Just back from the International Society for Professional Innovation Management Dynamics of Innovation conference in Bilbao, Spain. Its purpose: to support professionals who are influencing changes in business and government through
- open innovation and collaboration: external, implementation, networks, customers, management, knowledge, intermediaries, approaches
- networks and technology transfer
- business models and value
- ideas and crowd sourcing
- measurement and performance
- people in innovation, including training
- service innovation
- ideas and initiatives
- commercializing and financing innovation
- user-focused innovation
- supporting leaders and teams find new ways of sustaining and growing business
- knowledge management
- managing innovation
- regional innovation and EU funded projects
- foresight and future
- corporate focus
- innovation and the web
- technology transfer
- programs and policy
Risk, mistake, certainty, project management, failure were sub-themes running through presentations and break conversations with very little glimmer of hope, excitement and eager anticipation.
Meeting tone and flow
The venue was superb, Palacio Euskalduna, named the World’s Best Congress Center in 2003. Wi-fi throughout. Spacious. Modern.
How else did the organizers set the tone for the meeting? All was predictable. The opening plenary sessions were presented by men, researchers mostly, who, when asked about their assumptions regarding innovation (a generic creative thinking approach) they were taken aback to reconsider their beliefs.
- On registering participants were given a bright red shoulder bag, ISPIM emblazoned boldly on its side in white. Inside, 10 kilos (22 pounds) of printed material and a CD containing all papers/presentations to be held over the next few days.
- Participants identified their bags using a rubber band attached to their business cards. Hole punchers were provided for this do-it-yourself activity.
- The lectures were given in a standard auditorium/classroom style, complete with the requisite power point slides (limit 10 per presenter).
- Many presenters were either doctoral students or professors in innovation management.
- Conference presentations focused heavily on method more so than practical uses.
- Each concurrent section of four 15-minute presentations contained a moderated question and discussion period.
- No break occurred between speakers to process the information. One speaker’s time began immediately after the preceding one finished.
- Information of what each session would present was involving and not simple to access. It was necessary to cross-reference between a handout and booklet to discover the content of sessions from which to select.
- Lunch was buffet style with not enough chairs for all to sit. Some stood at bar tables, others walked around the room holding their plates as if at a cocktail party. The menu repeated each day, the same.
- I asked about the demographics of the study subjects in several sessions. That is, how many women made up their samples. Few reported even 10%. Is it possible the research presented may not serve well as generalizable information?
- Innovation is understood differently and actualized uniquely from person to person. An overall definition of innovation was not given. Few speakers gave clarity to their understanding of the word, they just used it, assuming others used the term in the same way.
- There is no basic set of competencies for innovation professionals. As in the creativity professional realm, it seems anyone with the gumption, desire and business savvy can enter the field.
- Few presenters include creativity in their innovation processes, and when they do, it occurs during ideation phases.
- The conference ‘survival’ guide, stated by many long-time ISPIM attendees: work hard during the day, have fun at night. When asked what work hard means, this explanation was given by an ISPIM board member: “You have to work hard to sit through all the research presentations and ask good questions. The best part is the discussion following.” This was sometimes true. Many presentations were lackluster. Although they demonstrated brilliance in method, few offered practical application. An Aussie participant ranted during lunch one day, “Where’s the so what?” Sitting through the sessions was work.
What about the creativity?
The creativity was planned and scheduled. It was not interwoven throughout the program and when it was a focus, participants saw the results offered by accomplished others. There were no sticky bits, no affect of overcoming a struggle, few euphoric eurekas.
Evening programs were held; one at the Guggenheim museum, the other at the Michelin rated Basque chef Eneko Atxa winery – the Azurmundi Restaurant & Txakoli Wine Cellar. This is where the creativity demonstrations occurred. It was presented, not engaged (except for the name tagging of conference bags mentioned above) and not made relevant to innovation in overt ways.
Participants roamed freely through the Guggenheim galleries before dinner in the main foyer. Hors d’oeuvres and champagne were served. The not-oreo cookies, olive biscuits stuffed with goat cheese treats were particularly inventive.
Don’t get me wrong, the program content provided multiple insights into the world of innovation and those who populate it. The people at the conference were friendly, talented, and focused.
My biggest take-away? Professionals in innovation management know little about how to engage new ideas and new decisions to create exciting new futures. They want certainty and control, and not the messy variability of integrating the human spirit throughout their processes. Yes, there is room for creativity growth in the innovation arena.
Next year’s conference theme is sustainability, its place, Hamburg, Germany, from June 12 – 15. I’m trusting the organizers will find ways to challenge their assumptions and do things a little differently next time around so that creativity, the precursor and partner to innovation, will become a more welcome ingredient in their success.