Insomnia or a Wakeup Call – Which?

Wake Up or InsomniaYou find yourself slipping into a conference hall unexpectedly. You are confronted by 1,000 participants listening to the conclusions of six very wise looking people at a table, explaining the outcomes of the summit. They are talking about a summit declaration by providing 5 calls for action for a Wake up. Sounds more than interesting, even important.

Now you quickly settle down into your seat, trying to ignore a few turned heads frowning at this sudden interruption after spending their three days working through this Wakeup Call and are quite rightly listening intently. This seems critical, you settle down to listen also.

So, without the drum roll or often accompanied with the appropriate dramatic music the 5 calls are announced:

  • Deliver on the widely accepted and appreciated new instruments and policies (2014-2020) in support of innovation.
  • Build a culture of ‘fail fast’, ‘risk tolerance’, and ‘fast capital’ to cross the valley of death.
  • Create a predictable policy environment and embed innovation as a principle in all measures and decisions.
  • Engage in joint thinking and acting across sectors and along the value chain.
  • Change what you do: a deep mindset change is needed at all levels: companies, administrations, and citizens.

So you have guessed where you are yet?

No, well you are at the winding up of a three day innovation summit held by Knowledge4Innovation (K4I) as the 5th European Innovation meeting that took place in the European Parliament from 30th September until 2nd October 2013.

Apart from 1,000 participants attending, there was in also in attendance three EU Commissioners, 30 members of the European Parliament and 150 speakers contributing their thoughts. According to the press release the conference summit was the largest ever, comprising of 25 events, including the opening and closing ceremonies, a series of conference sessions, workshops, breakfast, lunch and dinner debates organized by summit partners, as well as an exhibition and two press breakfasts.

Am you as overwhelmed by these 5 calls for action to Wake Up Europe?

Yes, these five calls are the suggested action calls to wake up Europe to go and innovate. Now I’ll be honest here, I’m struggling with these. Without the benefit of attending any of the 25 events, listened to the varies debates, taken a pulse of the mood within the conference all I’ve got to go on is these five actions to Wake Up Europe. Actually I didn’t even slip into the hall, I did not attend, I just got sent the press release from the event and from all my investigations and reading I’m a little lost here.

I’m sorry, no really sorry but is this really the best set of outcomes we can do in Europe?

Europe is facing unprecedented challenges; Europe’s very existence is being threatened. Competitiveness is eroding, standards of living are falling, economic forecasts still part offer some dark scenarios of economic decline, ageing populations, social capital and labour force shortage, increased food, energy and water constraints and a changing role of the EU on the global stage. Let alone the rosy picture of complete integration is caught up in a leadership impasse. We are simply failing to rise up to the challenges we have confronting us here in the EU. So we have ‘arrived’ at 5 calls to wake up Europe on the innovation front! These five?

So yes Europe does need to wake up to become really effective on innovation especially execution.  Yes, it must give innovation a primary role for its paramount importance within the growth requirements across each region within the EU. It must drive innovation down  and across all its members countries in better collaborative ways, as each is competing increasingly within a tough global battleground and needs the ‘power’ of combining on finding both radical and innovation breakthroughs. It needs to innovate to get out of numerous sets of crisis.

Dr Burton Lee one of the speakers at this summit, a lecturer, European Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Stanford School of Engineering asserted: “Europe’s core crisis is a crisis of innovation and not a debt crisis. It is a crisis of chronic poor performance in creating disruptive products, new companies, new university models and new jobs”

The intent of this 5th European Innovation Summit had as its original aims:

to identify what needs to be done to bridge the innovation gaps, to overcome the Innovation barriers, which renders an innovation friendly climate impossible, or indeed, less possible than in the leading Innovation strong economies and focus on the key drivers

So let me ask you, do you think the 5 calls for action will waken up innovation  in Europe?

