First things first. FEI2011 was an insightful and enjoyable event. I saw and learned from a lot of people doing a lot of very cool (and innovative, obviously) stuff. Maybe more important, I met a lot of people that are fascinating and passionate about their work, wherever it happens to be. And, most important (to me), I had the chance to share some of my own thinking with many of those same people. The actual event highlights are probably available at the FEI website, so I have no intention of replicating any of it.
What I noticed, particularly in the exhibition area, was interesting. Either innovation is as susceptible to follow-the-leader and the banality of fashion, or the very sharpest leading edge of the innovation industry was out in full force. What do I mean?
If you had dropped onto the plant at the Seaport World Trade Centre on Tuesday/Wednesday of this week, you would believe that the only way innovation happens on this planet right now is by “open innovation.” There seemed to be two types of vendors: those who provided “ideation;” and those who facilitated open innovation by some means. That could mean software platforms or outsourced managed services or professional consulting. In any case, everyone was prepared to help somebody else harness the power of the crowd.
In concept, open innovation makes some sense. After all, if two heads are better than one, then thousands of heads must be even… better. Besides, its the natural manifestation of the crowdsourcing movement that wants to capture the wisdom of the crowd. (Frankly, there’s a very thin line between the wisdom of the crowd and the tyranny of the mob. Maybe I’ll go there in another post.) It’s not that such services–even in such abundance–are wrong or bad. Not at all. This is likely a good tool to employ to innovate. My issue with the situation is that it feels like the pendulum has swung wildly off in one direction. There was no other alternative to choose from: only flavours of the same service.
That was a gap in the exhibition. Not a flaw, mind you, but a gap. The fault, such as there might be, rests at the feet of anybody providing a service or capability that affords a reasonable alternative to open innovation. Why weren’t you there?