In Innovation, location is something

The New York Times’ article, When it comes to innovation, geography is destiny, Greg Zachary, a former colleague writes that “where you live often trumps who you are.”

While I was hoping to read a piece about how your geography can define your innovation and technology. Instead it turned into a piece that took an all familiar route: Silicon Valley is destiny manifest, since it attracts the best ideas and there are venture capitalists who are ready to fund them. Sure, Silicon Valley’s advantages cannot be underscored, but everything isn’t as black and white.

To argue that India and China will replace SV as the center of tech universe is just a futile exercise. And to argue that innovations happen more in SV is also not quite on the mark either. Lets use Zachary’s own examples.

I visited the thriving code-writing communities in Tallinn, Estonia; Reykjavik, Iceland; and Helsinki, Finland, three Nordic cities that were being transformed by advances in cellphones, mobile computing and the Internet. Their tight-knit network of engineers seemed poised to create the tools required to make good on a much-hyped prediction: the death of distance….. Yet these Nordic innovators were blindsided by two Silicon Valley engineers whose tools we experience whenever we “Google” the Web.

Is that really so?

Everytime my Nokia phone rings in New Delhi, though someone called me on my New York number trying to reach me in my San Francisco office, it proves that the distance is dead. And remember Skype! It was a nordic creation that killed the distance, and for a few million, made voice calls free.

As Vinnie reminds us, an ecosystem is not just the innovators, but the actual end users, who have a very active role to play in defining what innovations succeed.

For a while the technology was easily available to those of us in the West, especially in the US. Naturally, Silicon Valley, became the super hub. Now Asians and Europeans are adopting faster broadband and mobile technologies, and it is natural to see innovations come from these locales.

No wonder I am in 100% agreement with the title of Zachary’s piece: When it comes to innovation, geography is destiny!