In my opinion, I think Europe is utterly sleep walking even delusional. So yes, it does need seriously waking up for innovation, I totally agree but with these 5 calls to action? No, Really? Seriously? Am I missing something here?

I think we are suffering from all the symptoms of sleep disorder in Europe

Here is Europe we are dealing with all three types of sleep disorder, we are in a very disturbed sleep deprivation, we are or it seems exhausted, incapable of changing our position. It has all got simply to big, too complicated and far too difficult. We lack much and can’t even a more powerful call to innovation action than these five…. actions.

So this must be actually innovation insomnia – sleeplessness as nothing we seem to do is refreshing us, facing us all it seems is a ‘prolonged sleep onset latency disorder’. We are trapped, and as Jürgen Habermas nicely puts it “Dozing on a volcano”

He also suggests in Europe: “there are extraordinary situations in which cognitive sensitivity, imagination; courage and willingness to take responsibility (by) those in charge have an impact on the progression of things“.

I don’t see this rising to the significant challenges confronting Europe by our present leadership. Surely in any ‘universal’ call for action we do really require from innovation, then we need to find statements that will resonate with all within Europe.

That is: EVERYONE  go out and make a significant impact on growth through innovation within the EU and we all will support you in every possible way – cutting down the obstacles, removing the barriers, solving the red tape, pushing in every way all the enablers to help you innovate successfully.

I simply don’t sense this from this 5 calls, they are just going through the motions of existing (entrenched) positions. There is no wake up call here.

We are actually suffering different levels of innovation insomnia

The three levels of innovation EU insomnia I suggest are:

Transient insomnia– this lasts for about a week or so after a conference like this one that I’ve been trying to figure out. You suffer conference deprivation but you soon forget about it as you quickly pass onto another disorder that keeps you in your depression and stressed environment. You do not have time to piece it all together.

Acute insomnia – You feel restlessness for some time after one of these conferences as you really can’t get any new momentum going. Even not as a direct result of the meeting you attended for three days, listening to some incredible, well qualified speakers. You are suffering this acute disorder where nothing really changed to allow you to render any change in your own environment. You still face the same factors of innovation disorder when dealing within innovation inside the EU, can you wait for ever, even in times of crisis?

Finally, Chronic insomnia  and the most serious. This really does last for a long time. This is our primary disorder, the very reason for our insomnia.  Perhaps that is the 2020 real target. We not just suffer continued (innovation) fatigue, we really have got totally caught up in the hallucinations and mental issues that those deeply affected see things happening in slow motion, where moving objects just seem to blend together but really are deeper symptoms of impaired vision that causes double vision – we double our efforts but don’t solve the primary disorder.

We are all caught up in this chronic insomnia when it comes to innovation within Europe. We even begin to use the innovation mantra of “fail fast, risk tolerance and fast capital” to cross from this valley of death.

I’d like to believe we will become fully engaged but it has to be far more radical for innovation to really deliver.

It really does not matter if we agree or not that we have to Wake Up Europe, or we are all caught up in different levels of insomnia? I really can’t believe the 5 calls of action that concluded this meeting over three days of 1,000 participants deals with the fundamental crisis we face here in Europe for growth and igniting innovation. We simply are not really addressing our deep underlying EU symptoms within innovation with these 5 calls for action. Do you agree?

If you would like to read more on this 5th European Innovation Summit held through the organization Knowledge4Innovation then here are some links

Initial Release:

5th EIS Guide Booklet:


List of all speakers:

Final press release:

Innovation Convention 2011, EU organised, Brussels

The European Commissions Innovation Convention 2011

I was planning to go to this convention held in Brussel over December 5th & 6th, 2011, but eventually was forced to stay back in the office to complete some work for different projects I’m working on.

Thankfully the main conference was on line so I was able to follow it, even if a little selectively.

I’m sure you agree conferences or in this case a convention, are often ‘variable feasts.’ You never find everything appealing or valuable to you, but even at a distance I did find plenty of interesting areas in those I was able to watch. I hope they make many of the sessions freely available post convention as they have much to draw ‘inspiration and understanding’ from for all of us.

