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Pushing the Innovation Edge?

May 22nd, 2008 by Mitch

After much eager anticipation, yesterday I attended Innovation Edge, NESTA’s moderately annual flagship event and exposition of all that is innovation in the UK. In a growing discussion of the event on Roland Harwood’s Connect blog, I made a few comments which seemed appropriate for reproduction here:

As a NESTA alumnus, I was extremely proud to see the extraordinary turnout on the day; a real contrast from the comparatively more muted event of 18 months earlier (which, at the time, I also found impressive). It was a testament to the evolution NESTA has gone through over the past 2 years and the positive, catalytic, impact it has had on the broader innovation community. Perhaps even greater was the event’s impressive indication of the immense hunger this nation has for exploration and debate on the variety of subjects threaded together under the ‘innovation’ moniker.

Nonetheless, given this was held by an organisation championing innovation, I can’t help but feel that the event was a missed opportunity for something significantly more innovative in its objectives, scope and structure.

This is perhaps an unfair criticism. This was the first event NESTA has held at any such scale, with an immensely diverse audience and a very broad remit. Applying a classic conference approach (i.e. plenary keynotes, medium-sized ‘breakouts’ with panels, a bit of networking) was an entirely rationale approach. It was, without a doubt, a logistical and networking success. Given such constraints, perhaps it is inappropriate for me to have expected even more than that.

Nonetheless, expect more I did.

Let’s think about this. NESTA had well over *1000* people passionate about innovation together in one place. There was a Prime Minister, Ministers of State, policy-makers across fields and regions, leading venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, social media mavens, entertainers, architects, designers, scientists, educators, and practitioners from across sectors — all under one roof. What incredible expertise. What a collection of ideas. What massive potential.

Just imagine what could have been tackled by such an accumulation of interdisciplinary acumen, political authority, and financial capacity, if we had but tried to harness it all towards something more specific: a major social issue perhaps; new forms of interaction or public engagement; maybe even the future of UK itself (a la the impressive event recently mounted in Australia).

Would that have been difficult? No doubt. Would there have been a significant chance for failure or media criticism? Absolutely.

But such is the price for innovation, and I can’t imagine any other organisation better suited to pay such a price, take such a risk, and launch such an adventure.

I eagerly look forward to Innovation Edge ’09.

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