Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s talk about homosexuality and whether it has any impact on innovation. There probably are two no more polarizing topics in the United States than homosexuality and abortion. But the truth is that if both sides of the political and religious spectrum focused on the golden rule, there would be less corruption, we’d all be a lot happier, probably have more innovation, and our politics would be more productive.
Today we have another great case study for how short people’s attention spans have gotten, how the government can help or hinder innovation, how little investigative journalism still remains in the United States, and how easily people are swayed by a soundbite that runs contrary to (or in support of) their own personal religious or political beliefs.
But this article isn’t going to be some diatribe in support or opposition to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) legislation (referred to by the media as an anti-gay law) because I freely admit I don’t fully understand all of the implications of a similar federal law and whether federal protections for gays apply to the state law.
Instead I’d like to focus briefly on what this controversy brings to mind for me in regards to the efforts of hard-working folks attempting to stimulate innovation in Indiana (and elsewhere).
Point #1: People Must Feel Safe to Innovate
If we take Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs as gospel (okay, maybe that’s dangerous word choice), then safety is one of the most important needs for people, and in order to innovate people must feel safe. True innovation usually requires taking risks and doing things in a new way, and if people feel that trying something new or even just being different has a high price, then people won’t step out of their comfort zone and push the boundaries of conventional wisdom. So if we are truly trying to do everything we can to inspire innovation in our region, shouldn’t we also try to do everything we can to make it feel like a place where it is safe to be different and where that difference is potentially even celebrated?
Point #2: Diversity is Important (to a point)
We all look at the same situation through different eyes and a different history of experiences, values and beliefs. This diversity can help create different idea fragments that can be connected together to create revolutionary new ideas with the potential to become innovations. But at the same time, having some shared experiences helps to make it easier to communicate and to have a higher level of trust (assuming those experiences were good ones). So if we are truly trying to do everything we can to inspire innovation in our region, shouldn’t we also do everything we can to make different groups of people look to our region as a good place to move to so we have a diverse talent pool?
Conclusion: If Culture Trumps Strategy, Environment Trumps Startups
The world is changing. It used to be that companies started and grew in the community where they were founded, hiring increasing numbers of people from the surrounding areas and attracting others from elsewhere. Now, an increasing number of companies (especially digital ones) are moving to more distributed models where they create satellite offices where the talent is rather than trying to attract all of the talent to a single location.
Economically this is meaning that it is becoming less important that the next Facebook starts in your town than it is for the next Facebook to want to have an office in your town. This means that for cities, counties, states and countries, the greater economic impact is likely to be made not from trying to encourage lots of startups, but instead from trying to create an environment that young, talented people choose to live in.
And when you create a place that is attractive for smart, creative people to move to, you know what, you’re likely to end up not just with more growing digital companies seeking a presence, but also a larger number of startups than if you started with the goal of specifically trying to encourage startups.
Does your region focus on creating startups as the primary goal or on making itself an attractive place for a young, diverse and talented population to live?
Does this uproar help Indiana establish its as an attractive place to be, or work against that perception?
I’ll let you decide!
P.S. If you’re curious, here are The Metro Areas With the Largest, and Smallest, Gay Populations (for what it’s worth, Indianapolis isn’t on either list)