I’m not planning this as a detailed report of the convention but to reflect  and comment about why I think it provided a good contribution to the innovation debate(s), especially here in Europe. We do need to ‘tune in’ more on what these events can offer, if managed well, in depth and breadth of innovation’s scope. I’m singling out some of the more striking moments for me.

The intent of the Convention

The Innovation Convention is to become an essential part of the Innovation Union flagship initiative. It will take place on a regular basis to take stock of the progress made towards the objectives of the Innovation Union and to discuss ways forward with a broader perspective in the global innovative economy.  This particular one was opened by the President of the European Commission, Mr. José Manuel Barroso and had about 1,200 or more selected participants.

I got the impression Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation, and Science came and went. From my own past experiences you get invited to speak and participant yet, as it seems in this case, the convenor of the convention and responsible for innovation at the top of the EU were not around to listen to want you want to say. Clearly there are many within the DG research and innovation that can brief her and of course I hope they have that chance, there was a lot of great comments to reflect upon.

Also what I gathered also from the twitter chatter she did spend some good time touring the many exhibitors participating as well. I am sure it is never easy as a convenor to be in all places at one time. Actually I would have felt the same with a number of different and interesting sessions with a choice of plenary, parallel and fringe sessions all competing for the participant’s time as well as visiting the exhibitions and ‘do’ the required networking.

Why was it valuable?

When you are able to attract such an array of top flight speakers and contributors to the innovation debate you are going to gain much and also desperately wish you could have had more.

The opening session was explosive, in a positive way

The opening session excellently facilitated by Ann Mettler of the Lisbon Council was threatening to be explosive, in a positive way. The panel after warming up got into their stride moving from global innovation, working with young people and examining many of the obstacles within the EU for innovation to overcome.

I have to say Ben Verwaagen, the CEO of Alcatel-Lucent was terrific in throwing in the constructive bombs, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz mopping up the fragments and Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Chair & MD of Biocon Ltd offering some really useful and insightful observations from her Indian perspective of looking into the EU. The two other participants Jean-Paul Agon, CEO of L’Oreal and Silva Venturini Fendi of Fendi Associates, keeping pulling us back to thoughtful aspects of where innovation works and why, from their perpective.

This was simply a terrific session that could have gone on all day from my point of view with such an expert panel. You could not have asked for a better opening session on drawing out issues, problems and barriers but plenty of constructive solutions. One very telling takeaway was how the EU has got very insular, inward and introspective. In its time of crisis if the EU draws (even more) in, it will lose out eventually.

Kiran Mazumdar- Shaw spoke about affordable innovation models, which we have ‘boxed’ here in the West as ‘frugal’ or possibly ‘reverse’ innovation. I like the real difference she offered- affordable. This reflects not just Indians current need as they are in many developing countries but increasingly will be the innovation approach here in the West. We do need to break this constant churning consumption habit and affordable and lasting need to be more built into the “West’s” changing set of watch words to adopt.

The Delivering Better Healthcare debate

The panel of Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, Andrew Witty and Marc Koska of Lifesaver gave us the sheer dimensions and complexity of healthcare and where innovation is playing its part. It provided shocking reality on the ground from Marc Koska and how his organization is innovating to overcome given issues.

Also the really thoughtful ways GlaxoSmithKline are responding to their social pressures and commitments by opening up facilities, patents and working through a difficult path of innovation change going on with the Pharmaceutical industry. The whole change within Pharma is evolving in front of our eyes.  Ms.Chan added dimension upon dimension on the complexity of world heath. You came away with what a multitude of problems there to be resolved and where innovation has such opportunity.

I could go on and on about the values you could have taken away from these different sessions and the so many other outside of the main hall sessions. Those two sessions alone that I’ve mentioned fill you head with so much possibility and identification to engage and find distinctive ways to contribute.

