2012/03/18

Building Critical Mass For TIME Communities

True innovation can happen anywhere, any time, launched by a random collision of genius, hard work, luck, and favorable socio-economic circumstances.

Innovation is much more likely to happen, however, in an area where the TIME (tech, innovator, maker, entrepreneur) community’s critical mass causes creative destruction.

Communities highly interested in innovation should, therefore, intentionally provide and connect enough resources to create and support a critical mass in their TIME community.

Joseph Schumpeter, an Austrian economist, defined creative destruction as a process “that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” He felt creative destruction was a necessary part of a strong economy. Schumpeter also discusses the concepts of ‘swarming’ that occurs around innovation communities. Swarming relates to large numbers of like-minded people observed in areas that have a highly innovative economy. Attracting or connecting a swarm of people passionate about the same economic sector may help support or foster a highly innovative economy for that region.

A critical mass is defined by Wiktionary as a quantity or amount required to trigger a phenomenon. Sociodynamic critical mass is further described by Wikipedia as being large enough that it “becomes self-sustaining and creates further growth.” As relates to creative destruction and swarming, a critical mass rule of thumb is that in a ‘swarm’ of entrepreneurs and innovators passionate about a particular economic sector, only one venture in a hundred will be highly successful. Others of the one hundred ventures will be less-than-highly successful, but most of the hundred will unsuccessful. However, a region is unlikely to have a strong, innovative and adaptable economy if it does not have:


  1. enough people with relevant talent, knowledge, passion and experience
  2. enough funding
  3. access to enough market opportunity

Silicon Valley (SV) is a globally recognized example of a region with critical mass and swarming around the high tech sector. SV has the people (and all the factors which draws those people), it has the funding and it has access to market opportunities which are large enough to support creative destruction.

The SV experience has been extremely challenging to replicate. A group of second tier ‘innovation economy’ metro areas has developed around the world, with some of the best known US second tier cities being Seattle, Boston, Austin, and New York. A less well defined third tier is emerging in the US, primarily as a result of population density, economic needs and resources, the work of passionate ‘fire-souls,’ and support of funders and enablers in the metro area. US metro areas with third tier TIME communities include Boise, Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Portland, Raleigh, and San Diego.

Metro areas with a fourth tier TIME communities in the US could be defined as those whose driving factors and successful new ventures have not yet formed a critical mass that generates strong regional or national visibility and reputation. If a metro area has a fourth tier TIME community, one potential way to help it become a third tier community is to create a virtual critical mass. Additionally, metro areas that are relatively small (e.g. US census metro population between 200,000 and 1,000,000) which don’t have recognized and connected TIME communities can effectively move toward an innovation economy by building and maintaining a virtual critical mass of technology people, innovators, makers and entrepreneurs.

A socio-economic virtual critical mass in 21st century metro areas is one that does much of its connecting, communicating and collaborating via the Internet and computers, and their free or low cost digital tools and services. One-on-one, small group and large group face-to-face meetings and activities are still required in a metro area virtual critical mass, but the internet and other digital tools can make other enabling factors of an innovation economy less critical. Online communicating and collaborating allows people in smaller metro areas to more effectively exchange ideas, build products and services and launch new ventures.

Metro areas which want to kick start an innovation economy, or at least make their regional economy’s future brighter and more secure, should figure out what resources it will take to create a virtual critical mass in their region’s TIME community. If the metro area lacks a connected TIME community, the first step will be to commit the needed resources, then create a connected virtual critical mass of tech people, innovators, makers and entrepreneurs.

What would it take for your metro area to build a TIME community that has virtual critical mass? 



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