These days, everyone knows that Israel is an innovation powerhouse. The “start- up”nation is now home to many major players in the high tech industry – such as Google, Intel, IBM, Facebook, Microsoft and many others – and was ranked No.5 out of 50 in the Bloomberg Business Global Innovation Index.
This month I was invited to speak at iNNOVEX 2015 in Tel Aviv, Israel’s annual conference dedicated to encouraging technological innovation, where the largest high tech companies, the leading academic institutions, and the relevant government organizations all come together to push the next generation of technology innovations forward. Needless to say, it was a really inspiring event – a melting pot of cutting-edge companies and tech entrepreneurs that generated lots of conversation and collaboration around emerging innovation opportunities – in particular, stuff like 5G mobile communication, wearable computing, big data, smart cars, cyber security, medical apps and tools, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
All this alone would have been enough reason to make the trip. But the organizers of iNNOVEX had also given me another incentive – to pick up the prestigious “Global Leader of Innovation” Award 2015 for my work in the innovation field, an honor I was to share with two of my all-time innovation heroes, Dean Kamen (best known as the inventor of the Segway), and Ray Kurzweil, the legendary inventor and futurist, and a director of engineering at Google. The closing session and award ceremony gave me a chance to listen closely to these two innovation titans as they shared their own passion for creating the future.
Dean Kamen (second from left) receiving the “Global Leader of Innovation” Award 2015 from Prof. Eugene Kandel, Head of National Economic Council, Prime Minister’s Office
If you don’t know much about Dean Kamen, check him out. This prolific inventor has filed an incredible 440 patents and has brought a long list of breakthrough innovations into the world – from the insulin pump and an all-terrain wheelchair to robotic prosthetic limbs, a cheap portable water purification system, and of course the Segway self-balancing human transporter. Dean has been described as “a cross between Thomas Edison and Bruce Wayne” (I would also throw in a good dose of Tony Stark, “Doc” Emmet Brown, and Willy Wonka). Dean, who is a little eccentric to say the least, owns his own private island off the coast of Connecticut that has its own flag, currency, national anthem, constitution, newspaper, and even a navy (one amphibious vehicle!). That’s where you’ll find his huge, personal laboratory. Oh, and also a replica of Stonehenge.
Then there’s Dean’s house, which he calls “Westwind,” in in Bedford, New Hampshire, which is packed full with gadgets, tools and curiosities – like a 25-ton steam engine that once belonged to Henry Ford which is situated in the center atrium of the house. Some have described the building as a “mini-Smithsonian.” In a hangar beneath the house is Dean’s two-seater, Enstrom 480 personal helicopter, which can take him to the roof of his Deka offices in Manchester, NH, in about three-and-a-half minutes. Dean is consistently ranked as one of the greatest engineers and innovators of our time.
What touched me when Dean spoke about innovation was his almost childlike fascination with turning the seemingly impossible into the possible. He described invention as “fun”, but looking at some of his work and hearing the way he talks about it, you come away knowing that Dean wants to do things that are truly meaningful and that are beneficial to mankind. Most of his efforts have been directed toward inventions in the medical field, and his “Slingshot” water purification system is aimed at improving living standards for hundreds of millions of people in developing countries.
Dean also talked about the deep satisfaction he receives from his activities with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the program he founded over 25 years ago to get students interested in science, technology, and engineering. He says it’s the invention he is “most proud of,” and predicts that the 1 million students who have taken part in FIRST competitions over the years will be responsible for world-changing innovations in the future.
I would have been blown away just to meet and listen to Dean Kamen at the conference, which I was privileged to do, but next up was another of my all-time innovation giants, Ray Kurzweil. So much has been said and written about Ray over the last decades that it’s difficult to know what to add. He has been described as “the restless genius” by The Wall Street Journal, and “the ultimate thinking machine” by Forbes. He was called the “rightful heir to Thomas Edison,” by Inc. magazine, and PBS selected Ray as one of 16 “revolutionaries who made America,” along with other inventors of the past two centuries. He is considered one of the world’s leading inventors, thinkers, and futurists, with a 30-year track record of accurate predictions.
Ray’s long list of inventions includes the first CCD flatbed scanner, the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first text-to-speech synthesizer, the first music synthesizer capable of recreating the grand piano and other orchestral instruments, and the first commercially marketed large-vocabulary speech recognition. He is now a Director of Engineering at Google, heading up a team that is working on machine intelligence. Apparently, his one-sentence job description from Google CEO Larry Page is: “to bring natural language understanding to Google.”
Ray’s last book, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed is a permanent fixture on my desk and was very influential for my own new book The Four Lenses of Innovation (published in just over a week!). You may notice this influence in several parts of my new book, in particular those entitled “The Mind of The Innovator,” “The Power of Patterns,” and “How Big Ideas are Built” (Ray is also quoted with reference to his study of the human neocortex).
When Ray Kurzweil spoke at the iNNOVEX conference and award ceremony, his focus – like Dean Kamen’s – was on what we can do to improve life for future generations by using the power of innovation. He shared his vision of technology’s great potential for ultimately defeating the aging process and even extending life expectancy indefinitely. For Ray, this is not a pipe dream but simply a matter of time and tech.
I came away from iNNOVEX 2015 with renewed faith in the spirit of innovation that is clearly alive and well, not just in Israel but around the globe. The incredible excitement of the future is that we can create it – and we are creating it. What an honor to share the “Global Leader of Innovation” Award 2015 with such geniuses as Dean Kamen and Ray Kurzweil. For me, it was a humbling yet very proud moment – an unforgettable experience!
Rowan Gibson (second from left) receiving the “Global Leader of Innovation” Award 2015 from Prof. Eugene Kandel, Head of National Economic Council, Prime Minister’s Office
Innovation Excellence co-founder Rowan Gibson delivers his keynote speech at iNNOVEX 2015 in Tel Aviv
Dean Kamen and Rowan Gibson exploring the topic of innovation as “fun”
Rowan Gibson with Sol Gradman, CEO, ASG Ltd., Chairman of iNNOVEX and the The Israeli High Tech CEO Forum
Rowan and his wife Zulma share a proud moment together after event
“Megatrends” legend John Naisbitt with Rowan Gibson at iNNOVEX 2015
© Rowan Gibson 2015. All rights reserved.
image credits: wikimedia.org; pictures taken at iNNOVEX2015 by Koby Kantor
Rowan Gibson’s brand new book The Four lenses of Innovation examines the thinking patterns or perspectives that have been catalysts for breakthrough innovation throughout human history, and shows you how to use these perspectives to infuse creativity into your own organization. Order your copy right here.
Rowan Gibson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on innovation. He is the internationally bestselling author of 3 major books, an award-winning keynote speaker in 60 countries, and a cofounder of Innovation Excellence. His new book is The Four lenses of Innovation. On Twitter he is @RowanGibson.