In the digital age of email, Skype, Google Hangout and the cloud-based document sharing, people sometimes wonder why they really need to meet face-to-face. When our agenda is narrowly focused on a list of chores we need other people to help us check off, taking the trouble to meet them in person can seem like a burdensome waste of time.
But that approach forecloses the possibility of surprise. It’s only when you’re co-located in a place with dozens of other people in person that you accidentally bump into people that you didn’t know you were going to see again, or meet new people whom you never expected to see, and leave yourself open to the possibility that your checklist is inferior to a plethora of possibilities.
But it turns out that face-to-face meetings accelerate innovation. Here’s a an excerpt from the ASEE blog “Connections” that summarizes some new research on innovation and what’s called “social tie density”:
Double the population of a city, and its economic productivity – both total and per-capital – shoots up an average 130 percent, according to 2010 research from the Santa Fe Institute. Now MIT researchers think they’ve found a cause for so-called “superlinear scaling”: Face-to-face interaction appears to boost corporate productivity. The team, led by Wei Pan, a computer science Ph.D. student, developed a formula using a variety of data – including cellphone data, location-tracking services and contagious disease rates – that can assign a city a social-tie-density score. A high score proves to be a very good predictor of a city’s productivity, using GDP and patenting rates as metrics. The formula could help urban planners do a better job in designing the several hundred new, large cities now on planning boards in China and India. While superlinear scaling occurs in U.S. and European cities, the phenomenon often dissipates in poorer countries, mainly because urban transportation is so rotten. Because social-tie density relies on face time to work its productivity magic, it tends to fall apart if people can’t move around a city fairly freely.
I asked Xanthe Matychak to come to ISSST2013 in Cincinnati just a couple of weeks before the conference was scheduled to begin.
Fortunately, she could could fly in from Ithaca NY, where she leads a movement called Make Better Stuff. We slotted her into vacant spot in the program created by a cancellation and she came with an open mind.
At some point, she met Colin Fitpatrick, from the University of Limerick.
The result of that meeting is this interview, posted here at Core77, that explores the concept of “emotionally durable design”.
“I recently met Colin Fitzpatrick at the International Symposium on Sustainable Systems and Technologies, where he spoke about the IAMECO, a product service system that he and his research group worked on with an Irish SME, MicroPro Computers. Colin is at MIT this summer, researching “Conflict Minerals,” which are the raw materials used in electronics that come from the war torn Democratic Republic of the Congo. Needless to say, he’s doing great work in the area of sustainable electronics. And lucky for us, he had some time to chat about his work and where he thinks all of this is going in the near future.”
- Why Innovation Thrives in Cities (web.mit.edu)
- In Conversation with Colin Fitzpatrick about Electronics, the Environment and Emotionally Durable Design (core77.com)
- Why innovation thrives in cities (sciencedaily.com)
- The Real Reason Cities Are Centers of Innovation (theatlanticcities.com)