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Factors of Production for an Innovation Economy

by Dan Robles on December 2, 2008

Many years ago, economists in the midst of the industrial revolution identified three variables (productive inputs) for building industries; Land, Labor, and Capital.  The rate of output was related to how these inputs were allocated. If any of these factors of production were missing, the other two had little use.  The concept of Land, Labor, and Capital is still the foundation of much of today’s economic thought.

We know that in the knowledge economy, the location of knowledge work is highly mobile – so “Land” does not have the same significance for making things as it did 100-200 years ago.

What about “Labor“? Knowledge workers analyze situations, manage many variables, and create unique solutions. They do not really produce identical knowledge pieces like a machine operator or a production worker –so Labor also means something different than a century ago.

The term “Capital” refers to money that would be needed now to build future structures, buy machines and to pay wages. Today money buys access to information, education, and knowledge workers. So we see that many old economic principle may not be as applicable in the new economies.

The factors of production for the Innovation Economy are Intellectual Capital (also call Human Capital), Social Capital, and Creative Capital + entrepreneurs. (Reference: Jane Jacobs, Robert Putnam, Richard Florida)

Intellectual Capital Model suggests that concentrations of educated and motivated people attract investors to employ them and invest in the communities where they reside. This investment attracts other intelligent people who in turn attract more investment thereby creating a cycle of economic growth

The Social Capital Model suggests that people acting in communities can create better solutions, greater accountability, and more economic growth than management, governments, or bureaucracy can induce on their own. Examples of Social Capital include Civil Rights Movement, community watch organizations, Democratic Government, and recently, Social Networking.

The Creative Capital Model, suggests that engineers and scientists think more like artists and musicians than like production workers – their ideas come 24/7/365 – and that an environment of tolerance, diversity, and openness promotes creative output.

Silicon Mouse trap

Many people argue that Silicon Valley, in fact, was created and sustained by a perfect storm of Social Capital, Creative Capital, an Intellectual Capital + Entrepreneurs.  Other countries have tried to duplicate Silicon Valley but most have fallen short – if any of these factors of production are missing, the other two have limited utility for production of innovation. To demonstrate how these productive inputs might appear in an innovation economy, consider the following example:

Suppose that we take 5 mechanical engineers and lock them in a room with instructions to build a better mouse trap, they’ll emerge with a better shingle, a better spring, a better whacker, and a better trigger – but not necessarily a better mousetrap.  Suppose that we now put a dog catcher, an engineer, a plastics manufacturer, an artist, and the mother of 4 rowdy children together with the same task. We can be quite certain that innovation will occur. They may actually come up with an excellent mouse trap.

The Innovation Economy

Innovation Economics will bring the factors of production together in diverse combination rather than similar combination.  In an Innovation Economy, the “secret sauce” for the production of innovation becomes far more valuable than any single innovation itself.  The secret sauce provides a monopoly on dynamic repeatability rather than a static device.

As such, technologies can be open sourced and innovation crowd sourced across a much wider domain of possible user applications.  Such conditions will change the type of innovations that are favored to reflect the broad and sweeping social priorities rather than innovations that are easy to patent, protect, and monopolize.

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