The European Commissions Innovation Convention 2011
I was planning to go to this convention held in Brussels over December 5th & 6th, 2011, but eventually was forced to stay back in the office to complete some work for different projects I’m working on. Thankfully the main conference was on line so I was able to follow it, even if a little selectively.
I’m sure you agree conferences or in this case a convention, are often ‘variable feasts’, you never find everything appealing or valuable to you but even at a distance, I did find plenty of interesting areas in those sessions I was able to watch. I hope they make many of the sessions freely available post-convention as they have much to draw ‘inspiration and understanding’ from for all of us.
I’m not planning this as a detailed report of the convention but to reflect and comment about why I think it provided a good contribution to the innovation debate(s), especially here in Europe. We do need to ‘tune in’ more on what these events can offer, if managed well, in depth and breadth of innovation’s scope. I’m singling out some of the more striking moments for me.
The intent of the Convention
The Innovation Convention is to become an essential part of the Innovation Union flagship initiative. It will take place on a regular basis to take stock of the progress made towards the objectives of the Innovation Union and to discuss ways forward with a broader perspective in the global innovative economy. This particular one was opened by the President of the European Commission, Mr. José Manuel Barroso and had about 1,200 or more selected participants.
I got the impression Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation, and Science came and went. From my own past experiences you get invited to speak and participant yet the convenor of the convention and responsible for innovation at the top of the EU were not around to listen to want you want to say. Clearly there are many within the DG research and innovation that can brief her and of course I hope they have that chance, there was a lot of great comments to reflect upon.
Also what I gathered also from the twitter chatter she did spend some good time touring the many exhibitors participating as well. It is never easy as a convener to be in all places at one time. Actually I would have felt the same with a number of different and interesting sessions with a choice of plenary, parallel and fringe sessions all competing for the participant’s time as well as visiting the exhibitions and do the required networking.
Why was it valuable?
When you are able to attract such an array of top flight speakers and contributors to the innovation debate you are going to gain much and also desperately wish you could have had more.
The opening session was explosive, in a positive way
The opening session excellently facilitated by Ann Mettler of the Lisbon Council was threatening to be explosive, in a positive way. The panel after warming up got into their strides moving from global innovation, working with young people examining many of the obstacles within the EU for innovation to overcome. I have to say Ben Verwaagen, the CEO of Alcatel-Lucent was terrific in throwing in the constructive bombs, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz mopping up the fragments and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chair & MD of Biocon Ltd offering some really useful and insightful observations from her Indian perspective of looking into the EU. The two other participants Jean-Paul Agon, CEO of L’Oreal and Silva Venturini Fendi of Fendi Associates, keeping pulling us back to thoughtful aspects of where innovation works and why, from their perspective.
This was simply a terrific session that could have gone on all day from my point of view with such an expert panel. You could not have asked for a better opening session on drawing out issues, problems and barriers but plenty of constructive solutions. One very telling takeaway was how the EU has got very insular, inward and introspective. In its time of crisis if the EU draws (even more) in, it will lose out eventually.
Kiran Mazumdar- Shaw spoke about affordable innovation models, which we have ‘boxed’ here in the West as ‘frugal’ or possibly ‘reverse’ innovation. I like the real difference she offered- affordable. This reflects not just Indians current need as they are in many developing countries but increasingly will be the innovation approach here in the West. We do need to break this constant churning consumption habit and affordable and lasting need to be more built into the “West’s” changing set of watch words to adopt.
The Delivering Better Healthcare debate
The panel of Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, Andrew Witty and Marc Koska of Lifesaver gave us the sheer dimensions and complexity of healthcare and where innovation is playing its part.
- It provided shocking reality on the ground from Marc Koska and how his organization is innovating to overcome given issues.
- Also the really thoughtful ways GlaxoSmithKline are responding to their social pressures and commitments by opening up facilities, patents and working through a difficult path of innovation change going on with the Pharmaceutical industry. The whole change within Pharma is evolving in front of our eyes.
- Ms.Chan added dimension upon dimension on the complexity of world heath. You came away with what a multitude of problems there to be resolved and where innovation has such opportunity.
