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Creative Innovation conference (Melbourne 2011) – Highlights & Ruminations

20 November, 2011

It’s probably saying something that the above title is the most creative label I can think of inspired from my recent attendance at the two-day Creative Innovation: ‘The Challenges and Opportunities of a Super-connected World’ conference in Melbourne last week.

Let me be up-front and say my comparison point for conferences are the amazingly transcendent experiences I’ve had previously. Namely, Customer Experience and Innovation (I forget the actual title) in Sydney 2002 from which I still use my notes, and attendance at Webstock in 2009 and 2010 where every speaker and experience elevated inspiration in my discipline, and in the community of designers, developers, UXers, artists. So perhaps it’s fair to say my expectations were too high going in.

In reality, this post is more about my experience of attending this conference.

There were some good speakers and sessions. And there was a real effort made for the conference to be interconnected (no wifi or power-points, notwithstanding). Afterall, I do have a top 9 : ) But perhaps it was the combination of linked yet overwhelmingly conventional mix of IT, Gen Y, resource scarcity warnings, broad definitions of innovation and creativity not always fully expressed, disappointing superstars, flavoured with musical stylings of Potpourri, and tenuous bubbles reference, ultimately made stark by witnessing twitterfeeds in action from an obviously bored attendee tweeting the most exuberant verbatim insights. Superconnected indeed.

So fair warning, this post may not inspire or elucidate my thinking on the super connected world with a lens of creativity and innovation. Overall, I’d say the connection made between conference and topic was the warning/challenge to innovate creatively because we have the means (technology, emerging and emerged generation of new thinking brains) and it isn’t going anywhere, but let’s not lose our humanity in the bargain. The food was good, but : )

My top 9

Here are my Top 9 highlights in chronological order, and – as is this whole blog – seen through the lens of design, especially service design, and especially-specially design in the public sector context.

  • ONE: The ANZSOG Dean, Professor Allan Fels saying that creativity and innovation in government has never been more needed. But that the challenge is government is inherently hierarchical, and reliant on both predictability and order. He proposed the power of storytelling was essential if we are to change that because:

“A story is the way for people to imagine themselves in a new world.”

“Innovation starts with ‘why’, not ‘how’… [and means] collaborating with people [you’re] actually uncomfortable with”

Maybe it’s obvious about the ‘why’ not ‘how’ starting point, but later when I heard Edward de Bono lamented ‘crazytivity’ (see number 9) sometimes the ‘how’ takes over and the intent gets lost. The ‘why are we doing this’ part. Simon mentioning uncomfortable people is also extremely relevant. People, for the most part, just want to help solve the problem – from their perspective. The challenge of the designer is facilitating, mediating, and driving to an outcome (see number 7); an outcome that meets the ‘why’.

  • THREE: Dan Dennet, philosopher offered maybe one of my biggest highlights, because – as all good philosophers do – he characterised a dilemma I’ve been experiencing but have been unable to name. That is the guilt-filled divide between what we ‘can do’ thanks to technology and connectedness and what we do ‘do’. A divide technology can’t fill.

    Guilt Divide

    This feeling of guilt resonated on a personal level (I still haven’t bought a goat for a village – everyone else seems to have!), but as a designer it confirmed to me that valuable role we play in describing experience – that gap between ‘can do’ and ‘does’ – because we (are supposed to) understand and express the human aspects of services and strategy. For example, a customer can go online to complete an application for some service. All the Terms & Conditions can be there, all the instructions. And as service provider the organisation may expect that because it’s all there – the means are there to do everything right without generating the resource intense low-value phone call – the customer is ‘empowered to self-manage their experience’. But as Dan put it, “I can, but I don’t wanna, so I don’t” – which means the customer feel a little guilty all the time because they might not get it, and the organisation adds more information to help the customer self-manage better. But adding more information isn’t the point (see number 9).

    He wasn’t pessimistic about our lives tethered to electronic devices, but he did say we need to look at all the unintended consequences. Design anyone?

  • FOUR: James Moody, futurist talked about the Sixth Wave of Innovation). The two key points for me were in reference to his five ‘rules of thumb’ required for capabilities for the future:
      • ‘Sell the service, not the product’ (which he added ‘even think about selling the experience’) because today it’s about access not ownership. It’s a concept worth mulling because it’s nevermore true then today, but also because what does it mean for what we design. The notion of service is even more intangible when products aren’t necessarily touchable touchpoints.
      • The second ‘thumb-rule’ I liked was ‘Digital and nature converge’ – now I can’t recall exactly what it meant (yes, I know I could look it up, but I don’t wanna – I’m ok with the guilt I’ll feel – see number 3), what I did get from his explanation was that the source of information isn’t as important as the ability to synthesise from the myriad of sources. It’s not about finding an answer, it’s about choosing the right one for the desired outcome (see number 6).

My absolute favourite thing James said, which totally aligns to my design philosophy was in answer to a question about applied technology. He said:

“The measure of maturity of technology is when it becomes invisible”

Services people don’t even notice because they neither upset, nor necessarily delight, they simply work and work beautifully for all concerned – especially in the public sector context – ah, to dream.

