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Scattered notes from Dots

§ Brighton · Conferences

The inaugural Dots conference, organised by the nice folk at Brilliant Noise, provided a very enjoyable day on the loose subject of innovation. I was in a mood to listen rather than take notes but I did jot down a few bits and bobs. Here they are made into some sentences. Far more detailed notes can be found on the Dots website.

Russell Davies

Opening the day, Russell reprised his GOV.UK talk. It’s interesting and remains an inspirational (and useful) story but one I’ve heard many times before in various guises from either Russell, Ben or Leisa. That said Russell was his usual entertaining self (although not approaching his magnificent performance at dConstruct 2012) and there were many surprised cats.

Hugh Garry

Hugh Garry, director of Storythings, will certainly be remembered for weaving the story of Spandau Ballet through his talk.

Anyone remember when Spandau Ballet were a brilliant band?

I’d certainly agree that To Cut A Long Story Short is a fine song. Anyway Hugh’s talk riffed on ideas and how to get them. He mentioned the book A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young. He quoted Tom Waites (actually Elizabeth Gilbert paraphrasing Tom Waites on Radiolab):

There are songs you have to sneak up on, like you’re hunting for a rare bird. And there are songs that come fully intact, like a dream taken through a straw. And there are songs that you find little bits of, like pieces of gum underneath a desk, and you scrape them off and you put them together and you make something out of it. And there are songs, he said, that need to be bullied…

Garry advised us pseudo-scientifically to use the back of our brain (responsible for the subconscious) rather than the pre-front context, responsible for planning. Or, referring back to the demise of Spandau Ballet, never to swap a synthesiser for a saxophone. Amen to that.

Ian Crocombe

Ian Crocombe of Evolver was about using data to get your innovation initiative supported. Essentially when pitching your idea to senior stakeholders, who as a whole are demonstrably conservative and technophobic, show that your innovation can positively affect these three core metrics (in this order):

  1. Grow revenue
  2. Reduce costs
  3. Increase advocacy

Anjali Ramachandran

Anjali is Head of Innovation at PHD Media. She had some really interesting stories primarily from Asia, and India in particular, of disruptive technologies and organisations.

Surprisingly Unilever was one of these. They created a commercial radio station which ran only adverts for Unilever’s products, the difference being that it worked over phones, and crucially they phoned listeners back with the radio show so it didn’t cost listeners a thing.

Similarly Sterio.me is helping learn African learners with a free call to reinforce learning, out of the classroom.

Anjali quoted from The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff, which according to Wikipedia is ‘intended as an introduction to the Eastern belief system of Taoism for Westerners’.

Joanna Choukeir

Joanna is Design director of uscreates, a company which helps organisations create social value.

Joanna talked through some aspects of psychology and cognitive science. Talking about sticks vs carrots (‘operant conditioning’) I picked up a couple of writing apps. Write or Die being a stick which progressively deletes your last sentences if you stop writing for too long. Written? Kitten! being an app which shows you a cuddly kitten photo each time you achieve a word count goal.

Also mentioned was Unfuck your Habitat which bullies and cajoles you into keeping your place tidy and organised.

Also, just for Paul, is Trainaway which helps you plan a journey by train for which you would normally have flown.

Mark Earls

Mark talked about copying and originality. Quoting Grayson Perry’s quote in the Reith lectures:

Originality is for people with very short memories.

With a Chinese-whispers style demonstration he talked about how copying is good, particularly when there are ‘copy errors’. He pointed out that copy errors are the whole point of much of Andy Warhol’s work, that Elvis Presley copied from very many sources. And I would add that copy errors are also the foundation of actual and metaphorical evolution.

He talked about how Dave Brailsford, head honcho of British Cycling and Team Sky pro cycling talks about ‘copying from far away’ so that one sport can learn from other disciplines.

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino

Outspoken founder of Good Night Lamp (a nice idea yet to see production). Brought to our attention Vitality, a ‘healthy living rewards programme’ which seems on the face of it a positive thing, but really could be seen as an insidious intrusive of privacy from an insurance provider.

Insurance companies are very, very interested in how much you’re ready to reveal about yourself.

