The importance of local milieus

Using data on the entire population in combination with data on almost all individuals in Sweden listed as inventors, we study how the probability of being listed on a patent as inventor is influenced by the density of other future inventors residing in the same region. In this process, we control for demographic and sector effects along with the educational characteristics of parents. This approach allows us to trace how location history influences individuals’ inventive capacity. We focus on three types of influences: (a) future inventors in the municipality around the time of birth, (b) future inventors around the time of graduation from high school and (c) future inventors at graduation from higher education. We find suggestive evidence that co-locating with future inventors may impact the probability of becoming an inventor. The most consistent effect is found for place of higher education; some positive effects are also evident from birthplace, whereas no consistent positive effect can be derived from individuals’ high school location. Therefore, the formative influences mainly deriving from family upbringing, birth region and from local milieu effects arising from a conscious choice to attend a higher education affect the choice of becoming an inventor.

Here is the article, “How important are local inventive milieus: The role of birthplace, high school and university education,” by Olof Ejermo and Høgni Kalsø Hansen, via Ben Southwood.


So, Stockholm was a hot bed for a local inventive milieu, right?

And Jokkmokk not so much?

Hopefully the controlled for this by dividing by the number of total people per geographic area. But if Jokkmokk (a hypothetical town out in the Boondocks I understand) is a state-designated science and R&D town, then it could be a hotbed for local invention.

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What is the definition of "inventor"? Filling a patent? Opening a business that sells a new product? Or is it simply just defining yourself as an inventor? Are people just calling themselves inventors because others around them call themselves inventors?

Big picture, I think the Dali Lama nailed it:

"I feel that it’s crucial to have a clear recognition of the value of your objective. That's the important thing. Recognizing that your objective is worthy, because it involves others' welfare or the general well-being of the community, gives you the determination to pursue it."

That's true, people are influenced by those around them, and innovation can be taught, are the two takeaways.

Growing up in Silicon Valley and/or San Joaquin Valley makes this clear.

This is not surprising. Network effects of information. Look up the book: Why Information Grows by Hidalgo.

The authors said: analysis was not aimed at causal interpretation.

Also inventors tend to work in organizations: research institutes, private companies. What is the correlation between the location of research organizations and inventors? Is milieu a synonym of research organization?

I'd have to think these same results hold for a huge variety of professions and for that matter talents and skills. Although for pro basketball players, the high school or youth milieu is probably more key than the higher education milieu. The tiny town of Kinston NC has produced a half dozen NBA players. In Seattle, Rainier Beach High School has produced five. Jerry Reynolds, (not the former small forward, the exec who's had a variety of coaching, front office, and announcing positions with the Sacramento Kings) is from ... French Lick, IN.

It's easy to see why this would be so: a strong coach with strong support from the school and community induces the local athletes to flock to basketball rather than say football or video games, and even attracts outsiders to move into the area so their kid can be in that program.

These milieu or local network effects are also why cities are not going away anytime soon, despite decades of silly predictions of how the web is going to disrupt everything. It's not even a question of moving to say the Bay Area to go into a high tech field; it's that the people growing up there have friends, relatives, teachers, mentors, etc. who are either in that field or know people who are in it. Whereas a kid growing up in Kalispell MT is less likely to go into high tech and more likely to become a naturalist or forest ranger.

Co-locating with other inventors when young probably has a 'schooling' effect, as I'm guessing you are still more likely than average to be around them when working, and therefore more likely to wind up as a name on a patent. I'd like to see them control for the number of other inventions in their immediate region while creating their own. Every inventive person on a team bring team members along for the ride in terms of getting patent credits.

From experience, I can also tell you that being around inventors does help foster more inventors for a couple of reasons - one is that it makes the process less mysterious and therefore accessible to people scared of the legal morass surrounding patent applications, and the other is that there may be more legal and/or financial support for it. That doesn't mean the people are better inventors - just that it's more likely that inventors will be more likely to take their inventions to patent.

My company filed lots of inventions, so I guess we might look like hotbed of brilliant inventors in the data. You could probably slice and dice the data a million ways to correlate our output with local education, government support of technology or all sorts of other reasons, but the truth is that we produced a lot because our company encouraged us, paid us money for each accepted patent application, didn't care if the ideas were worthless, and provided a legal team to do all the stuff engineers hate doing.

So yes, the number of patents went up. That's not the same as saying the amount of creativity in the office or the quality of thinking was in any way involved.

@antonhowes will have historical data on the propinquity effect. See for example “The Lunar Men”.

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