In his thought-provoking new book Whole Earth Discipline, Stewart Brand has this interesting passage:
In Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography (2000), he quotes William Blake – Without contraries is no progression” – and ventures that Blake came to that view from his immersion in London. “Wherever you go in the city,” Ackroyd observes, “you are continually being assaulted by difference, and it could be surmised that the city is simply made up of contrasts; it is the sum of its differences.” What drives a city’s innovation engine, then – and thus its wealth engine – is its multitude of contrasts. The more and greater the contrasts, and the more they are marbled together, the better. The most productive city is one with many cultures, many languages, and more kinds of urban experience available than any citizen can keep track of.
This seems about right.
We know from the work of Jane Jacobs and others that cities drive economic growth and innovation. We know from the work that Scott Page and others that differences increase creativity. So it makes sense that the increased diversity that you get in cities, especially big ones, will drive innovation.
And if it’s true for cities, it’s probably true for firms too. It’s something to think about if you’re trying to improve innovation efforts.
(photo from flickr/J. A. Alcaide under a Creative Commons License)