May 14, 2013 By Louis Zacharilla
In Lyons, New York, where I was raised, there was typically one complaint that ran straight through the center of town and among those who were leaving for the larger world, as well as those staying behind. It was that everybody knew everybody else’s “business!” In those days, people seemed to like their privacy and relative anonymity. To say that someone “minded their own business” was considered a compliment – kind of. Privacy was observed, and yet the local culture had a way of knowing who might be a threat in their private cocoons and who was simply nurturing a rich inner life (or was an eccentric who drank too much hard apple cider at night). We watched one another. The reinforcing mechanism that evolved to run the alliances among the people, schools and businesses was - are you ready - gossip. People, who are verbal and tribal beings, have allowed gossip to become a cultural pastime as well as a monitoring tool. We all knew, or thought we knew, everyone else’s affairs. No IPTV network running hundreds of video cameras or Facebook pages were necessary.
Who knew that not only was this a cultural asset, but that in the not too distant future technology would enable it, enshrine it as a great economic virtue and yet, at the same time, threaten to make it one dimensional and increasingly suspect. I suspect we are now rethinking this.
As we head into the ICF’s 2013 Summit, where we will have a closer look at seven communities that are working nicely, thank you very much, the notion of collaboration and its potency has emerged as the “secret sauce.” For the past few years it has been expressed as the “triple helix.” It appears as a part of a persistent dialogue, whose concepts are increasingly harnessed like a raw material by a range of management and logistical processes which then produce economic success. It uses the tools of the Internet and the cloud in new ways and enhances their capabilities. It allows creativity, which French tightrope walker Philippe Petit jokingly calls, “the perfect crime,” to flourish. It is also done through a lot of talking, committee meetings and – yes – gossip on email.
In Taoyuan and Taichung, Taiwan, two of the year’s Top7 Intelligent Communities from Asia, the sense of community is everyone’s business. In Taichung’s case so are the resources of its 16 universities and technology corridor, precision machinery technology park and science and software parks. Each is now getting to know one another’s “business” through a new Taichung Software Park Industry-University Council. This is a collaboration the size of a dragon, or two. Understanding that there is a compelling need to innovate and to drive deeper toward a connected, global economy, what emerged in Taichung, after much discussion, is an extension of the powerful business alliances that have already made Taichung the world’s third largest exporter of high-tech precision machinery. The newly formed Council will include a massive databank for managing collective resource inventory, as well as a “talent breeding model” to produce Executive Masters degrees. It will be run by a dedicated office to pilot the city’s software industries toward global markets, which await. The alliance includes 26 incubation centers and the intellectual brainpower of 156 departments related to some aspect of the local and national economy. It is a classic, Confucian example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. (Remember the Beatles? Or the Allies in World War II? Then you know what I mean.) Or, as author E.O Wilson notes in his best-selling new book, The Social Conquest of the Earth, this is an example of why human beings, like wasp ants and but a few other species, tend to overrun the planet. It’s not the brain, it’s the culture. As Google CEO Eric Schmidt says in HIS new book, “the brain is the greatest invention ever, but we did not invent it.”
Culture, however, is a different matter. We did invent that, sort of, and as it expresses itself we are painfully aware that technology cannot in any sense replicate it. That is left to us and to social evolution. What we can do is to mind our business, tend to our community’s interests and note that inside each culture is a way to form councils and alliances that not only give us full economic lift, but also the privacy and emotional security we need to align ourselves to reach higher. As I learned in Lyons, if you do not feel secure in your place, you cannot tolerate or appreciate anyone knowing your business.
About the Intelligent Community Forum
The Intelligent Community Forum is a think tank that studies the economic and social development of the 21st Century community. Whether in industrialized or developing nations, communities are challenged to create prosperity, stability and cultural meaning in a world where jobs, investment and knowledge increasingly depend on advances in communications. For the 21st Century community, connectivity is a double-edge sword: threatening established ways of life on the one hand, and offering powerful new tools to build prosperous, inclusive and sustainable economies on the other. ICF seeks to share the best practices of the world's Intelligent Communities in adapting to the demands of the Broadband Economy, in order to help communities everywhere find sustainable renewal and growth. More information can be found at www.intelligentcommunity.org.
Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.
ICF co-founder John G. Jung originated the Intelligent Community concept and continues to serve as the Forum's leading visionary. Formerly President and CEO of the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance and Calgary Economic Development Authority, he is a registered professional urban planner, urban designer and economic developer. He leads regular international business missions to US, European, Asian, Indian and Australian cities, and originated the ICF Immersion Lab program. John is a regular speaker at universities and conferences and serves as an advisor to regional and national leaders on Intelligent Community development. The author of numerous articles in planning and economic development journals, he has received global and Toronto-based awards for his work in collaboration and strategic development and sits on numerous task forces and international advisory boards.
ICF co-founder Louis Zacharilla is the creator and presenter of the annual Smart21, Top Seven and Intelligent Community Awards and oversees ICF's media communications and development programs. He is a frequent keynote and motivational speaker and panelist, addressing audiences of tech, academic and community leaders around the world, and writes extensively for publications including American City & County, Continental Airline's in-flight magazine and Municipal World. His frequent appearances in the electronic media have included both television and radio in South Korea, China and Canada. He has served as an adjunct professor at Fordham University in New York and is a Guest Lecturer at Polytechnic University's Distinguished Speaker Series. He holds a Masters Degree from the University of Notre Dame.