Thursday, December 15, 2005

Note to a friend: Culture matters

Below is a note that I sent to a friend earlier this week.

Good to see you yesterday. I had not read David Brooks column, "Psst! 'Human Capital,'" or Bruce Yandle's newsletter comments on that column. In my experience they are right. There are many dimensions to human capital.

This reminds me of a book by Thomas Sowell that I read some time ago, "The Economics and Politics of Race." He points out how some cultures of people, for example Jews or Asians, tend to be successful economically in similar ways as they migrate around the world, while others are consistently less successful as they move around. His point, powerfully made, is that culture matters.

I took 2000 off and traveled all over South Carolina, talking to CEOs, researchers, economic development professionals or anyone else who would listen about how important I thought having a more knowledge based economy was. I came away with a couple of strong impressions.

First, researchers in industry and academia in this state did not know one another for the most part. The most important role of the Carolina Crescent Coalition and subsequently InnoVenture was to introduce SC knowledge professionals to one another. You cannot collaborate until you know one other.

Second, the traditional industrial recruitment coalition in this state makes money when something brick and mortal gets built. They don't disagree that starting things like software companies is important, they just don't see how they make money so it will never be their focus. Another goal of C3 and InnoVenture was to build a new coalition of people in whose interest it was for knowledge based companies and academic research programs to exist and grow. This new coalition of people is just beginning to emerge in South Carolina.

I wrote an editorial published in the Greenville News in October, "Austin's entrepreneurial spirit offers lessons for city," about why Austin has such an entrepreneurial culture. I noted that, "Austin nurtures all these folks -- students, managers with new ideas and immigrants -- who don't fit into the power structures that exist in the community." We want to get that here, but I'm not really sure we do get that yet.

Still, I believe we are beginning to make true progress in the state, but I agree with David Brooks and with Bruce Yandle - it's very cultural. Because of that it will take a lot longer than some people are anticipating. In 2001, I visited with George Kozmetsky, former Dean of the University of Texas business school and architect of Austin's knowledge based economic development model. He was then 87 years old. We spent all day with him, and as we were milling around the lobby of the hotel waiting for our car to take us to the airport, he asked me how long I thought creating a more innovative economy would take. "Oh, five to ten years, maybe," I said. "If you don't dedicate the rest of your life to this, you'll never see it," he told me.

That was a reality check. It takes decades for cultures to change. This is not a sprint, but a marathon. We're taking the first steps in a long journey that our children and grandchildren will benefit from.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...


This article is extremely true and very insightful. Recently I have been sending out leadership lessons from Peter Drucker in rememberence of his phenominal life. He too had a strong belief in the power and influence of the knowledge worker. Cultivating this sector will create a cultural evolution. Though I now reside in Las Vegas, I still enjoy your columns and remain connected with the Greenville community. Looking forward to the day of my return to the Upstate. Sincerely, I am,
Anthony L. Goins Director Ford Motor Credit Company, West Coast Operation, Las Vegas, Nevada.