  • FIVE: Stephen Heppell, an online education expert was a pretty engaging speaker, and his presentation as images and clips was a delightful illustrated conversation. I loved his use of language when he said:
      • Everything he had done had been ‘spectacularly affordable’ – we can apparently have a noble outcome within an achievable budget! Even with technology.
      • Sometime the most ‘gentle solution’ can be found – using the example of subtitling Bollywood songs so whenever songs came on tv the subtitles were there, and there was some phenomenal 40% or so increase in literary in the years since.
      • Labels don’t make things happen (even if you believe in nominative determinism – see number 6) setting up the right conditions and adding people makes things happen.

        Innovation Label vs Space set-up for innovation
  • SIX: Victor Finkel, Gen Y rep, was an articulate speaker (as one would expect from a World Champ debater). He was there to talk to us about Gen Y. Personally speaking, I hate the whole Gen [letter] labels. Like having a room labelled ‘innovation room’ (see number 5). I’m not sure Victor was so into the labels either when he used the nominative determinism and Thomas Crapper as inventor of the toilet to reflect on it, (Potsie). He spoke about the three questions Gen Y is thinking:
      • “Why am I doing this?”
      • “Why do things have to be this way?”
      • ”Why can’t I cite Wikipedia?” (Which is really about the ubiquity of information, and the need to challenge – not for ego’s sake, but to understand what’s really important; what really matters)

Cue drawdrop realisation: I am Gen Y, because as designer, service and or otherwise, I ask these things everyday! (See number 2 and 3)

  • SEVEN: I’m kinda obsessive about collaboration. Mehrdad Baghai and James Quigley wrote As One: Individual Action. Collective Power and Mehrdad presented a superb breakdown of the different views and mental models of what it means to work together. I liked it so much I bought the book! (But it’s all available at the website AsOne). Highly recommended. Especially as a designer working with such a range of teams and people; it’s no good going in thinking ‘Architect and Builders’ when it’s really ‘Producer and Creative Team.’
  • EIGHT: Not a speaker per se but a general theme (besides the general theme of planet’s resources becoming scarce) raised by Hugh Mackay, psychologist, social researcher, was how IT, which enables ‘connection’ is not the same as ‘personal connectedness’.

    I have people with whom the link is 140 characters or a ‘like’ every now and then. These are not relationships, these are data exchanges. The data may be emotive, but the level of connection is not personal. While not quite an honorary Gen Y (see number 6), my devices and the internet, are not part of my humanity, but they are part of how I live. The internet is the room I spend a significant chunk of my time – happily. But there are unintended consequences to be aware of (see number 3). There are still some uniquely human emotions and experiences that will always be human. I hope. (there’s one there – hope is human ; )
  • NINE: Edward de Bono’s actual session at the end of the last day was phenomenally disappointing, and I feel very sorry for people that attended the conference looking forward to this session and who couldn’t attend the master class – for budget or timing reasons. Thank goodness a friend of mine went to the master class, where she shared these highlights:
    • For him ‘Innovation’ is doing something new to an organisation, but not new to the world; ‘Creativity’ is doing something new.
    • ‘Creativity’ is about logic, value, and benefit vs ‘Crazytivity’ which is about being different for the sake of it.
    • Challenge is essential to the creative process – even when everyone’s firing along on the same track. Challenge helps unblock ideas, and helps you see what’s behind a concept. You should actively create ‘barriers’ to disrupt thinking – what he calls ‘provocative thinking.’
    • The most resonant for me in my field was his view on change in organisations. He said organisations have things like legislation, policies, services, processes and think they can just add things to change what is there – add a new channel, a new policy. But you can’t just add something to change it – you have to re-look at the whole thing, re-design and change it. It’s like maths, if you have 200 and you add 20, you don’t have 200 + 20, you have 220 which is a completely new number.

Final reflection

I like the idea of conferences as inspirational. I’m selfish that way. I like ideas, I like new thinking or ways of seeing things. But I appreciate conferences are part idea sharing, part networking, part catering.

Then I attended this conference and TedX in Canberra recently, and read this blog post ‘A Tale of Two Conferences’ by Paul Wallbank, about a traditional conference vs an un-conference, and I’m rethinking things.

How do ideas get shared, people get inspired these days when I could probably have seen these speakers all on YouTube? Or simply bought de Bono’s books (as was his response to genuine questions at the final session). Maybe the notion of the conference being an idea-networking-fest isn’t enough. Maybe we need to make something and we need decision-makers there. Instead of spending time and money on getting millionaire big-name speakers, spend the time lobbying a politician or business person to commit to attending and accepting an outcome, crowdsourcing a solution that can go beyond the conference walls and timeframe.

I just want to know ‘why am I doing this’, ‘why does it have to be this way’ and I want to dull the guilt without resorting to crazytivity. I know it will be hard and we’d have to collaborate with people who may make us uncomfortable, but the stories we could create! We wouldn’t have to change the world; just make a difference.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. patti hunt permalink
    20 November, 2011 11:09 pm

    Great stuff! I also remember being really
    disappointed seeing Edward debono many years ago in melb at the “thinking conference”. I am inspired to listen to a couple of speakers you mention when the podcasts are released.

  2. 21 November, 2011 8:13 am

    Useful post thank you. I was at a conference last week and was struck by a confusion of purpose for the event and some attendees. e.g. speakers coming only for their “contribution” – did they think they had nothing to learn? also organisers who were very much “going through the motions” rather than delivering a specific outcome for attendees.

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