Innovation Sherpa

September 23, 2008

First up keynote at KM World is John Kao, starting off very autobiographical with a whole list of complementary names he has been called over the years. One of the more interesting ones in the title, it means he knows where to go in the mountains and we can all follow him. Refuses to disclose nickname given to him by his former students at Harvard. Anyone out there know?

Half an hour in and the valid point has been made that creativity and innovation are related but they are not the same thing. Now going into Harvard speak taking about global value chains and the need for clear goals for innovation (not sure if that is an oxymoron).

Incredible statement: After the War there was only one global player in innovation, we were the only player in town. What about the Jet Engine and the Hovercraft? Which country created the first computer? Partially redeemed by an acknowledgement that these days China and smaller countries like Singapore (Biopolis quoted which is a good one) are leading the way. The US can no longer assume it leads. Talking about the issue of education and the issue of employment for US kids in an off shored economy.

Making science sexy, reference to former Biopolis Director, talking about his role as serial kidnapper getting people from around the world, paying well, freeing from bureaucracy of grant applications etc. In effect a reverse brain drain. I find this ironic as the US was not worried when it did that in the 1950s and 60s to the UK (see above comments on jet engine, hovercraft and computer). Actually I don;t think he fully gets the Singapore point. It’s not just about investment, its also about thinking in ten and twenty year cycles rather than this quarter’s results or next month’s opinion polls. Nice statistic here: 35 Biopolis centres a year for the price of the war in Iraq. Over a trillion dollars to get US infrastructure up to standard and running out of model. Finland, Singapore and China have massive sovereign wealth in comparison. Rightly says this is a daunting challenge.

Says will conclude by talking about national strategies for innovation, but talks about the way a Silicon ~Valley entrepreneurs use outsourced programmers rather than employing in the US. Systems integration therefore becomes an important strategy for the US. Not at all sure this is about innovation, this is about business models for exploitation of discovered capability. Mind you when he started on value chains and goals I suppose this was inevitable. Actually I think this is a real problem for some people in the US (and UK), they think immediately in terms of commercial exploitation (build the company, sell it fast move on) rather than true value creation. I am using value here in a very different way from John.

Oh its over, good talk about aspects of economics but nothing about innovation which is a disappointment. My next door neigbour (we are sitting on the back row) says he is angling to be head of innovation in the US. Interesting idea, but innovation is not the same thing as economics but he is listening to what other countries are doing which is refreshing. My other neigbour has just said How can he talk about innovation and not even mention the question of if we will survive as a species. Love that, love my neighbors.

Finishing with a video of him on the Colbert report. Seeing how it went this is an example of true self deprecation and modesty, and hearing it I think I agree with my first neighbour! Watch it though, John is trying to make some good points but Colbert is brilliant.

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About the Cynefin Company

The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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