Monday, June 29, 2009

Keynote at the Innovation @ Creative Industries Conference in Berlin

Projekt Zukunft Berlin - the futurist initiative of the city of Berlin organized the conference "Innovation @ Creative Industries", and invited me to make the opening keynote. The conference website is here.

Here is the short description of the event:
Creativity and innovation are of key importance for the economic and social well-being of Europe’s cities. At this, creative industries play an important role due to many reasons: They are a major source of innovative ideas. They offer services and products which contribute to the innovative activities of other entrepreneurs within and outside the creative industries. And by being intense technology users and fast trend follower they often demand even more new developments. Yet, the high impact of creative and cultural workers on the cities’ innovation performance is often not widely known.

Therefore, the international and high profile conference „Innovation @ Creative Industries“ brings together 200 creative workers, artists and key stakeholders from public, private and NGO sectors around Europe to reveal the benefits of the booming creative industries and approaches to stimulate their contribution to innovation capacity of regions.

Here is the keynote I delivered at the event:

I wish to thank the organizers for inviting me to speak here today. This is an important event. The creative industries are important in the innovation economy – not only as an industry among others producing innovation, but as a part of the mindset that drives innovation, that enables society to incubate ideas and transform them into value, across the spectrum of human activity.

Also, Berlin is my mother’s home town, which makes it an extra treat to be here.

The VINNOVA-Stanford Research Center of Innovation Journalism at Stanford University is based on three new concepts: Innovation Journalism, attention work and the Innovation Communication System. Innovation Journalism is Journalism covering innovation. It tells us how innovation happens, covering the innovation processes and the innovation ecosystems that nowadays determine our futures. In 2003, I did a Google search, and got thousands of hits on the expressions technology journalism and business journalism, but zero hits on innovation journalism. Journalists were covering innovation, but there was no name for it. It was done within traditional news beats – technology or business or politics or culture. But innovation is not about technology OR business OR politics. Innovation is about the combination of them. Innovation journalism can be seen as a horizontal news beat, crossing the traditional news beats.

People think innovation something techie. As a physicist and techie myself, I will stick out my neck and say that innovation is about language. Every innovation is an innovation in language. It needs a name so we can call it something. It needs a definition so we know what it is. And it needs a story, so that we can relate to it. If any of these three things are missing, the innovation will not happen.

I suggest society can not innovate faster than it can create new shared language. Society has an infrastructure for creating new shared language, for example journalism, communication and PR. Today we live in an attention economy, where attention is a scarce commodity. It has attention workers – people who generate and broker attention professionally. These are, for example, journalists working for ad-based media, or communicators and PR people. They are all stakeholders in public attention, and when there is public attention, then shared language is more easily created.

They are key players in the innovation communication system, which influences the flows of attention around innovation issues.

Innovation journalism, attention work and innovation communication systems are concepts that are constructive for discussing how innovation systems work, how innovation happens. They help society create new shared language around innovation processes and ecosystems.

Innovation journalism connects the innovation economy and the democratic society, which are not well connected today. I get worried when I hear innovation business leaders in democracies speak highly about the innovation policies of governments in non-democratic countries, at the same time expressing frustration over the lack of good policies by their democratically elected governments in Europe. I think this is because we lack the ability to have a public discussion around innovation issues. There is little incentive for elected politicians to spend much time on innovation, when journalism is not organized in a way that it is able to cover it.

The EU is hopefully recognizing this, and I hope they will address journalism and the creative industry it in their policies for developing Europe as the worlds leading innovation economy. Innovation funding can be used for developing innovation journalism, VINNOVA in Sweden is doing it already, as are Tekes and Sitra in Finland, together with the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation. More countries will hopefully do it, and hopefully more of the creative industry can be involved.

Storytelling is very important for innovation. Innovation needs vision and scenarios, and they need to be imaginative and inspiring. It needs new metaphors, introducing us to new things by analogies to things we already know.

We only need to look back at the role of science fiction to realize how important creative storytelling is for innovation. Science fiction gave us grand fantasies of futures shaped by scientific discoveries and technological progress. We grew up reading about how the interaction between people and technology conquered the universe. When these stories were written, they were fantasies, made to tickle and entertain. But in fact they were blueprints of the future. Young people got inspired, and chose educations and professions that enabled them to make the science fiction stories come true.

