One of the great things about the internet is the chance to stumble on cool ideas in a totally, surprisingly random sort of way. It’s like finding a $20 bill in your pocket. Sweeeeet.
In that spirit I had my own moment of serendipity when I bumped into the IdeaCity web site. Idea City is a conference that is more a running dialogue of ideas from people of all walks of life than the typical procession of research findings. It’s practicing group think in a post modern, meeting of the minds, genuinely constructive way. In this way, it became a model of everything I hoped we can create here in Kent — not just once a year for 3 days — but every day all year long.
With so many smart people living and working in Kent I’ve been thinking for some time that we’ve barely scratched the surface of one of our greatest assets — the idea power of Kent. The really unique twist to Kent is the combination of theoretical research and practical know how. A lot of university cities are dominated by academic researchers and most non-university cities are dominated by business practitioners. Kent actually occupies that high ground in between with plenty of both types sharing the same home town.
That’s the cold fusion equivalent for entrepreneurship that kick starts the chain reaction sequence transforming ideas into products. Just like fusion, the key is in the strength of the networks or the bonds between the links in the chain. Interestingly, our constraint is not on either end of the innovation pipeline, it’s in the middle where ideas bottleneck and have a hard time connecting up with prospective businesses.
The city, the university and the Kent Chamber are working hard to blow the middle wide open and turn imagination loose here in Kent in order to take full advantage of the abundance of opportunities waiting here. I really believe our future will prove to be a product of the quality of our innovation network that we build.
That’s why when I read about the IdeaCity Conference I was intrigued. It brings together smart people to talk about important issues. In the unscripted mix, concepts emerge and take on a life of their own based on the common narrative of the attendees. If we could harness and channel that format productively, this seems to represent the ultimate expression of our democratic ideal as practiced in local government.
For me Kent is already a practicing idea city. I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for what we’re doing because that’s not our style. We’re doers not talkers but that humility undersells the economic horsepower that is available in this community. But horsepower on ice is ineffective. My goal is to build the traction we need to engage that horsepower. It’s time to move forward rather than spinning our wheels.
I wanted to share the kinds of comments posted on the “Great Wall of Ideas” at the conference and invite you to offer your own ideas for our wall of Great Ideas to Transform Kent.