies and new ways of doing business. To accomplish this community leaders need to continuously communicate and share a vision for effective use of technology with their citizens and businesses. The process of driving adoption and effective use of broadband in a community or region is the process of innovation.
More and more communities recognize broadband as a platform for innovation. They realize how important broadband is for economic development, but they are taking a ‘build it and they will come’ approach. This has proven to be a difficult and ineffective not only as a model for sustainable networks, but more importantly in realizing the economic and social benefits from citizens and businesses effectively using broadband networks.
SNG has witnessed firsthand the challenges of fostering innovation through our work with a dozen American states. A large problem rests with how broadband is presented and that ‘speed’ is assumed to be the magic ingredient that creates innovation. SNG has found that the process of engaging people in any community or region is actually the biggest challenge because the majority of people (approximately 80%) need to understand the benefits of technology and how it can help them before they adopt – they are technology pragmatists. Getting these pragmatists to change their behaviors will require more than promoting a feature like gigabit speed and waiting for growth to happen. These pragmatists need to understand the anticipated benefits and the actual return from their technology investments (in time and money).
Communities need to develop and implement processes to move businesses to an understanding and comfort level where they are ready, able, and excited to take action. And what is “action?” Incorporating broadband and its accompanying Internet applications have the power to transform and grow businesses.
Broadband can be your community’s platform for innovation, but availability is merely the first step. Your community must find a way to foster innovation through effective broadband utilization. This requires dedicated and ongoing communication of challenges, potential solutions, and vision about how broadband will transform their lives. This is innovation. Local resources must support and continuously communicate the benefits of broadband initiatives across stakeholder groups to foster innovation.
To borrow from a fellow presenter at the summit, “technology does not cause change – it enables, facilitates, and accelerates changes we already aspire to.” Communities that communicate their vision and mobilize stakeholders will create opportunities and success. This includes keeping and growing existing businesses, as well as attracting new businesses.
SNG has a program that helps numerous communities foster innovation among small businesses, where innovation lives in growing regions. Almost 90% of businesses in the US have less than 20 employees and do not have the technology staff or advisors to guide them through this process. Find a way to help these businesses innovate and your community will reap the rewards.