These science fiction stories were powerful, because they put science and technology into a social context, fantasizing about how it would change the human mind, the way societies work, and culture and art. We can see the results today.

And still, science fiction was until recently not considered good literature.

Our parents and teachers rarely looked upon science fiction as a respected form of literature. They preferred we read the classics.

The thing about science fiction was that it bridged popular science, technology and the humanities. That is tricky. The British scientist and novelist C.P. Snow gave in 1959 a well known lecture about how the breakdown of communication between the "two cultures" of modern society — the sciences and the humanities — saying it was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems. He noted that “literary intellectuals” felt no requirement to know anything about science and technology, they would even take pride in not knowing anything about it.

Innovation is often about bridging and mixing things that are separated, and this there comes with challenges for the innovators. It will trigger controversies and there will be politics. Think of, for example, convergence in information technology, where phone companies and computer companies are finding themselves increasingly in the same business, going from being complementary to being competing. That comes with a lot of politics both within organizations and between them.

Many useful innovations fail, because they did not manage to build a constituency, they lost the politics.

And even when innovations succeed, the innovators may fail. Entrepreneurs know how difficult it is to survive success. They need to be good politicians.

Innovation will continue to increase, and so will the politics, as our whole society gets increasingly affected.

The world economy is going through a fundamental shift. Economic growth used to be driven by doing more of the same. Now it is more about the new replacing the old. In the more-of-the-same economy, we switched our phones when the old one broke, in the innovation economy we switch our phones because we want the newer models.

In the more-of-the-same economy, researchers lived apart from the market people. The researchers focused on the future, while the market people played the more-of-the-same game. There was a chasm separating the techies and the market folks, they had different interests, different priorities and different languages. A version of C.P. Snows two cultures in the industrial economy.

Today, in the innovation economy, every launch of a product, process or service, is just a step on the way, a preparation for the next launch. The most important thing now, is to work on what comes next. That is the nature of the innovation economy. This means that researchers and market people are moving closer to each other, they need to bridge the techie and the market cultures. We need to bridge that to politics and the broader society, as well.

Many people still think of innovation as something very technological. This is a reason to why C.P. Snow’s “humanities culture” has until recently not cared very much about it, some people taking pride in being ignorant about it. Unfortunately, leading newsrooms live with the cultural divide between science and tech on one hand and the humanities and social issues on the other hand. This is not helpful for the democratic society in the innovation age.

The humanities are as important for innovation as science, technology and business. But most important of all is to bridge between them, to let social aspects, arts and humanities interact with science, technology and business in the same story.

Now, at the core of innovation there must be creativity, free spirit, and radical thought. The key value of an innovative society is not acceptance. It is tolerance. No entrepreneur will expect to be accepted all the time, few people will know what they are doing or the potential significance of it. But new initiatives need to be tolerated, so they can develop to the stage when people will be able to accept them.

My grandmother was a psychologist here in Berlin in the 30s, working closely with Wilhelm Reich. Reich was free-spirited and provocative. He changed the world by marrying two concepts: sexuality and revolution, he coined the expression “the sexual revolution”, planting one of the seeds for the youth rebellion and counterculture of the 60s. The “Sexual revolution” was a social innovation, not a technological innovation or a business innovation, but it has driven technological and business innovations, for example in healthcare.

It is the concept is the essence of an invention, and how this concept succeeds in creating change is what is the essence of innovation. This is the difference between invention and innovation. An invention can be done by one single inventor. But in order to be an innovation, it needs to engage people and make some change to their lives. Innovations are the outcome of innovation processes driven by ecosystems of stakeholders.

And, I will continue to repeat, innovation is about people.

Doug Engelbart in Silicon Valley is known as “the inventor of the mouse”. Doug is a pioneer of human-computer interaction, the invention of the mouse was only a small part of his big contribution, which was manifested in the so called “mother of all demos”, where he and his team at SRI in 1969 demonstrated live a fully functioning computer network with computers running interactive text, video conferencing, teleconferencing, email, and hypertext, using a mouse. The idea behind the demo was to show how computers may help people interact better with each other.

