What kind of man walks onto a stage in a foreign city – where he has few acquaintances and fewer friends – and declares the newly opened public building in which he is standing an architectural mish mash? What kind of a speaker at a creativity conference declares the ‘chucking around of paint around should be confined to nursery schools and universities but the bit in the middle is about learning what needs to be learned’.
The event was Creative Innovation 2010, hosted by leading members of Melbourne’s art and business community, headed by leading Soprano and social entrepreneur, Tania de Jong.
The speaker was Austin Williams, Director of the Future Cities Project, in the UK and author of The enemies of progress, (Societas, Exeter, 2008). For the first hour of deep conversation during which he shared a stage with Edward de Bono and Rufus Black, Rhodes Scholar and Master of Melbourne University’s Ormond College, the audience would have been forgiven for thinking Williams had walked on to the wrong stage at the wrong event.
‘Excuse me, sir, the conflict resolution course meets next door.’
I would venture to argue that Williams was in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, and indeed cleverly placed by the conference organisers.
Why? Well let’s start with the words ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’. Put the two together, add the name of just about any industry, and you’ve got the title of at least ten conferences in Australia alone, this year – back of the envelope calculation, granted.
We’ve had creative innovation in design, in accounting, in management consulting, in education, in health, we’ve had regional innovation events, skills creativity events, innovation for the young, the old and the young at heart. Business21C can put its hand up for hosting its own creative and innovative event this year, innovatively disguised ‘funky thinking’.
In fact, there’s been so much talk about creativity and innovation since the GFC undermined our belief in the financial system, that quite possibly the least creative thing you can do right now is host an event with either of those words in the title.
But de Jong and her colleagues recklessly put the two words together and staged an creative innovation extravaganza at Melbourne’s newly built Recital Hall, last month. And they pulled it off with style.
CI2010 worked. More than that, in places it was fabulous. One session even got a standing ovation – and that doesn’t happen often when there’s a management consultant on the platform. I have been trying to fathom why. It was not the impressive list of speakers. After all, in 2010 event organisers have to compete with the likes of TED.com who provide brilliant speakers 24 hours a day to a broadband connection near you. It wasn’t the musical interludes that punctuated the proceedings gracefully, either. It was, I believe, how the speakers were put together on stage: the brilliant and the brilliantly bolshie, the creative and the critical. And kept there. Panel sessions were up to two and a half hours long. No whack-up-your-powerpoints,-say-your-piece-and-sneak-off. Speakers spoke, and the audience drilled. Uncompromisingly, sometimes less than coherently, but relentlessly, for three whole days.
During that time, more than 30 speakers covered topics as diverse as pig farming, mental health, responsible design, irresponsible design, education, play, meditation, neuroscience and brand building for cities. And, in some miraculously found moments between all that content, we were entertained and soothed by a variety of artistic pursuits rarely associated with business discussion, from cartooning to piano, singing and painting.
But why are innovation and creativity taking up so much airtime in business discourse?
Either we are determined to become socially and environmentally responsible all of a sudden, or developed economies are waking up to the thought that they have to come up with new ideas to remain globally competitive. (After all, Australia, you can’t keep digging stuff out the ground and flogging it on, forever.)
The two schools of thought on this go something like…
- Western economic nations have painted humanity into a tight corner with their focus on growth, consumption, more growth, more consumption. We are running out of just about everything we need to survive as a species: space, water, fuel, food, clean air. This is a big thorny problem, one that some say can only be tackled by new kinds of thinking.
- It’s a matter of economic competitiveness. Take a look at statistics on patent registration around the world. Now compare them to those on national economic growth. There is a correlation. China, India and Korea have shown five, three and two and a half fold growth in the number of patents registered per capita of population in recent years. In developed nations, patent registration is slowing. In the UK and in Japan there’s negative growth. It seems, perhaps, new ideas are drivers of economic growth.
Whatever the reason, creativity and innovation are without doubt the new business black. But does the constant picking over of what creates creativity and sparks innovative thinking work? Or is it mid-life crisis navel gazing of mature economies in search of meaning?
To Austin Williams our potential to innovate is massively restricted by risk averse, precautionary parameters about what innovation should look like: sustainable, responsible, socially acceptable, for starters. Creativity, he says is stifled from birth.
But that’s just what he says. Thirty other speakers gave their insights and thoughts on creative thinking and innovative thinking practice over the three days of Creative Innovation 2010. Some agreed with Williams, some didn’t. But it was the diversity of thought and the opportunity to challenge that set CI2010 apart. Without critical thought and the confidence to challenge, can there be true creativity or meaningful innovation?
Short summaries of some of speakers key points are below. Videos will be online shortly and we’ll link to them as soon as they are. Have a browse, and see what you think.
Professor Jonathan West, Australian Innovation Research Centre, The innovation myth
The myth of innovation is that it arises from creativity. Innovation results from a lot of hard work over a long time, testing, creating and commericialising. Innovation is about changing the system into which the innovation plays. The 3 most important innovations of 20th century are: fixing energy into nitrogen, the atomic bomb, and containerisation (the container system for transport). In common they have the creation of a large scale and complex system to support them. For containerisation, it was a matter of reengineering a whole international infrastructure: ships, ports, dockers, trains, trucks and so on, but once achieved, global trade exploded.
We live in a complex world, with complex systems. Innovation is inefficient because it is about system change and we design our systems to be impossible to change.
Andrew MacLeod, CEO, Committee for Melbourne, Melbourne Innovative City
Presented the concept that the branding for the city of Melbourne should be the new paradigm in internatonal aid – to foster private and public sector development for investment, and for Melbourne to become to private sector investment and administration of international aid, what Geneva is to public sector investment and administration of aid.
