Innovation Edge

Shepherded into Royal Festival Hall for start of Innovation Edge. Going to try to blog liveish, could be hard as I’ve only got my phone…

First break

Completely inspired by Tim Berners-Lee. His commitment to the web as a social structure, one in which we must learn new ways to interact amd govern ourselves, but that has the potential to provide people with the tools to develop new forms of society, democracy and ways of doing things.


Have ducked out of last session to recharge, in more ways than one. Have copious notes that I will try to transcribe (until I’m compelled to seek hot beverages of the Tea varietty – and maybe a little biccie too?)

The moring was kicked off by Chris Powell, NESTA chairman.

Key points:

Problems our society faces – working population is declining, people are living longer, yet we still need to finance their old age. We face global issues of climate change and population movement.. We know we have to solve these problems, but we don’t know how – yet.

We must be able to compete in the future global econmy. India and China won’t be satisfied with to be cheap producers in the long term – they will compete on innovation. We want/need to stay a high wage economy. We need to adapt to survive. This requires iteration – the ability to try, fail, adapt and try again. An ongoing sequence in order to win.

Momentum is building. Innovation is essential.

We need to improve the capacity and climate for innovation in the UK.

The key lies in embedding innovation in our culture. Change must be systemic, focus on pull through of demand. Cites Fair Trade as an exampl, creating business success by following the ground swell of public opinion in favour of ethical consumerism.

The DCMS wants to educate consumers to build the early adopter market.

NESTA has created new models of support for start ups, getting a better return for investors which in turn encourages investors to back start ups.

However, change can’t be imposed from above – it must be systemic.

We are in the early foothills of embedding this culture of innovation – this conference is designed to stimulate it further.

Video: Imagine a world without innovation.

Amusing, well made, easily digested message.

Jonathan Kesterbaum, NESTA Chief Executive (suit!)

Key points:

Encourage risk

Partnership/collaboration/diversity = success

It is said that the UK doesn’t have the appetite for innovation – this isn’t true. Curiosity, problem solving is part of the national character. We have a broad national population, full of ideas.

Video: Some NESTA sponsored ideas

As a suit Kesterbaum has brought rigour, discipline and emphasis on results, but he praised his organisation and staff for their dedication to the mission, characterising them as people who genuinely feel they are playing a part in shaping the future of the country.

Andrew Marr introduces a video conference with Tim Berners-Lee, citing the Victorian book ‘Enquire Within Upon Everything’ as an inspiration. Berners-Lee wanted to recreate the interconnectedness of the information within the book – to create a ‘web of connections’. He developed this as a system that would allow computers to share information and by 1991 had connected scientists around Europe using his ‘world wide web’.

A modest, public-spirited English scientist who ihas done more to change the way we live today than any government. He’s part of the history of modern Britain and the epitome of innovation.

Jonathan Freedland interview with Tim Berners-Lee

Berners-Lee originally submitted his proposal as part of a side project he was allowed to work on even though there was no real mandate for it. His boss was later found to have written ‘vague but interesting’ on the proposal and then by not explicitly disallowing the project provided support.

TBL suggested managers can learn from this attitude, believing 10% time to be a great idea. Managers need to give people a long leash to think, to solve problems in different ways. They need to not expect to be -told what will be developed – otherwise the same old ideas will come back. State the problems and then give people the freedom to solve them.

Always expecting ROI on research goes against the whole idea of innovation.

Q: The web is still in its infancy. What are your hopes and fears for its adolescence / adulthood?

A: It could be characterised as being in its adolescence now. It’s strong, flexing its muscles but doesn’t yet know where its boundaries lie. I hope it will grow up to be responsible.

The web is a subscript for humanity interacting. If we provide powerful tools for people to develop new ways to interact we will see new forms of society/democracy/ways of doing science.

TBL wants the web to support society / democracy / civility.

On societal impact:

Blogs are social machines, supported by technology that has been invented. There are lots of new machines to come. People have to figure out how to behave in the new environment. There are some growing pains, but these will settle down. Used wikis as an example. Initially anyone could write but a blacklist developed to handle those people who couldn’t play nicely. Elaborates into its own democratic / meritocratic process.

In this way we’ll find better ways to govern ourselves.

TBL talked about his new project: Computer science, economics, psychology – people doing interesting things fall between different disciplines. The web is not about technology but is a people connector. It is a big, complex, collective brain.

They are developing a science to help us understand the web and the way it works – we have a duty to understand it as an emerging phenomenon.

Q: If we attempt to classify the web will it lose its spontaneity?

A: Setting up societies online and thinking about how people interact can be expanded out onto the macro level. Look at how the model of trust built through eBay has changed the world.

Q: Is the web more fragile than we think? Will it be with us in 50 years.

A: It’s less a matter of the web collapsing under the weight of too many pages, as was predicted. More to do with whether it will be a force for good. Look at the tranition of email as a useful system to one that carried spam. Could this happen to the web.

The future of innovation is collaboration, due to the web. We will see innovation as a collective activity rather than an individual one.

Then a casual reference to ‘and that’s why I made the web’ – pretty cool statement to be able to make (especuially as he created entire industries – to which I belong).

Once you’ve contributed it’s there, mashed in – there is no boundary between innovators and the rest. The web makes things transparent and allows everyone to contribute. The web can help two half formed ideas to come together and help humanity.

*Update* Sadly I lost my notes for the event (must’ve left my notebook at the venue – Doh!) So no run down of the hugely energetic and energising Bob Geldof contribution, or Gordon Brown’s surprise appearance. I did write up a more considered piece though, which can be found over at the NixonMcInnes blog


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