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The Big Picture San Diego Blog


innovation economy

February 13, 2013

As a provocative speaker and evangelist for building innovation economies, Rules of the Rainforest author Greg Horowitt asks questions, lots of questions. Horowitt was back with the EDC board recently and came with a list of questions that demand to be asked and answered if we aspire to take the regional economy to the next level of prosperity and raise awareness of San Diego as a global player. Here is the first question:

  • Who are your leaders and what are their characteristics and effectiveness?

It’s a good group to ask about leadership. Depending on what you read, you might look around to find the “San Diego 20,” as a Voice of San Diego article quoted someone calling them. If you’re a fan of Jim Clifton’s book “The Coming Jobs War,” you might see San Diego’s “tribal leaders.” Representatives of San Diego’s trade associations and the venerable CONNECT in attendance personify what economic competitiveness guru Michael Porter calls the “informal networks” that make San Diego’s innovation economy work.

Assuming that – by any definition – many of the region’s leaders were present, how can we describe their characteristics and effectiveness? As a long-time observer of San Diego’s civic organizations and institutions, I offer these primary traits of San Diego’s leaders:

They are open – here’s how Hank Nordhoff put it in a recent UT San Diego article: … "there’s an informality and unpretentiousness about San Diego. People will welcome you to these various boards, and you can have an impact almost immediately…” Nordhoff is the former CEO of Gen-Probe (now Hologic Gen-Probe) and current executive chairman of Banyan Biomarkers. He is also a past chairman of EDC. But at one time he was a new guy in town and he clearly never forgot the warm welcome.

They get along – In the last year, EDC, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and CONNECT, along with other partner trade organizations, convened a coalition of senior business leaders from their boards of directors and key contributors to focus on the global competitiveness of the region. They also defined their terms so that everyone is speaking in the same language about the economy.  The groups agreed on four fundamental pillars of our economy—Military, Innovation, Tourism, and Local. Just having a common vocabulary has made communicating the strengths of our region more effective.

They are curious – Why else would they ask Greg Horowitt to come back a second time? They want to understand what’s working and they really want to understand what’s not. Being curious means looking at barriers and judging how high to jump, not how fast you can stop. Being curious gives you the confidence to engage in self-reflection without the baggage of doubt.

Posted by Andrea Moser. How would you describe San Diego’s civic leadership? We’re open to feedback. Tweet us @SDRegionalEDC and let us know.