Beyond the Crisis: Debating the role of innovation

Posted in Innovation Beyond Crisis by solle on 02/03/2009

Nico Macdonald has organised an Innovation Forum event ‘Beyond the Crisis: Debating the role of innovation‘ for the 2 March 2008 (tonight) at the Hub Kings Cross (34b York Way, London N1 9AB) to debate that ‘there may never have been a better time, or a greater need, for profound innovation’ and that ‘during and after the economic downturn, innovation and transformational change will be more important than ever. The sooner far sighted strategies are developed and implemented by government, business and other agencies the better life will be for ordinary people – in the UK and beyond.’

Themes to be discussed are:

  • How can we explain the causes of the crisis: Financial system failure? Greed? Lack of productive locations for investment?
  • To what extent is the crisis a product of lack of innovation?
  • Where and how is value created today?
  • What role can government play in facilitating innovation and value creation (or getting out of the way)?
  • Does fundamental research need to be championed?
  • Where do ordinary people’s interests fit into debates about the future?
  • Is the crisis a basis for taking on more ambitious challenges?
  • Are networked tools a key to dealing with the recession?
  • What are the contemporary barriers to innovation?
  • Is there untapped potential in the design and creative industries?

There is no doubt that innovation is in short supply – most institutions are chanting the mantra ‘retrench, retrench’. I’m finding widespread belief that the present crisis is viewed as merely a blip and things will soon return to a semblance of how things were before (advertising, magazines as examples). There seems to be a lack of understanding that the game really has changed and there is only a future, a future with different rules and business models.

So many business models are still operating with the one way channel of selling to their customers but not listening, involving and opening up to their customers. The financial sector (including financial services) is a good example.

Taking into consideration a number of the questions above there is no doubt that many industries, particularly many elements of the financial services sector, need to reinvent themselves and innovate to survive and prosper.

This recent Wired article – Road Map for Financial Recovery: Radical Transparency Now! – regarding the need for radical transparency of financial data is a brilliant example of what is required.

Tonight a range of London professionals will debate the above points and I will update my post with the findings.

I will also endeavour to Twitter the main points of the event as it happens using this tag – #InnovationBeyondCrisis which you will find here – Twitter Search


Event was a success. Excellent participants and excellent points. Much food for thought and an excellent beginning to an important subject (and one that is obviously not being embraced as widely as is necessary for the economy to climb out of these present difficulties).

The selection of the initial responses to the questions posed prior to the event have been updated:

Here they are:

Mark Stringer of Agile Lab noted that “with the credit crunch, there is a real danger that clinging to old old stories can prevent us from making any real sense of new data that we need new models and new stories to understand” (Agile Lab: Innovation and the Credit Crunch: tell me a new, new story)
Rob Killick, CEO of cScape, argues that “governments should lead. A big problem with our government is that it is often not prepared to take bold action, for example in pushing ahead the nuclear power station building programme, because it is afraid to face down the opposition” (UK After The Recession: Innovation island?). (See also his white paper The UK After The Recession [PDF].)
Tobi Schneidler of Maoworks argues for “whole new era of enlightenment that connects the global financial, industrial and environmental challenges into one forward looking vision, sparking a wave of innovation not seen since World War II” (Maoworks Department of Information The blue ocean has dried up. Who will do the refill?).
Kevin McCullagh notes that in design world has celebrated superficiality, but “the bring-on-the-slump crowd are equally self-indulgent”. He believes that their “sense of shame is not based on a clear analysis of the benefits people gain from stuff relative to overblown problems like landfill. The self-doubt instead stems from the intellectually paralysing effect of sustainability ideas”. (Design and the depression, Kevin McCullagh, Blueprint, April 2009)
Mark Nicholson of Interactive Investor (writing in a personal capacity) argues that the crisis “may actually be down to innovation” [our italics] in the financial sector. “Value is created in solving customers’ real needs profitably [and] through continuous improvement” he notes. “We now need to apply the same approaches that have worked so well in manufacturing to the knowledge economy.” He argues that government “must support education and lifelong learning”, and he advocates fundamental research “but not at the expensive of more beneficial areas such as championing continuous improvement”. On people’s needs he notes that “[w]e should not bring in anything which will harm the ability of people to fulfil their needs”. He believes we should take on “basic challenges before we move onto ambitious”. On the network he argues that our tools “are not sufficient for collaborative working which will be vital in creating new products that will thrive in the recessionary times”. And he believes creative industries need to “combine their innate creativity with critical thinking”. (technology @ iii.co.uk: Beyond the Crisis: Debating the role of innovation. Also at Dwell Upon: Response to Beyond the Crisis: Debating the role of innovation)

And from the actual evening some thoughts:

“a lot of mentions of innovation but what exactly do we mean by innovation?”

“innovation as connective innovation”

“does all design have to be sustainable?”

“do small things well first – the smaller pieces/incrementations – it’s all in the detail”

“global innovation agencies retrenching”

“is this debate too lofty? No panic yet. Things happen incrementally”

“always keep an eye on what’s happening at the bottom”

“in financial services we need to ‘make the invisible visible’ and make visible risk”

“how can you visualize risk?”

“causes of the crisis – lack of trust, which will return in a different model”

“should we create a hub at a national level?”

“have we not noticed the arrival of the information age?”

“causes of the crisis – reeducate the ways we behave and take personal responsibility – balance left brain/right brain”

“we are in the middle of a cult of managerialism”

“problems with middle management to innovation”

“potential of mobile operators/networks to support new forms of currency”

“international borders in innovation – what is the future?”

“innovation comes through individuals not a company creating an innovation team”

“Managers demand outcomes from R&D ‘before you have even put your coat on’.”

“innovation is a good idea that makes it – and managers can help”

“social capital and financial capital have become very disconnected”

“innovation as evolution – Darwin isn’t about better tho, more about fit for current purpose”

“supply-side innovation and people buying things they don’t understand: behind every bubble”

“When I think of social capital, I think of a ton of wealth, when I think of real money, I draw blanks”

Photos from the event on Flickr

More details of further developments to follow

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