Wednesday the 4th was jam packed with great speakers, parallell streams, and great conversations in the corridors. It is not possible nor fair to try and summarize everything here, but I wanted to share just a few thoughts. Please excuse the formatting of this post, I have written this on the fly on my iPad.
In the opening plenary session, Prof Christian Ketels made an excellent presentation that laid a foundation for the event. He emphasized that clusters emerge and are not created. Of the many things he said this stood out for me, as my own experience is that a lot of people are trying to create clusters out of groups of homogenous firms – what I would call a collection and not a cluster.
During the afternoon I could listen to many excellent presentations about entrepreneurial ecology, measuring and evaluating cluster performance, etc. Melissa Pogue (Martin Prosperity Institute) made a great point that it is important to find ways to harness the creativity of people in domestic companies that was not focused on global competition (the so-called traded clusters). This involves findings ways to unleash the potential of people employed in “average” or local companies, increasing their ability to make decisions and to exercise their judgement. She used a great dataset from the US to show how important this is, as focusing only on the “creative” companies lead to increasing inequality created by rapidly increasing prices of housing, services, etc. in more creative or innovative regions. I thought this was a very valueble point because my practice is also focused on trying to get the more traditional sectors to become innovative, however, much of the cluster discussion is focused on the leading or more creative companies.
In the closing session of the day I heard that Singapore coordinates R & D and innovation interaction with the private sector from the Prime Ministers office. While my opinion that this should be done from the bottom up is well known, the problem we often face is that top down support is often poorly coordinated or maybe even inconsistent.
A second point was raised by one of the wise men of cluster practice, Ifor Ffowcs-Williams. He made several important points, but one in particular is worth pondering. He stressed that clustering should be more about relations and dialogue. While everyone would agree with this statement, many clusters are completely dependent on a hierarchical arrangement with a cluster manager keeping the whole thing together. Resilient clusters emerge from a dense interaction between members, covering a wide range of topics and issues. However, many cluster managers biggest concern is not about building trust nor is it finding ways to stimulate collaboration between members. Rather, it is about raising funds (often public) or justifying continued support to industry.