Grab Innovation Social By The Horns

This week I attended the sixth annual summit of Innovation Social in the picturesque Crypt on The Green.

Founded in 2012 by Daniele Fiandaca and Nadya Powell (co-founders of Utopia), Lizzie Shupack (Co-Founder of Curve), Will Harvey (VCCP) and Lawrence Weber from Karmarama, Innovation Social is a community that brings together innovation leaders in order to inspire them to accelerate ‘innovation thinking’ in their own businesses. In the words of Lawrence Weber, “Innovation Social is AA for people who are itching to do things differently.”

From humble beginnings in 2012 (a handful of attendees at its first event) Innovation Social has grown to multiple meet-ups throughout the year, and this year’s annual summit – now known as ‘Innovation Stories attracted over 250 people.

A trailer for one of ‘The Void’s main attractions: Star Wars: Secrets of The Empire

After a year of rapid progress in VR technology, it was fitting that the event’s first speaker was Curtis Hickman, owner of The Void – a ‘hyper reality’ company. In a brilliant and inspiring presentation Curtis showcased the unorthodox thinking and innovative methods that were used adapt VR tech for a mass audience. Curtis received the ‘Best Speaker of the Night’ accolade, and in doing so probably sold out The Void for the next month.

Next up was the ‘first blockchain media agency’ – truth. Built around the incorruptible smart transactions created by blockchain technology, truth’s aim is to clear the muddied waters of the media industry supply chain and create a truly transparent business that benefits both supplier and producer. This may be the first of a new wave of media agencies, or it may fade into the ether of ‘the blockchain fad’. Either way, it was a display of innovation at the cutting edge.

We then heard from the Virgin Venture Capital Lead who spoke about the entrepreneurial culture that spans their organisation and the processes they have in place to encourage creativity and innovation.

Listening to the presentation by Virgin, it struck me that clients seem to be ahead of the curve concerning innovation. Compared to agencies at least, they currently have a better conception of the long-term value of innovation. For starters, they have clear processes in place to inspire and hire people who have a natural curiosity about technology. Once hired, these people are supported throughout the business even when they fail – which, as failure is part and parcel of innovation, happens often.

But in agencies, failure is a cloudy area. The need to succeed and keep doing what you have always done for fear of making mistakes is prevalent, especially in the economic climate we find ourselves in. But we have to remember that being an advocate of risk is key for those who work in innovation, a fact that was iterated by numerous speakers throughout the event.

The next speaker was Shilen Patel, the founder of Distill Ventures, a company that works with Diageo. Shilen works with entrepreneurs who estimate culture gaps and create future insights for the alcohol industry up to two years in advance. As with the other speakers, Shilen reiterated the need for risk taking, and brought forward one particular example to illustrate his point: Seedlip.

Seedlip is a non-alcoholic gin brand, one of the first in the UK, and has its origins in a trend projection from almost 5 years ago. Seeing the decline in alcohol consumption and changing consumer attitudes, it was unclear to many corporations how they would adapt to face the future. But with the foresight of analysis and the attitude of risk-taking, Shilen was able to counsel Diageo through the project despite multiple setbacks along the way, to create what would become a successful brand.

The first session finished with Brink, a company who create change using innovation across Africa. Their examples were humbling and inspirational: Zipline, which uses drone technology to deliver blood to remote parts of Africa; contraceptive vending machines in Rwanda to lessen deaths associated with childbirth in young teens; and in Tanzania, a cloud-based system to pay for water using oyster cards.

After cake and tea, we started the later session with a Q&A on how to create and foster a culture of innovation. Throughout the answers, three main themes shone through: start with talent that is over-qualified and can run fast to allow you to get to an answer quicker; have a clear vision and a set budget that you work to; and finally, make ‘being curious’ requirement for all employees.

Rewind finished the event alongside the Sky VR team, and they both shared their journeys from 2D to 3D to 4D immersive experience. One example was the David Attenborough museum, a hyper reality experience that puts you in a room with the man himself.

Leaving the event, I reflected on how ‘innovation’ and innovative thinking is becoming commonplace across all sectors, and how exciting this is for agencies and brands. A McKinsey survey of 2,000 executives in industries affected by digital disruption showed that those with the highest revenue led the disruption in innovation or were fast adaptors making big bets across their businesses on innovative products, digital processes and even entirely new business models.

With machine learning accelerating technology at speed we now demand more and more from our communications. But what machines cannot do and will be unable to do (for a while at least) is be innovative creative thinkers. We are entering an age in which creativity is more key than ever before and we should be concentrating on leveraging emerging technology with creative flair that can solve a real business problem.

St Luke’s rating 8/10 – insightful and brimming with innovation but could have had fewer speakers

Nikki Wilkinson, Director of Digital Strategy

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