It has often been argued that “there is something in the air” which makes firms in high‐density environments—such as cities or clusters—more innovative. The co‐location of firms facilitates the emergence of serendipity and casual encounters which promote innovation in firms. We assess this hypothesis using data from a survey of Norwegian firms engaged in innovation partnerships. The results indicate that there may be “much less in the air” than is generally assumed in the literature. The relationships conducive to innovation by Norwegian firms emerged as a consequence of purpose‐built searches and had little to do with chance, serendipity, or “being there.”
Fitjar R.D. & Rodríguez‐Pose A. (2017) Nothing is in the air. Growth and Change, 48(1), 22-39.
Rune Dahl Fitjar
Professor of Innovation Studies
UiS Business School, Center for Innovation Research, University of Stavanger, Norway
The interview transcript
Hi, welcome to coffee breaks with researchers.
Today, I’m at a the Regional Innovation Policy Conference, in Florence and I’m having a coffee break with Rune Dahl Fitjar, he is Professor of innovation studies at the Center for Innovation Research and the UIS Business School at University of Stavanger in Norway. Rune thank you very much for accepting this invitation to my coffee break.
We are both having a Colombian black coffee that I hope you are enjoying.How are you?
Very much thank you.
I would like to talk with you about a paper you wrote in which you analyzed whether high density environments facilitate innovation for firms. Could you please tell me what the paper was about?
Yeah, so the paper is about how innovation collaboration starts and about essentially whether it starts by accident or as a result of a planned activity to identify a particular partner and then whether these different types of collaborations lead to innovation.
And I see that an important notion of your research is local buzz. Could you please clarify it for me?
Yes, so local buzz is the idea that there are some places, usually cities, where there is this kind of a buzz that there is something going on that we don’t really know what it is and often it is the idea that people meet at random and that good things happen as a result of those random meetings, and those good things are normally innovations, so people get new ideas from the being in the buzz of the city.
Okay and is this also related to the notion of global pipelines?
Yes, global pipelines is kind of the alternative innovation story that places can’t rely only on the kind of local encounters they also need connections to other places so global pipelines is the idea that places also need to be connected to the rest of the world and that they can bring in a new knowledge into the cluster by having this kind of targeted connections to other places.
Thank you for clarifying that. And so based on these notions, which ones were your main findings?
So basically, what we find is that innovation is rarely the result of this kind of local buzz or random encounters in cities and more often the result of global pipelines and of targeted connections, so what we find is essentially that when innovation collaboration start and then only in one of five cases that the most important collaboration start as a result of a random encounter whereas in four or five cases it was a planned activity by the firm they looked up they did research on their partner and found the right partner for them. Then, secondly when we look at the impact of these collaborations on innovation, we find that when the partners met by accident, it didn’t have any impact on innovation. I mean the firms are not more likely to innovate if they collaborate with a partner that they have met by accident whereas if they planned and research and found the right partner and use this kind of pipeline, then there is much higher likelihood that they will innovate as a result of the partnership.
That’s indeed very interesting to know. And which was the main motivation that you had for for doing this research?
Yeah so basically it started from this kind of annoyance that we had I think of the urban bias that is in Innovation studies and about how innovation policy is often about these innovation districts or incubators or kind of co-working spaces and where people are meant to meet by accident and you can essentially stimulate innovation by encouraging people to meet in in accidental locations and and hope for the best and that good things will happen, so I think this is an ideology that has been in policy, in consultancies and also in research on this that innovation takes place essentially as a result of random encounters in cities and we just thought based on what we’ve done before also in other papers, that this doesn’t fit, this is not how innovation happens. We think innovation is much more the result of strategic activities by firms and by individuals so people actively trying to innovate and trying to do something to get new ideas into the market.
Well thank you that’s very interesting so indeed nothing is in the
air, which ones are the main policy implications based on that?
Yeah so the I guess the implication is mainly that, policymakers should not rely on just putting people together and hoping for the best, that they should instead encourage firms and have policies that encourage firms to work much more strategically towards innovation, so I think firms need to find out who should they work to who can deliver the knowledge and the competence that they need for their innovation projects and then work on making those connections happen. So it’s both the idea of bringing firms together with other key partners and also building connections outside of the local environment so that you can bring in knowledge also from the outside.
That’s great to know thank you very much for clarifying that and presenting your paper, it was a pleasure for me to have you here in a Coffee Break and hope the see you soon.
Thank you for watching, if you are interested in more details about this academic publication find here the link below. I’ll see you next time, bye bye.Tags: global pipelines, Innovation, serendipity