Why does this study compare cities instead of countries?
DAMIEN DUHAMEL: There are plenty of rankings listing the most innovative companies. There are also many different rankings of the most innovative countries. They are interesting to some extent, but we humbly disagree with this approach. You cannot compare innovation across countries. Comparing innovation amongst countries is a bit like comparing the punch power of a boxing heavyweight with that of a featherweight - the outcome is not very surprising. To be more accurate when measuring innovation, we ought to compare Shanghai and Mumbai, Hong Kong and Bangkok, or Sydney and Singapore, not China versus New Zealand. It is also fair to say that we are a lot more emotional about our city than we are about our country - this is truly an underrated dimension we wanted to add. The city is where we are born, where we have our first emotions, where we build our own ecosystem. The nation aims to envelop all that in all its cities. The city speaks to us every day, whereas the nation does so only once in a while. This aspect is so fascinating to review, that we decided to let everyone see that through a short video documentary we produced, which can be watched on www.asiainnovativecities.com.
Why is innovation important at a city level?
DD: It is well-articulated by Victor Tay, the COO of Singapore Business Federation, in one of the interviews we did for the documentary. Competition is no longer at a country level but rather, at a city level. This refers to competition for the best things: jobs, talent, education, lifestyle, R&D, business environment, sustainable urban hub, etc. Every city authorities need well-defined strategies to offer an ecosystem that will attract only the best entities. Many large and not so large companies are now helping cities around the world to build more sustainable innovative cities. Think of Siemens, Schneider, Scania, IBM, etc. An innovative city will be able to sustain and lead growth as well as build a powerful city brand. The benefits are immense: London, Paris, New York, for example, are global brands on their own. Their name is enough to entice us to buy an associated product that has the “Made in Paris” feel (even if it is actually made in Shenzhen). No one can deny that innovative cities have a very strong edge above others. As such, we thought it was high time to measure innovation at city level in Asia.
You talk about cities with innovative ecosystem, what is it ?
DD: It is something Solidiance had to define on its own because there is no generally accepted definition as of yet. We had to answer these two questions: “what makes a city innovative?” and “what kind of ecosystem do innovative cities have?”. It was not easy. Even though we had our own idea, over the last two years we went out to discuss this with dozens of Asia Pacific city leaders: city mayors / entrepreneurs / artists / activists / CXOs / political leaders / NGOs / academics, etc. to help us to clearly identify the key criteria that define an innovative city in Asia Pacific. The answer was multidimensional (as are ecosystems): Global Integration and Orientation towards Future, Government and Regulatory Framework, Human Talent, Knowledge Creation, Society (Culture/Art, Value, Systems, Ideology), and Technology. These are the key elements of what we believe make an Asia Pacific city innovative today. Afterwards, we went to test the model, sourced data to back it up and produced the ranking. This took us more than two years to get to this point.
How do Asian cities compare to the rest of global cities ?
DD: We did not compare cities globally - we focused on Asia Pacific instead, so we do not have a factual answer to this question. We decided to include the Pacific, as cities in Oceania are a bit different from the rest of Asia and would make a nice contrast as well as a more challenging “competition”. It would indeed be interesting to see how the Asia Pacific cities would fare against global cities. My view is that Asia Pacific cities would overall still be lagging behind some well-known Western cities. It isn’t due to a lack of vision or a lack of execution; it is simply due to the fact that urbanization is still ongoing in Asia Pacific and cities are changing shape constantly. For instance: look at how Singapore was 20 years ago, then the Hong Kong Island waterfront, Pudong in Shanghai, and the Melbourne CBD. These cities are going through drastic changes, they have grown quickly and are still growing. Some cities in Asia Pacific, namely our top 5: Singapore, Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, and Auckland have realized earlier that innovation was key to their sustainability as regional economic hubs. They made the right changes upstream and are now enjoying the fruits of their investments, whereas other Asian cities have grown by default, without proper vision and planning. Chaos is ruling the highway and suffocating ideas. Being big and growing fast does not make you innovative - because to this extent you can easily compare cities and companies, and in fact there are plenty of very large companies that were not very innovative and went Chapter 11. So innovation itself does not confuse fat with fast. At the same time, a city needs to be innovative not to grow quickly. It needs to be innovative to sustain its growth.