Alexandra warned us of the dangers of building stuff too soon, or at least releasing before they are actually ready for consumption, particularly driven by Kickstarter campaigns and the subsequent impatience of backers.

She advised to price things sensibly, in others to not be afraid of being expensive. And to design for disassembly so that components of defunct or unwanted products can be reused elsewhere.

John Willshire

Founder of Smithy, John kindly dished out Artifact Cards to everyone.

Artefact Cards were made to solve a problem. There was a communication problem between people at an event. They spoke English, but not natively, and not necessarily to the same meaning. PostIts? They’re disposable, people don’t take them seriously. But shifting into sharpies and cards makes an actual artefact, something people take seriously.

He talked a lot about attaining flow and the three triggers:

  1. Consequences. You have to balance difficulty, time and method to create some challenge.
  2. Environment. Digital is lacking in peripheral vision. You have a razor-focus on the thing in front of you. But we grew up in a varied environment. How do you create that? Well, there’s novelty – introducing something new. There’s complexity – you have to map out the jigsaw and the knock-on effects. And then there’s unpredictability.
  3. Embodiment. The card makes the fingers, the eye and the brain all concentrate.

Very enjoyable talk.

James Haycock

Very smart talk on the potential future of banks, or at least banking. He talked how banks are likely to release their own transactional (not just read-only) APIs. Personally I think the first one to do so will open the flood gates for the rest - not that we have all that much genuine choice of banks in this country - I’d like to the see the small lead this.

He also mentioned Neelie Kros, Vice President of the EU Commission leading Digital Agenda, as having many interesting things to say, for example:

Professor Martin Elliot

Paediatric Surgeon at Great Ormand Street Hospital. Gave an utterly enthralling talk about reducing the deaths associated with heart operations on infants, and how they engaged the McLaren Formula One team to help out. Turns out most deaths occur in the period after surgery where a patient is unplugged, move to intensive care for recovery, and plugged back in. The trigger was that they realised a group of surgeons, doctors and nurses around a patient looked remarkably like a pit crew refueling and changing tyres on an F1 car - a complex job performed by a dozen people in less than 10 seconds.

The insight was that during handover, each person needs a specific role. There needs to be a checklist which is double-checked. And there needs to be a plan for when things go wrong - surgeons culturally didn’t plan for things going wrong, they assumed everyone would go right.

Live were saved because of this new (albeit obvious in hindsight) system.

Eamon Fitzgerald

Gave us a very convincing sales pitch for Naked Wines. Also interesting in terms of these ‘five steps to build customer love’:

  1. Give your best deals to your best customers
  2. Try not selling
  3. Sell people, not brands
  4. Admit when things go wrong
  5. Invest in talent, not sales

Nathan Guerra

Nathan came to us from Google and in particular YouTube. consequently he regaled us with clips illustrating the changing nature of fame. I for one didn’t realise that genuinely famous YouTubers could draw massive crowds in meatspace.

Interesting when taken in coincidence with a recent Guardian Tech podcast episode featuring Tyler Oakley (5.5 million YouTube subscribers).

Rosie Yakob

Left us all on a pretty positive note. Explaining the importance and concept of scenius - the intelligence of an entire scene, as defined by Brian Eno. The ingredients of scenius:

  • Mutual respect and appreciation. Once you are saying negative things about others, scenius collapses.
  • Sharing
  • Credit
  • Tolerance for weirdness at the edges

Also, she said that We’re the number one species because we’re great at community and team work. Even as we have more people to consume resources, we also have more people to solve those problems (well, in theory I supposed), and social collaboration technologies will hopefully both remind us of that, and facilitate it.

The conference worked surprisingly well in the Duke of York’s Komedia cinema. I say surprisingly because the bar is small but somehow accommodated everyone. Also, to include lunch at Chilli Pickle was both a very pleasant surprise and totally delicious. These, and a free beer afterwards, meant attendees were treated very well indeed.

Overall I thought the curation was splendid, a nice mix of usual suspects (no bad thing) and new faces. When Antony, host for the day, asked the audience if they should put on another conference next year there was a resounding cheer. Says it all I think.