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Friday, October 21, 2005

BIF-1 Innovation Summit: Seeing new possibilities

My head is still spinning (in a good way) from the stories from 25 business, entertainment, education, arts and government leaders at this week’s Business Innovation Factory Summit in Providence, RI. Hosted by Richard Saul Wurman of TED fame and Xerox PARC’s former chief scientist John Seely Brown, the conference challenged the way most of us think about innovation.

After digesting the stories, lessons and advice of some remarkably diverse and successful people, here are some patterns I took away:

Have a dream. Reframe. These game changers had an idea – a vision – that turned them and their people on to do what many might have thought was impossible. The “dream” was almost always a bigger purpose than anything financial. Stuart Moore, co-founder and co-CEO of Sapient, told the story of three stone masons. They first one said he was cutting rocks. The second said he was working to feed his family. The third said he was building the world’s biggest cathedral. They were all doing the same work, but the third one loved his work because it connected to a bigger vision, an important piece of work.

The conversations around creating a higher purpose and dream reminded me of this illustration from Hugh MacLeod.

5x Ask "why" and "why not." Innovators ask why, and then they ask why again, and again and again, and again. Ask “why” 5 times and you’ll begin to get into possibilities and obstacles. John Seely Brown suggested that we also asked “Why Not?” five times as we explore possibilities.

Dennis Littkey, founder of the Met School, recipient of multiple Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grants, fundamentally changed the success of largely high-risk inner city high school kids, by asking the question, “Why is school so boring for kids? What’s really best for kids? How do they want to learn?’ Rather than looking at how to change schools, he looked at what the kids wanted, and then designed education around that. The graduation rates are in the high 90% while graduation rates from conventional inner city schools is around 50%.

Get out of your world. Larry Huston of Procter and Gamble talked about how tapping into the world of 1.5 million “experts” for new product ideas – vs. relying on an internal 7,500 person R&D team – has helped this consumer packaged goods company add $3billion in revenue a year. Rather than a typical “research & development” approach P&G now uses a “connect & develop” approach, with more than 30% of new product ideas coming from outside the company; the goal is to get to 50 percent.

Work has to be fun and engage people on intellectual, emotional and visceral levels. “Innovating and change isn’t “hard” work; if it’s framed within a context of the “dream” and an exciting purpose, work takes on a new meaning. Jim Lavoie, CEO of RiteSolutions, and Stuart Moore, dissed the idea that change is hard. “Today’s knowledge workers want to have fun. If it’s not fun, why get out of bed in the morning?”

Innovation comes from the opposite of expectation.. The future his here, ripe with possibilities. We need to be more intellectual curious, inquisitive, brave, see – truly see – what’s going on, shun accepted “wisdom,” challenge the norm, and explore radical alternatives.

Sounds like fun to me.

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