19 de diciembre de 2009

Capital Social e Innovación

Les dejo este interesante artículo de la Harvard Business Review sobre cómo se relaciona el Capital Social y la Innovación.

When Social Capital Stifles Innovation

Regions where social ties are tight may be the worst places for creative operations.

Notions about innovation have undergone a sea change in the last decade. Where once we embraced the idea of the lone scientist or entrepreneur and divine inspiration, we now see networks of creative people collaborating in the myriad steps from brainstorm to finished product. This new understanding has aligned perfectly with the emerging concept of social capital, the idea that strong social networks—tight communities bound by shared norms, trust, and reciprocity—enhance cooperation and productivity. When people belong to communities with high levels of social capital, the theory goes, they’re far more willing to work together and take chances on risky ideas. It followed that high social capital would fuel innovation.

Our studies of regional innovation and economic development, however, show just the opposite. In independent ongoing research projects, we looked at hundreds of metropolitan areas in the United States, comparing levels of social capital and levels of innovation (as measured by technological intensity and number of patents filed). We found that areas with low levels of innovation—such as Bismarck, North Dakota; Birmingham, Alabama; and Cleveland—scored high on social capital. Conversely, areas that did well on innovation—Seattle; Boulder, Colorado; and the San Francisco Bay area—tended to have below-average levels of social capital.

Why? Research has shown that weighing against the benefits that strong ties create is another dynamic. Relationships can get so strong that the community becomes complacent and insulated from outside information and challenges. Strong ties can also promote the sort of conformity that undermines innovation. Weak ties, on the other hand, allow a basic level of information sharing and collaboration while permitting newcomers with different ideas to be accepted quickly into the social network. Thus, social groups with weak ties could be expected to encourage innovative thinking.

This finding has implications for where companies locate their operations. We found two seemingly unrelated indexes to be excellent predictors of a region’s level of innovative activity. The first assesses an area’s social tolerance and diversity by estimating its proportion of gay couples in the population—the so-called gay index. The second, the bohemian index, measures cultural activity by determining the proportion of artists such as musicians, designers, writers, actors, photographers, and dancers in the labor force. Regions that rank high on the gay and bohemian indexes are likely to have the weaker social ties that promote innovation. Of the 206 regions we measured, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC rank in the top ten on the bohemian and gay indexes, as well as on one of our key measures of innovative activity.

Increasingly, creative people are choosing not to live in places with high social capital. Instead, they’re flowing to environments with low social capital, cities and college towns where they can fit in quickly but still find their ideas challenged by other people, whether in business or the arts. These findings have implications for nurturing innovation within companies as well. Companies that foster diversity and openness internally—even at the cost of some cohesiveness—may do better in attracting talented, creative employees and encouraging innovative collaboration.

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