The Smartest Places On Earth (2016) - Book Summary

The Smartest Places on Earth (2016) tells the story of how some of the most powerful regions in the tech industry have fallen into decline but have emerged as hubs for innovation. This summary will describe how Western countries use to challenge the model of mass production favoring cheap labor that has become a recent trend.

This book is for:

  • Businessmen;
  • Business owners;
  • Technology and invention addicts.

About the author:

Antoine van Agtmael is a senior consultant at the public policy consulting firm Garten Rothkopf, in Washington, DC. He is a former financial officer who created the word “Extreme Markets” and founded the investment management company Emerging Markets Management, LLC.

Fred Bakker is a retired Dutch journalist and former business manager and editor-in-chief of Het Financieele Dagblad , the Dutch equivalent of the Financial Times .

What does this book have for me? Learn about the smartest and most innovative place in the world

Where are the smartest brains in the world? Perhaps we will look to big cities as well as prestigious universities. But we are all wrong.

Instead, there are old industrial sites, where factory workers, machine workers and construction workers work. These sites combine the skills and experience of industrial manpower with the creative brains of institutes and polytechnics, developing solutions to the major global problems we face. Welcome to the “belt of wisdom”!

In this summary, you will learn:

  • Why is there still room for manufacturing companies in the West;
  • Where the smartest people in the world live;
  • What projects and initiatives are those smart brains developing?

Old industrial sites are emerging as innovation hubs that compete with new markets

Have you ever heard of the word “industrial belt” ? The term refers to the old industrial zones in the US and Europe that have been wiped out by the rise of low-cost manufacturing areas in China, Bangladesh, Mexico and Turkey.

But reality is changing. Some industrial belts are transforming into intellectual belts; areas are regenerated with the formation of areas that connect knowledgeable human resources with smart production. Consider the example of the new manufacturing company of General Electric, a company known for making aircraft engines and home appliances, among other products.  

Instead of exporting products to Asia, GE located its store in Batesville, Mississippi because it was near Mississippi State University. Here, researchers work with innovative materials to improve aircraft engine manufacturing.

GE worked with this university, and as a result of the cooperation, the company decided to move closer to the university. This choice is a boon for GE because it results in more breakthroughs and smarter manufacturing.

However, just because some companies can succeed with this model does not mean that the highly developed markets in the East are no longer a threat, just that they are struggling. For example, many Western businesses have had to close because they are overwhelmed by the low-cost model – the models that employ cheap labor in East Asian countries.

The growth of intelligence belts has caused concern for many Asian companies. For example, Taiwan-based Mediatek is a strong player in the global market, designing chip sets for smartphones and other electronic devices.

However, the company's CFO - Mr. David Ku has expressed deep concern about the increasing competitiveness of US businesses. He pointed to the San Diego-based Qualcomn as an example because of their remarkable progress in research and development.

So, now you know why the mind belt is so important. Next, you will learn how these rings are formed.

The intellectual belt has common characteristics including a coordinated ecosystem and a shared culture

Although each region is different, each intelligence belt shares some basic characteristics.

One of them is the collaborative ecosystem – where countless people can contribute to the common good. Here's how the model works:

Each intellectual belt will usually have a university as its center. From this center, some institutes will collaborate externally with startups or well-known businesses, community schools or local government. Each unit will work closely with each other in terms of operations.

Take for example the Hudson Valley of Technology in Albany, NY, also known as the Albany intellectual belt. In the center are the State University of New York and the private Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. These central campuses are surrounded by manufacturing businesses, community vocational schools, all engaged in research into semiconductors, which play an important role in computer technology.

Another feature of the knowledge belt is the openness of knowledge and expert sharing. This creates freedom between disciplines, such as industry and academia, or between disciplines, such as math and biology. Instead of being piled up unused, shared experience to take on complex projects makes these belts famous.

In particular, companies in the belt are also often highly specialized, meaning their experience is rarely duplicated. This is key to minimizing competition.

Take the case of the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, for example. This school studied a lot of data on cancer patients, but did not have the mechanical power to process the data. Intel, a large company also in the Portland area, used the company's computers to process university data.

These two units wish to share knowledge and experience with each other as they do not compete in the same field. In fact, the two sides also rely on each other's abilities and happily cooperate with each other.

But these are not the only common features of intelligence belts. Find out on the following pages.

Centralized effort and smart production are the core values ​​of intellectual belts.

Have you ever thought of yourself as a focused person? Not everyone thinks so. Some people want to be doctors today, but tomorrow they want to be geologists. But with technology belts, this is not a problem.

Another characteristic is concentrated effort. Instead of being active, the belt only focuses on one or two areas.

For example, the Hudson Valley of Technology in Albany is primarily focused on semiconductor materials such as chips or sensors, while the intellectual belt in Zurich, Switzerland is focused on biotechnology and biopharmaceuticals.  

Another feature is that intelligence belts use smart manufacturing. Different from other media production chains that focus only on cost and labor efficiency, the smart production strategy of intelligence belts focuses on characteristics such as customization or automation by tools. technologies such as 3D printing and robotics.

