I’m getting more intrigued with every conversation I’m having this week about our new quest: What could thwart the discovery and innovation that San Diego is counting on for economic growth and prestige.

It’s been nice to see several of you chime in already with ideas, threads to tug at and questions you’re eager to answer. Does our local education system give people the right training for the industries we’re growing? Do our governments respond well to ideas that could have big impacts? What are the dark sides of the discoveries being made here — economically, geopolitically, ethically?

I thought I’d collect a few here, partly in hopes they’ll spark some others of you to leave a note of a direction you think I should go.

San Diego Geography:

• My pal and VOSD CEO Scott Lewis passed along a belief he’s heard: “I’ve heard a lot about companies struggling to make Sorrento/Rancho Bernardo/Torrey Hills attractive to people who want to work in denser, walkable communities.”

Erik Bruvold, president of the National University System Institute for Policy Research, said he thinks that might not be the full story.

“Scott, I think that needs to be tempered a bit. My community (4S) is heavily populated with technology workers. I have little doubt that San Diego has a harder time competing for “millennial” techs who want urban environment – but I also question whether that “is” our technology/innovative economy. San Diego may well have found its “niche” by offering high quality suburban offering to a class of tech workers that want that (married, with kids, often from abroad). But Kelly’s reporting can shed light on this – interview recruiters from a host of firms (probably off the record/Background) to see how much of a problem.”

• Geography, and San Diego County’s sprawling landscape, also shows up in a post several of you’ve recommended to me. I’ll be exploring some of the questions that author and startup advocate Brant Cooper raises. Here’s part of his worry about San Diego’s geography:

Successful ecosystems have geography in their favor. San Diego is challenged by the fact that we have startups from Oceanside to Tijuana. We are spread thin. …

As noted above, concentration leads to openness, collaboration and greater economic activity. When startups concentrate in an area, you not only have more planned events, but greater serendipity, too.

Funding — Sources and Recipients:

• My friend Zack Nielsen, whose organization Sezio aims to boost independent artists and musicians, has long decried funding systems that grant funding to large organizations and say funding will “trickle down” to individuals. I want to know how widely this sentiment extends to other realms beyond arts. Do you have any examples?

• Another reader commented from the artistic perspective: “Art opportunities in San Diego are often huge in scale (lots of money for huge projects or for large events) or offensively small (too little money to eat). There’s little in between for small, persistent projects that have a better chance at innovation and lasting impact.”

Evaluating/Defining Innovation:

• Reader Omar Passons brought up a question sparked by a dinner he attended last week, where Gallup’s CEO Jim Clifton spoke. (Here’s a U-T piece about the event.)

He said that innovation is worthless until you have someone to buy it. And the larger point, I think, was that spending lots of money on innovation is like having all cart and no horse. Best cart in the world won’t move without something to pull it.

I found this point fascinating and wondered if we, as a region, weren’t making some kind of mistake in not evaluating whether we were investing in the right things. Hard to know, but worth exploring.

• Don Wood worries the term innovation is too broadly invoked. “You often find it’s being used in meaningless way, or worse, misused to promote a special interest agenda.” Send along any examples you hear or see — part of this quest may be peeling back the “innovation curtain” on initiatives that aren’t so innovative, after all.

What else? Chime in on these ideas or add to my list of places to explore by leaving a comment below. I welcome your thoughts.

This is part of our Quest to find out more about the innovation economy in San Diego. Here’s a good overview of what we wanted to find out, and check out these highlights from the series.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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