For those of you waiting a recap of BIF-7 with eager anticipation and jealous longing, I can confirm that once again the folks at BIF have pulled together another excellent conference. Herewith, a few ideas, random thoughts, and synopsis of the first day.
First, a brief aside. I somehow missed the email (Tweet, document?) that circulated that demands that every speaker present a serio-comedic picture of himself or herself taken in the late 50s or early 60s. Did that memo go out? Because I think even the young mountain climber who could barely be out of middle school opened with a picture of himself in black and white taken on a Brownie in the early 60s. Just kidding Matt.
BIF, for those of you unindoctrinated, is the Business Innovation Factory, and each year BIF hosts a conference that is part TED talk, part innovation conference, with a significant portion of meeting interesting people involved in a wide range of innovation efforts. So the topics are interesting, the people are interested and the conversations are relatively deep and always enlightening
We had talks today from a wide array of speakers, including college professors, mountain climbers, the lead innovator at WD-40 and a gentleman who is the innovation lead at Willow Creek. Yes, BIF folks cast their nets wide and brought in quite a haul of innovators from a range of industries and focuses (foci?).
There were a couple of statements that I thought resonated nicely. For example, a photographer who spoke complained that many people wanted to know what camera she used. Her response – it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer and the vision. That resonates with me because far too often corporations trust innovation tools rather than the people, their ideas and their vision.
A community leader from Houston picked at an issue that resonates with me. Her argument is that we often look at downtrodden communities and talk about what’s “wrong” rather than what’s working. Her statement “you can build on broken” – you build on what works. Rather than sit around and talk about why ideas won’t work, build on the people and capabilities that will work, and do work.
Angus Davis, who is a successful serial entrepreneur, left us with this phrase that sits just beside the door as people exit his office – “Let’s make better mistakes tomorrow”. The connotation that innovation, and advancement in general for that matter, requires learning, which will result in failures and successes. Hopefully we are all learning and making better mistakes each day.
John Hagel from Deloitte’s Center for the Edge suggested that in corporations we’ve lost our risk-taking and exploratory mindset. Entrepreneurs and innovators have this by definition, but as firms grow larger they grow more risk adverse and more comfortable, defending markets and position rather than exploring new ones.
Perhaps the most provocative talk was from Dale Stephens who is a Thiel Fellow. Dale dropped out of college when he realized that academia is increasingly not a place to exchange ideas as it is to memorize and regurgitate information. I paraphrased his speech as “they pretend to teach us and we pretend to learn”. While I don’t agree with all of Dale’s arguments about the value of a college education, or lack thereof, his voice is one of many that argue that academia needs innovation desperately.
Why are these folks chosen as speakers at an innovation conference? Because they create and sustain meaningful ideas that challenge what is comfortable and routine for many of us and encourage us to think differently. I look forward to seeing what is presented on Wednesday.
Jeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of “Make us more Innovative”, and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.