What is innovation? - guest post by Tom Ilube of Garlik

Tom-Ilube-Garlik.jpgTom Ilube, pictured, is guest blogging for us from Innovation 100 at Stanford.

If you find yourself at an innovation conference, like the WEF one that I am attending in Stanford, California over the next two days, then make sure you don’t start by asking “Can we have a definition of innovation, please?”.

One brave participant tried this at the kick off session this morning and, in a room full of Professors of innovation and assorted consultants, it very nearly caused a riot!

The Arrillaga Alumni Centre, Stanford has a spacious conference hall which today is divided into segments with large, mobile, curved room dividers. Roving graphic artists stop at boards casually sketching cartoons and capturing key points that speakers are making, as they make them. Huge photos adorn the wall, colourful hand written innovation quotes are everywhere, bestselling innovation books lie around with several of their authors in the room, photographers and video cameramen capture the scene and occasional outbreaks of jazz music confirm that this conference is about innovation from head to toe.

With a mix of short, sharp presentations and breakout sessions, we kick off with Mckinsey outlining the research they have recently completed on innovation. This huge piece of research, based on analysis of over 9m patents worldwide and many other data points reveals a global map of the main innovation talent clusters. The usual suspects crop up – Silicon Valley, Tokyo, Tel Aviv and of course Bristol, UK. Wait, did I just say Bristol? Yep, it seems that when Mckinsey crunched their numbers Bristol emerges as a top talent hotspot!

My first breakout session brings together a Stanford Professor, a Boston entrepreneur, a New York corporate executive, French telecoms exec, Israeli IT exec, Tokyo academic and CEO of a London start up (me!). We had an interesting debate on what makes for successful regional clusters, including an exploration of whether geographic clusters even matter in this virtual age.

Sometimes at conferences like this, it is the random comments and odd asides that make for interesting listening. Like the patent professors assessment that most patents are just junk. The revelation that India is investing $65Billion (yes $Billion) on education over the next four years. Or the demographics presentation that revealed that by 2050 there will be over 2 billion people aged 60 and over in the world. I panicked about the implications for my business, Garlik, for a moment until I realised that I would be about 100 years old.

I was amused by the idea that a key ingredient of successful innovation clusters was lots of dysfunctional families. And that a regional cluster needed stability, but not too much stability. But I particularly enjoyed the description of the idea of writing your “failure resume”. You write your CV from the perspective of everything and every decision that has gone wrong, then stand up and present it to the group and explain what you have learnt from each failed step along the way. In the UK we talk about being comfortable with failure but I’ve never seen this done before. By the way, if you want to see my failure resume, click here.

What, you really clicked? You must think I’m crazy!