Edward de Bono, Rethinking the future
Climate change is not the biggest problem facing humanity – the poor quality of our thinking is. And the fact that we don’t understand just how poor it is. Creative thinking has been trained out of us, because it hasn’t been valued. Now we need a Palace of Thinking where new ideas can be looked at and explored. Only by improving our thinking can we improve the ways we deal with some of the big issues facing us.
Michael Smith, CEO, ANZ Bank, Innovation and the rise of Asia – new opportunities, new risks
The rise of Asia offers new opportunity and new risks for business. ANZ Bank is one of fastest growing banks in Asia. Any large business that does not have a strategy that engages in Asia is exposing itself to risk. Successful strategies to compete in the Asian market must be innovative.
What do you need to innovate:
- Shared mindset
- Shared logic
- Shared discipline (how to collaborate and create new knowledge accross organisations, not just recreating existing knowledge.
Claire Penniceard, Pork farmer, Failure, farming and food security
Claire Penniceard bred and raised hardy independent self managing beef cattle, on a zero input enterprise – no supplements no hay, no fertilizers. She bred grand champions but it was not economically or environmentally sustainable. She was the best, but the best was not good enough.
Having explored issues of dietary energy and food security around the world within parameters like environmental sustainability and animal friendliness, she walked off her successful beef farm to go into pig farming. It takes 74 of best beef farms to equal in production what one great pig farm does. Now she produces nine million dollars worth of export quality pig. They are housed and managed to enact all their natural life.
Dr Peter Farrell AM, CEO, ResMed, Innovation and entrepreneurship, the engines of economic growth
Entrepreneurs are often considered to be risk takers. They are not. They are opportunity seekers. Innovation is not creativity but requires it. Innovation occurs when a concept is anointed by the marketplace, when someone writes you a cheque. When we apply a new technology to something we know it’s called productivity, but when we apply it to something new it’s called innovation.
Stefan Cassomenos, Pianist, conductor, composer, From improvisation to composition
Failure is part of the creative process, and Cassomenos believes his entire process of composition depends on failure in some way before creativity is born.
Professor Patrick McGorry, Executive Director, Orygen Youth Health, Australian of the Year, Mental health and mental wealth
Australia’s health is its greatest natural resource, yet mental health is seriously neglected. It effects four to five million Australians and is the greatest killer in Australians under the age of 40.
Yet in terms of mental health care, an apartheid system exists: compare the facilities provided, staff numbers, visitors even flowers delivered to a patient with breast cancer, to those someone hospitalised for a mental health problem receives.
Professor Stephen Heppell, Director, ULTRALAB, Playful learning and why we all need cheering up
Play in learning is joyful, it surprises, challenges and engages. It teaches us to cope with the unexpected. Yet we lose sight of playfulness on our learning journey through life. We have to put play back into the centre of learning if we are going to be flexible thinkers, able to cope with change and with the unexpected.
Professor Peter Shergold, AC, The Centre for Social Impact, Empowering communities to transform democracy
Exciting and innovative stuff happens at the margins often on poorly funded pilot programs, where needs are greatest. The challenge for Australia is to become a hot bed of social innovation – political innovation and community innovation, drawing on a history of such initiatives as bush nursing.
Mark Scott, Managing Director, ABC, Building the digital town square
Fifty people in rural Australia are taking production skills and facilities to the communities, teaching people to put their stories online. If we can collaborate and share our stories we will understand each other more and have a real national conversation recognising the choice and expertise of the community is just as interesting as anything the ABC has to offer.
The experience of the Q&A audience which is growing every week has shown the value of audience led current affairs.
The future is not a place we are going is a place we are making.
Austin Williams, Director, Future Cities Project, Constructing communities, a contradiction in terms?
What is it about communities that politicians are trying to capture and bottle and sell back to us as the elixir of new ways of living? Why is it the community motif which means local and parochial is becoming central to national agenda? Three key elements of a healthy community are: voluntarism, purposefulness and autonomy. Initiatives like the big lunch which funded neighbourhood lunch events in the UK, are corrosive and insular. Is the world around you your neighbourhood or is it a bigger place? Communities are things of flux and change and should transcend the merely local. We are being taught to be good citizens rather than to be educated citizens – but through education comes citizenship.
David Rock, CEO, Results Coaching Systems, The neuroscience of creativity
We have a very small capacity for solving problems in a linear way. Most of the problems we solve at work are too big for our conscious resources so we have to access the unconscious which, relative to the conscious area of the brain is like tapping into the Milky Way.
The neuroscience of insight is the culmination of five years of study on how we can have more insights.
The four faces of insight are:
1. Awareness of an impasse, you need to stop and focus on what is not working.
2. Reflection reflection is required for insight to occur, because insight requires low electrical activity. Insights like the ring of a quiet mobile phone at loud party. Anxiety stops insights because it creates electrical signals which can drowned out the quiet electrical signals of insight.
Reflection is internally focussed. It’s relaxed and low effort.
You only need about 2 seconds of quiet to have the insight
Even a tiny threat can inhibit problem solving and insight.
3. Insight, at the moment of insight, dopamine-like substances are released. Having an insight changes the brain and packs a lot of positive energy.
4. Action, insight brings short term urgency for action. Action increases attention density. Attention density deepens insight.
Michael Rennie, Managing Partner, McKinsey and Co, Necessity is the mother of invention
Working at McKinsey and Co is working with the crack troops of western capitalism. Yet Managing Partner, Michael Rennie talked about bringing love to business – a place where there is more likely to be fear. There are two parts to innovation – the creative idea and and making the idea useful and applied. We are all creative. We don’t allow for reflection at work and most of our insights don’t happen at work.
Business21C was a sponsor of Creative Innovation 2010.