Often the draw in conventions is the big name key note speakers.

Having  Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman delivering his personal thoughts around “In Search of a Better Problem”, Don Tapscott on “Innovation in the Age of Networked Intelligence.” Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryan Air opened the second day’s session with no more than anyone who has heard him before would expect; a lively, entertaining but valid set of criticisms and lots of poking fun at the EU on “Doing Innovation his (or Ryan airs) Way”.

Michael O’Leary also led a Master class where young innovators presented their case to the audience and Mr O’ Leary contributing his views as a coach. Pupils for the Master Classes were provided by The European Young Innovators Forum and The European BIC Network and I sometimes wondered if the Irish wit, interpretation and thoughts offered by Michael O’Leary fitted. What did come across ‘in barrel loads’ was the need for passion, commitment, sheer determination and personal belief and that is just some of the attributes that Michael O’Leary has in abundance.

Some personal disappointments

As I mentioned conventions are a mixed bag. I really would have liked to have listened more to Sam Pitroda, the Innovation advisor to the Prime minister of India. Also for me, Will Hutton, executive vice-chair of the Work Foundation, just seemed subdued and not as insightful as he can be. Both were involved in the social innovation session.

The climate change debate just seemed to ‘bob along’ and for many others I just had no time or opportunity to tune in unfortunately.

The real personal disappointment was the Open innovation and public policy in Europe session offered by Professor Henry Chesbrough.

The session was billed as “ large, vertically integrated R&D laboratory systems of the 20th century are giving way to more vertically disintegrated networks of innovation that connect numerous companies into ecosystems. Since innovation policy ultimately rests on the activities and initiatives of the private sector, it is vital that policy follows this evolution. New research and analysis on open innovation, for the Science Business Innovation Board AISBL, results in a series of recommendations for public policies that could, if implemented, improve the climate for open innovation to take place in the European Union – and thereby improve the competitiveness of the European economy overall. Taken together, these recommendations comprise an informal ‘charter’ for EU open innovation policy”.

So I was certainly expecting some depth in this area of rich potential of open innovation within Europe. Why was it such a disappointment for me?

Sadly it got caught up in a potted history of open innovation. We  went back in time and at least fifty percent of the talk was ‘locked in the past’. I understand context and Professor Chesbrough is rich in this ground laying but I was hopeful we would be looking out in the future through his charter and he failed to get into living up to the billing.

Instead he ‘hinted’ at this and promised more would come from a fringe session. Then you learn his report released by the ScienceBusiness will come out after this session, and cost 35 UK pounds to buy. So a document about open innovation and public policy in Europe, sponsored by a number of well known companies comes at a cost. That for me demonstrates closed innovation not open innovation. What a pity.

The value of such a convention is what you gain out of it.

I clearly was happy to ‘participate’ in this convention, even at a distance. The flow of ‘tweets’ also added value for me in gauging different reactions. It is getting interesting that one of the bellwethers at conferences is the level of tweet chatter, you do get some really interesting reflections and comments and these are getting closer to ‘live’ feedback.

I heard for the ‘geeks’ in the convention they had limited space to type, while sitting in the conference hall, whereas I had the ‘luxury’ of being in my office, managing my day on two computers, listening to the convention, tweeting where necessary and getting on with the work that held me back from going.

The organizers should be congratulated. It seemed to me to be a highly organized set of events attracting 1,200 people, plenty of high quality speakers and an awful lot of messages that bubbled up on innovation to reflect upon. I just hope there is a significant evaluation taking place on what was offered if it is going to be an annual event to take stock of innovations progress within the EU.

For those that missed it, here is a link onto the site and let’s trust the EU makes available different video recordings so many more can share in this event and gain much from its contribution. Just check in to see if this happens as I’ve just been told it will take a week or so to do this. Also ‘pencil’ this event in for next year.  I certainly did.