ISPIM Barcelona 2012

Last week I attended the International Society of Professional Innovation Managers (ISPIM) conference in Barcelona. I had never been to this conference before and had no idea of what to expect. I had decided to attend because they had accepted a topic I had submitted to present. I welcomed the opportunity to speak about translation (more on that later), but I was also curious about this group that had been in existence for so long that I had known so little about.


The first thing I'll say is that the conference was excellent. Next year it is in Helsinki, and I'm pretty sure I'll be going back. It was formally founded in Norway in 1983, as the result of an initiative by Prof. Knut Holt to study Needs Assessment and Information Behavior (NAIB) as a way to inform the innovation process.  Why it had never crossed my radar before is a mystery to me, but the membership is largely European.


The conference is a nice blend of academics and industry people, many of whom give presentations on interesting work they are currently doing. It was very different from the Front End of Innovation conference held every year, which seems to be the "go to" innovation conference in the US. Unlike the FEI conference, ISPIM was not filled with semi celebrity key note speakers. It was much smaller and had a much larger percentage of attendees presenting their ideas. As a result there were few if any people there on corporate boondoggle trips, and the experience was extremely rich and engaging. It was not for anyone who wanted to sit back and be informed or entertained. Here are some key  ideas I took away.


It was refreshing to be with a group of people who understood that good ideas are developed and inform new offerings, rather than expecting fully formed products to pop up from brainstorming sessions. In fact, brainstorming wasn't mentioned once in three days, even in sessions on creativity and ideation. Did I say refreshing? Yes!!


As can be expected, large companies are lagging in terms of developing very innovative offerings, as well as incorporating innovative ways of working. The few who stood out were General Mills, who acknowledged the challenges in getting a huge company to work in new ways, and focused the presentation on how they are doing it.  A great presentation from Sara Lee focused on how following the consumer too closely can get you into trouble. This wasn't a new idea, but they offered a very good example of a product that failed as a result of getting this wrong. It was a very humble and gutsy presentation.


I was surprised at the number of national governments that are sponsoring projects between academia and industry in an effort to spur innovation. There was a lot of very progressive work being done through these collaborations. One of these ideas is a tool called Living Labs. I thought this work was very interesting and will post about it separately. The government of Norway is funding similar projects which seem to be gaining a lot of traction.


The idea of Design Thinking was alive and well, and I knew i was in good company when all but maybe 1 or 2 people felt that the term was problematic  in terms of furthering the intended goals. I saw more great examples of the principles put into action than I have ever seen come out of the design community in the US.  More on that topic later as well.


Speaking of Design Thinking, the Australian government really blew me away with a presentation of their focus on learning about the needs of their constituents to develop new solutions to existing problems. They started with a simple project in the tax department, where they learned that many people don't file their taxes, and audit rates were high because people had a difficult time understanding what they needed to do. Tis resulted in a first step in redesigning the tax forms.  Sounds simple, but the result of redesigning the forms to meet the needs of the people who actually used them has been a huge success in solving the problems. They are now progressing to use this process to influence policy development. It is helping them to transcend the party driven method of policy development. (I don't know about you, but I can think of another government that would benefit from a new method of policy development.)


As far as my work goes, I presented the concepts of translation that I've been working on lately. More on that topic later as well, but the idea that people respond go product attributes in predictable ways, and that they can be deliberately worked into the design of an offering to make it more consistent with a consumers needs was new to many people. I walked away with several connections that I hope will lead to collaborations about how to define the skills possessed by people who are good at doing this type of translation.


As you can imagine, there were many, many more things I took away, but these are just a few of the top lines.  The conference was very well organized, and I came away excited about the ideas and connections that I'm sure will blossom in the next year.