Attending #BIF10 was rewarding. I am a first time attendee and am grateful to Deb Scofield for providing the final nudge to my registration. BIF stands for Business Innovation Factory, and they host an annual conference where storytellers share their experiences and insights into the why, how, and what they innovate and create. The conference is structured with 16 storytellers each of two days. In between the each block of four speakers, the community gathers for conversation of what was just heard.

Has Innovation Stalled?

There have been debates and conversations on whether or not innovation has stalled. A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted this argument by using two professors and their differing viewpoints. In “Economists Debate: Has All the Important Stuff Already Been Invented?,” Robert Gordon, a 73-year-old economist, argues “human progress is slowing to a crawl” while Joel Mokyr, a 67-year-old economist, “imagines a coming age of new inventions.” Both from Northwestern University; both with differing views.

Mix into this conversation the view of Millennials. In a recent Deloitte Millennial survey, innovation is considered to be one of the top three ‘purposes’ of business and just as important as profit. Millennials place a high priority on innovation.

Innovation will continue to happen. At times, there is a feeling of being stuck, and some of this may come from the current economic condition of seemly sustained uncertainty. We are looking for the “next big thing” to pull us up and restore our sense of optimism of what is possible.

Enter the BIF10 Storytellers

After all the storyteller messages have settled into my thoughts, it appears to me there is a real dichotomy in innovation. There are two sides to innovation and creativity. Through the 32 BIF10 Storytellers, here are some examples:

  • Young and Old: There were teen innovators and there were the “Dick Clark” innovators, older yet looking energized by what is possible. Both had a sense of experiencing or understanding problems and applying their ingenuity, resources, and efforts to solve them. Yes, there is a resolve in solving challenges and pursuing a new, better society or solution.
  • Laughter and Sadness: People laughed through illustrations and cried through the terror inflicted on others. Through each, people recovered from their laughter and tears and pursued innovative initiatives to release and create. Just as a joke may be a “radical alternative” so is grief. Both tap into our soul and growth begins to appear.
  • Big and Small: Entrepreneurs get a lot of credit for innovation and creativity, yet traditional, larger organizations also contain pockets of initiatives to change the world. Both are innovating in their own ways. Both need to be encouraged, studied, and unleashed.
  • Art and Technology: The artists were present as were the technology evangelists. Innovation comes through the beauty of what is seen and heard, no matter if mechanical or artistic. Both can learn from each other, and there is potential beauty in each.
  • Profit and Nonprofit: Innovation blooms within organizations pursuing a cause or a profit. Purpose has a place in both. A common denominator is people. People create, solve, pursue. The outcomes, if properly adopted, used, and adapted over time, raise up our standards of living and sharing.
Artwork of BIF10 Storytellers by Dean Meyers
Sample Artwork of BIF10 Storytellers by Dean Meyers

BIF10 highlighted the dichotomy of innovation and showed there really aren’t two sides. BIF10 brought the two sides together in unexpected and rewarding ways.

Inspiration + Connection = Innovation

What stuck with me then is this simple formula:  Inspiration + Connection = Innovation. The BIF10 storytellers shared their inspiration, igniting a certain spark in each of us. The conversations in the “in between” space mixed in the human connection to listen, understand, and engage.

Connection is about community, and the community was open to interact and explore ways to collaborate after the two days of inspiration. When the right mix of inspiration and connection happens, innovation is the result. In reality, the true result is a better society. This is our challenge, no matter our generation.

For me, some of the inspirational thoughts and challenges from the BIF10 storytellers include:

  • Develop a daily practice for creativity
  • Listen twice, build once
  • Build on what works in communities, not what’s broken
  • Have we over-specialized? 1982 is the last time someone studied general management
  • Innovation happens with work and curiosity
  • Know who you are. Have a vision. Grab the bull by the horns.
  • What is your voice and how does it change through your ages?
  • What assumptions are you still making? Are they still valid?
  • Fallible humans make the best decisions possible at the time. Change them when better information is available.
  • Clarify, Verify, Simplify, Modify, Amplify
  • Cartoonists are aware of the world around them (be aware)
  • How can we unleash the potential of next generation of problem-solvers?
  • Risk of failure is what moves you forward
  • Define yourself, don’t let others define you. Bring your whole self to work.
  • What is our narrative? Does it lead to the potential or hold us back? Opportunity-based or threat-based? Pull people to the potential.

Random thoughts will not do justice to what was said or heard. Connecting random points of inspiration and challenges will not transform what we do until we engage with others and do the work to innovate. These are the actions to put innovation into action again.

Oversimplifying creates its own danger. However, when we tap into our sources of inspiration and community, great things will happen.

Do you think we are innovating less today? What needs to change or be reinforced?