Before getting his job at SRI, Doug had missed a number of job opportunities by saying that computers could be used for augmenting human intelligence, when everybody knew that computers should be used for automation. He said that computers should be small, when everybody knew that the bigger computers were, the better they were. Doug was bridging C.P. Snows two cultures, but few people on either side knew what he was talking about.

The people working with Doug were hippies, children of Wilhelm Reich’s sexual revolution, which was big stuff in California in the end of the sixties. They were young intelligent revolutionaries trying out LSD and and testing programming computers so that they would produce artistic sounds and patterns that would assist transcendental meditation. They loved reading science fiction. For them, technology and humanities were the same. That mindset shaped the way we relate to computers today.

Doug’s higher goal has remained throughout his life. He says we need to develop our collective intelligence in society, so that we can solve the big complex problems that are threatening humanity, like nuclear wars, global warming or pandemics. For this, he says, we need to develop technology that develops us. He talks about the “human system” and the “tool system”, where the humans develop the tools and the tools develop the humans. That is the core of the collective intelligence. When Doug spoke at my yearly journalism conference at Stanford two years ago, he pointed at journalism s the perceptive system of our collective intelligence. Not the sensory system, but the perceptive system, that helps us formulate concepts and deliberate what they mean. That is another way of describing the importance of creative industry in the innovation economy. Storytelling, creativity and art needs to be there.

Now let’s talk a bit about the risks that entrepreneurial innovators have to live with. For their visions to come true, they have to engage people around them, to bring in different stakeholders. They will need to play politics, and they need to do it good, because they are stirring the pot, and they are connecting things that people often feel don’t belong together.

In Silicon Valley, innovations are nowadays often developed by small companies, that then are acquired by bigger companies, except for small companies that themselves grow into big companies, like Google. This is a trend that we can see coming to the rest of the world. There is something with big companies, which makes it difficult for them to innovate radically. Not impossible, but still difficult.

This is what I call “the intrapreneur’s dilemma”. An intrapreneur is an entrepreneur who innovates inside an existing organization. The “intrapreneur’s dilemma” goes like this:

When someone tries to innovate within a traditional organization,
few will understand what he/she is doing,
but everybody will understand who is a trouble-maker.

After the innovation has been embraced by the organization,
few will remember who started it,
but everybody will remember who was a trouble-maker.

This is the dilemma encountered by many intrapreneurs - they risk punishment for success. Organizations that want to be innovative need to find solutions to the intrapreneur's dilemma and its consequences, if they don't wish to set negative examples that will scare off people from intrapreneurship. Here is an example: as long as a new project is of little impact and not well understood, the intrapreneur will be fighting for its continuation while others may ignore its existence or perhaps wonder why it should be allowed to steal attention from the more important core activities. Once a project has impact and receives recognition, incumbents within the organization will want to influence or control it. People may reason that 'a project as important as this one should not be run by a trouble-maker'.

Many entrepreneurs I know say it is futile to be an intrapreneur. Any entrepreneurial spirit must leave and start their own startup. Then they are in a better position to balance the forces, so that they can come out on top.

This can be true, but it can also be that there are ways of organizing companies and societies so that creativity and innovation can be a part of the system, without killing off the creators and innovators.

In order for us to discuss these very important issues, we need the creative industry. We need storytellers of all sorts, who can earn their living on helping society develop shared narratives about how we can change things for the better, how we can solve problems, and that can stimulate our brains with creative visions and scenarios about what our lives can look like. Just like science fiction did.

But keep in mind that this requires creative storytelling that is horizontal. We need to bridge C.P. Snows two cultures to succeed. The storytelling should not preserve and isolate the silos in society. It should punch through the silos, and help people understand how they relate to other people in the system, who have very different skills from their own. When the creative industry does this, it will be a central component of the innovation economy.


Creative Boom said...

Creativity and Innovation are the key ingredients to making our current UK economy a success. No longer can we rely on manufacturing as emerging markets offer a more affordable option. It will be the creative industries that pull us out of the downturn and ensure our country is a success. Take a look at Creative Boom, a Creative Industries magazine in the UK. It just proves how strong this sector has become over the past 10 years.

Eric - mindful meditation student said...

Thanks for this post, David. It seems to me that innovation consists of not only seeing the connections between sometimes disparate fields of endeavor, but also expressing new syntheses of such fields.