Eclectic Curiosity

BIF-2 Wednesday

Posted on October 4th, 2006, by Steve Hardy in Archives, BIF-2. No Comments

Day 1 at BIF-2

So, the drill is each “storyteller” gets 15 minutes on stage to present what they are most passionate about as it relates to innovation. Some use PowerPoint slides and others do not. The setting is the cozy and gorgeous Trinity Rep drama theatre in downtown Providence. With the exception of some lingering audio problems all morning and rather crusty (or is it just weary?) introductions from Wednesday’s host Richard Saul Wurman BIF-2 has been both interesting and inspiring. Here’s who said what…

The first speaker of the day was Alexander Tsiaris of Anatomical Travelogue, a company that creates, catalogues and presents high-end visualizations of the human body. I’ve seen Tsiaris’s presentation a couple times before (at ideaCity in Toronto) but the images remain astounding. See them at – simple, elegant, and with accurate information. …His main point about innovation was that it is often just perseverance – outlasting everybody else – that counts most.

I really enjoyed the next speaker: Ivy Ross, executive VP of product design and development with Old Navy. Her message was simply that innovation comes from people, so how do we inspire people? She outlined three key points:
1. Companies need to spend a lot more time setting up relationships internally.
2. People need to learn how to truly build on others’ ideas. We typically judge too early.
3. Leaders can’t ask for output before providing input. It’s their job to first somehow infuse inspiration.
Overall, “innovation is taking in information, rearranging it in creative ways, connecting it with other ideas, and spitting it out”.

John Donoghue followed with some insight into progress being made at the edge of an exciting new field, neurotechnology. Neurotechnology is devices to diagnose and treat nervous system disorders and to even restore lost functions (such as hearing and sight). He showed some impressive video of Matthew Nagle, a quadripalegic without the ability to speak, being able to move a cursor and piece together a computer-speakable sentence using an implant system called BrainGate. He stressed the necessarily interdisciplinary nature of this pioneering work.

Pandora founder Tim Westergren described the problem that he, a musician, set out to solve several years ago: how to connect a band with its audience. Pandora tackles this problem in two ways: first by recommending songs based on proximity (of up to 400 unique musical attributes) not popularity and second by helping you discover new music without requiring much time to do so. …We may like the same songs but for different reasons.

Communispace CEP Diane Hessan spoke about how important it is to really understand who your market is. She shared her experience of a failed ad campaign for Brim coffee – quite a humble story. And she profiled Fletcher Organs and their unusual success by focusing in on the 70+ market. “Sometimes innovation is just looking at what currently exists or is happening and re-jiggering it a little.”

Mark Hellendrung, formerly of Nantucket Nectars and now of Narragansett Beer echoed those same thoughts. “My boardroom is a bar.” There’s opportunity now for instant feedback and instant innovation.

Larry Doblin, president of innovation and strategy consulting firm Doblin Inc., was a surprise for me. In a very smooth presentation, he explained why regional innovation is a tough nut to crack and how it requires an actual point-of-view and strong intent to make happen. The message behind this was that unlike “primary innovation” (something fundamentally new) regular innovation is gradual. “Sometimes things change. We overestimate the amount of change in the short-term and we underestimate the amount of change in the long-run.” He used Helsinki’s municipal lighting project as an example.

Dancer Liz Lerman’s 15-minutes was one of those presentations that sort of defies note-taking. She made several very interesting points in her stories:
-“All it takes is a half turn and the whole world changes” (perception).
-Innovation can come from desperation.
-“Idolatry is when you admire the part, not the whole. Focus only on technique has removed some of the most beautiful things about dance. When you put seniors and kids on stage to dance technique goes out the window.”
-“I am fueled by my ignorance. I ask myself a good enough question to throw myself into freefall. I make things to understand things.”

Jim Lavoie of Rite Solutions insisted that if you want to stop innovation get management involved. Management will always look at a new invention and say it’s good BUTT it needs investment, further investigation, sales guarantees, paying customers, certainty, etc. Which means that they want a sure thing, a no-brainer, but unfortunately there are very few of those around.

A couple IDEO folks started off the afternoon. Redefining research for innovation was Jane Fulton Suri’s delightful presentation. The design firm’s Chief Creative Officer explained how we can design better things if we understand people better. A familiar message from a firm that so clearly values human factors but still quite insightful. Observation, empathy, and imagination are the three main drivers, she said. Outstanding! … Jeneane Rae, a former manager at IDEO and now innovation coach, pointed out how essential it is to evaluate the big picture. She used the Amtrak Acela project as an example. Rather than focus in only on the train (which would seem like the obvious thing to do), IDEO outlined what an Acela *journey* would look like. 10 nodes: learning, planning, starting, entering, ticketing, waiting, boarding, riding, arriving, and continuing. Riding the train was merely one of 10 key parts. …She also touched on how prototyping helps immensely by creating a conversation piece.

Josh Koppel demonstrated Tunebooks, interactive electronic album artwork. Cool visuals.

Syrius’s Executive VP of Subscriber Sales and Operations Mary Pat Ryan was up next and, in a fine display of storytelling, emphasized that a great idea is only great if it is well executed. “There needs to be a passionate connection between the author of an idea and those executing it.”

The closer for the day was Bob Ballard, an extraordinary gentleman who has been on more than 100 deep sea expeditions, published 18 books, received 13 honorary degrees, and been bestowed with 6 military awards. Here’s a man who has discovered countless things on Earth. His enthusiasm for oceanography and inner space exploration was contagious. One of his innovation remarks: “When you introduce a new paradigm, nobody likes it (especially scientists).”

I’m joined here by several other bloggers – most of whom are far more prolific and quick-to-post than I. Check them out here. In particular, Jeff De Cagna of Principled Innovation has a few post-presentation podcasts with some of the storytellers. Good stuff!

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