For example, the author of the book visited America Makes in Youngstown, Ohio, formerly known as the National Institute of Complementary Inventions. During their visit, they met Kevin Collier, who was in charge of the Invention Workshop there. They say that 3D printing enables rapid prototyping and physical production.

So if aircraft manufacturers can use 3D printing to create engine parts, medical staff can use the same technology to create custom body parts like waists according to instructions. body or knee numbers for wounded soldiers.

Not only that, robotics technology also allows for cheap and smart automation. Take Baxter, for example, the robot used by Scott Eckert, president of the Rethink Robotics business in Boston.

Baxter is the company assistant in charge of moving and sorting materials, including other robots. Baxter costs $22,000 to produce, a small sum compared to the ability to work 6,500 hours without a break. That amount of time equates to a salary of $3 an hour.

Now that you understand how intelligence belts work, let's take a closer look at how a belt rises from the ashes of dying industry.

Akron, Ohio was an industrial belt before its revival as an intellectual belt.

If you are looking for an example of a successful industrial park that failed and then bounced back from that failure, you should study Akron, Ohio. Here is the story of the area:

Because of its strategic location, Akron was once a large industrial area. Its convenient location near Detroit and between New York and Chicago has made Detroit's auto industry a major use for assembly lines and has created "big players" in tire production such as Firestone or Goodyear, headquartered in Akron.

The location made the city a major rail hub for grain transportation in the area. The cereal company Quaker Oats, for example, has thrived, as can be seen in the replication of the company's complex cereal cellar model.

But then, in the mid-20th century, everything changed because Akron could not compete with foreign businesses. After years of steady and profitable growth, tire companies have grown accustomed to success, not updating the market and keeping an eye on competitors in China and Mexico to change their business strategies. be suitable.

When they realized the situation, it was too late. Akron disappeared from the market and the area was neglected.

In fact, it just disappeared for a while – the intellectual center of the technology industry still exists, facilitating the return of the Akron intelligence belt.

Many skilled workers formerly in the tire industry started their own companies. In addition, Akron university president Luis Proenza relocated the campus so that students became the main force in the city.

Much of the industrial and training workforce at Akron was concentrated in polymer technology, a field that soon expanded into the new materials science. Because of sticking to the industry, many people have skills and experience; Akron has become a land of success.

A successful example is the Akron Polymer System. This business researches polymers, produces films for LCD screens in solar panels and many other products.

New technology developed at the intellectual belt helps to solve the burning problems of mankind.

Climate change is humanity's biggest challenge in the 21st century. We have long been exploiting and using unclean gas like coal and oil. But there is still some hope for the future.

New technologies are being developed and produced in the intelligence belts to mitigate the consequences of anthropogenic climate change. The only hope is to develop new and cheap sources of renewable energy – which the intellectual development zones are focusing on.

Take, for example, the Centennial Campus in North Carolina. Here, ABB is collaborating with university researchers to improve some parts of the national grid. The power grid now ensures the transmission of electricity from the producer to the user, but it can still do things in a smarter way.

For example, customers can produce, store, and even sell their own solar energy at home. By realizing those technologies, the smart belts are helping to combat climate change.

Another issue these regions are studying is the food needs of the world's 9 billion people by 2050. To achieve this huge goal, we need agricultural improvements in these areas. such as greenhouse design and automatic milk production.

Such technologies help farmers meet market needs, typically in the knowledge region around Wageningen in the Netherlands. The agricultural college here has partnered with a number of farmer organizations and businesses to increase productivity. That partnership helps this small country contribute 7.6% of global food exports.  

Intellectual belts can be supported by state policy and investment.

Unless you're a genius from a young age, you're not born knowing how to ride a bike. Children need practice cars before they can drive themselves, and the same applies to the mind belt.

To exploit their full potential, these knowledge areas need help. When people think of innovation, they think of leaders like Apple, Google, and Amazon. These companies have done a good job of building massive tech empires and have the resources and talent they need to continue to innovate and succeed.

But unlike these companies, intellectual belts are constrained by past stagnation, ruined buildings, or outdated facilities. They will only overcome those disadvantages if they are helped.

One of the ways is through government policies and guidelines, as well as financial support. Patent policies and guidelines are a great source of inspiration for invention and a great help for intellectual belts. Although most countries have this policy in their law, not all have it.

For example America. Although the US government has supported many policies to encourage innovation over the years, there are still no specific guidelines to support these organizations. While people often think of Silicon Valley and think those policies are unnecessary, there are still young intellectual belts across the country – more precisely, around the world – in dire need of some help.

Besides policy help, financial support is also crucial for emerging regions. Fortunately, funding sources are always available, from government to private company. However, things are still not good because many sources are invested in the wrong project.

Just consider American industry. A lot of investors put money into Google and Apple, but are not interested in innovative cross-disciplinary projects in the intellectual belts.

Final Summary

The main message of the book:

The dynamics of the global labor market are changing. The once glorious industrial sites in the West, which were perished by the low-cost methods of production in the East, have now risen through the creative use of common intellectual resources.