I could go on and on about the values you could have taken away from these different sessions and the so many other ones that went on outside of the main hall sessions. Those sessions alone that I’ve mentioned just fill you head with so much possibility and identification, to engage and find distinctive ways to contribute.
Often the draw in conventions is the big name key note speakers.
Having Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman delivering his personal thoughts around “In Search of a Better Problem”, Don Tapscott on “Innovation in the Age of Networked Intelligence.” Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryan Air opened the second day’s session with no more than anyone who has heard him before would expect; a lively, entertaining but valid set of criticisms and lots of poking fun at the EU on “Doing Innovation his (or Ryan airs) Way”.
Michael O’Leary also led a Master class where young innovators presented their case to the audience and Mr O’ Leary contributing his views as a coach. Pupils for the Master Classes were provided by The European Young Innovators Forum and The European BIC Network and I sometimes wondered if the Irish wit, interpretation and thoughts offered by Michael O’Leary fitted.
What did come across ‘in barrel loads’ was the need for passion, commitment, sheer determination and personal belief and that is just some of the attributes that Michael O’Leary has in abundance.
Some personal disappointments
As I mentioned conventions are a mixed bag. I really would have liked to have listened more to Sam Pitroda, the Innovation advisor to the Prime minister of India. Also for me, Will Hutton, executive vice-chair of the Work Foundation, just seemed subdued and not as insightful as he can be. Both were involved in the social innovation session
The climate change debate just seemed to ‘bob along’ and for many others I just had no time or opportunity to tune in unfortunately.
The real personal disappointment was the Open innovation and public policy in Europe session offered by Professor Henry Chesbrough.
The session was billed as: “ that large, vertically integrated R&D laboratory systems of the 20th century are giving way to more vertically disintegrated networks of innovation that connect numerous companies into ecosystems. Since innovation policy ultimately rests on the activities and initiatives of the private sector, it is vital that policy follows this evolution. New research and analysis on open innovation, for the Science Business Innovation Board AISBL, results in a series of recommendations for public policies that could, if implemented, improve the climate for open innovation to take place in the European Union – and thereby improve the competitiveness of the European economy overall. Taken together, these recommendations comprise an informal ‘charter’ for EU open innovation policy”.
So I was certainly expecting some depth in this area of rich potential of open innovation within Europe.
Why was it such a disappointment for me?
Sadly it got caught up in a potted history of open innovation. We went back in time and at least fifty percent of the talk was ‘locked in the past’. I understand context and Professor Chesbrough is rich in this ground laying but I was hopeful we would be looking out in the future through his charter and he failed to get into living up to the billing.
Instead he ‘hinted’ at this and promised more would come from a fringe session. Then you learn his report released by the ScienceBusiness will come out after this session, and cost 35 UK pounds to buy. So a document about open innovation and public policy in Europe, sponsored by a number of well known companies comes at a cost. That for me demonstrates closed innovation not open innovation. What a pity.
The value of such a convention is what you gain out of it.
I clearly was happy to ‘participate’ in this convention, even at a distance. The flow of ‘tweets’ also added value for me in gauging different reactions. It is getting interesting that one of the bellwethers at conferences is the level of tweet chatter, you do get some really interesting reflections and comments and these are getting closer to ‘live’ feedback.
I heard for the ‘geeks’ in the convention they had limited space to type, while sitting in the conference hall, whereas I had the ‘luxury’ of being in my office, managing my day on two computers, listening to the convention, tweeting where necessary and getting on with the work that held me back from going.
The organizers should be congratulated. It seemed to me to be a highly organized set of events attracting 1,200 people, plenty of high quality speakers and an awful lot of messages that bubbled up on innovation to reflect upon. I just hope there is a significant evaluation taking place on what was offered if it is going to be an annual event to take stock of innovations progress within the EU.
For those that missed it, here is a link onto the site and let’s hope the EU makes available different video recordings so many more can share in this event and gain much from its contribution. Just check in to see if this happens as I’ve just been told (it will likely take a week or so to do this). Also ‘pencil’ this event in for next year. I certainly did.
Paul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.