How to make your city a hub of innovation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecently the Pop Up Agency stopped in Madison to help answer a question: How can we breed a culture of innovation in Madison? What we found we believe can be implemented in any city. They spent 48 hours examining our city and painting its potential future — a process that culminated in a list of ideas on a desk at the Chamber of Commerce.

This got us thinking, here at Madtown. Do these kinds of initiatives always have to come from the top down? Do they always have to be legislative efforts headed by the Chamber, or could they begin with our friends and neighbors—the people living and working in Madison right now?

We’d like to provide our own perspective on how we can breed an innovative culture in our great city, as people who have lived in the Madison area our entire lives.

In our opinion, if we want Madison to embody a true culture of innovation, it’s not enough for business leaders to believe in it—everyone in the community has to be on board. If more companies, organizations, and people get behind this goal, it could launch our city to new heights and enhance our legacy.

So, we’re happy to present the 7 steps we believe Madisonians (and really anyone else) must take to turn this city into a hub of innovation.

    1. Define and differentiate

    The first step in any mission is to define the mission. What is our definition of a “culture of innovation,” and what are we trying to accomplish through this mission? By sorting out these definitions and targeting our true goal, we can ensure that we are all in general agreement of what we are trying to accomplish. Furthermore, these clarifications will make it easier to communicate and implement change.

    When defining what innovation means to Madison, it’s important that we differentiate. If you’re not Silicon Valley or Tokyo, don’t try to be Silicon Valley or Tokyo. If we want to be recognized nationally, and even globally, we need to find the unique qualities that make Madison better and play to our strengths.

    2. Build a meaningful purpose

    Too many visions are boring, and do little to spark the community and increase innovation. Our purpose, as a city, can’t just be to “make the Madison area a global hub of innovation.” Sure, this is a great thing, and it might sound good to a few board directors and city leaders, but it does little to motivate or inspire.

    Our purpose can’t just be the reason organizations like the Chamber exist—it has to be the reason people want to come work and live in Madison. It will be the reason people will move their families and change their lives: because they believe in the purpose of the city.

    Consider a purpose like: “To improve the lives of everyone around us, such that they couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.” Notice how much more meaningful that is.

    This isn’t just about the Chamber. Business leaders and organizations across Madison must get behind a single, citywide purpose in order to promote unity. It’s a group effort that must include everyone.

    3. Collaborate

    Innovation isn’t just about investing in businesses and ideas. The way to truly build a culture of innovation in a city is to invest in people. There are great organizations throughout Madison that exist solely to help entrepreneurs, startups, and businesses, including the Madison Chamber, Madison Magnet, Gener8tor, and Capital Entrepreneurs.

    4. Create an active support system

    Madison needs to focus on developing a culture that supports and nurtures innovation in a systematic way. Creativity is only one part of the innovation picture. A disciplined yet flexible process is needed to launch new ideas and then scale them to the opportunity or problem at hand.

    5. Make innovation habitual

    The pursuit of new ideas must be part of a regular routine. Brian Wiegand, the creator of and other successful start-ups, is known as a “serial entrepreneur,” thanks to his systematic and continual approach to innovation.

    Successful innovation comes when ingenuity combines with smart habits.

    6. Promote risk-taking, failure, and mistakes

    Madison needs to embrace risk-taking and minimize the stigma of failure by celebrating the learning process that comes along with it. No one learns to walk without falling.

    In other words: we need to recognize and reward not only the great innovations happening in Madison, but the failures that led to those innovations. As long as the fear of failure is hanging so heavily over everyone’s heads, people will be less likely to take the risks necessary to build a culture of innovation.

    7. Measure

    Madison needs to measure the innovative activities of the community, evaluate results, and determine areas we can improve. We need to take the lessons learned from previous projects into new and future projects, and openly share findings and results with the community. If everyone in the community is truly behind this goal, they’ll want to know how it’s progressing.

    Final Thoughts

    We realize that the task of turning Madison into a global innovation hub is an enormous one—and likely not one that can be accomplished through a simple 7-step list.

So what do you think? Are you ready to go out and change your city for the better after reading this post? You can reach out to us on Twitter or Facebook or just leave your thoughts below.

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Guest bloggers for the TDS Business Blog.

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