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ROI Conference Reflections

Innovation is talked about so much these days. Rarely a day goes by without a news story (especially in the tech world) reporting how a new innovation may 'change the world' - from aspects as huge as curing diseases to those as trivial as making the sharing of cute cat photos more efficient. But what drives this innovation? How does it happen? And how can you nurture it further? That's what Herb Kim, in partnership with Prof. Colin Ashurst and Newcastle Business School set to find out at the ROI Conference, held last Wednesday at the Tyneside Cinema.

The conference kicked off with Herb Kim confirming what I suspect we all know - 'innovation is bloody hard' was one of his opening remarks in his passionate and engaging opening keynote, which really got the audience thinking about innovation. Then, Illico Elia took to the stage to talk about innovation in the mobile space - a recent hotbed of creativity and great thinking - highlighting just how important seamless user experiences are these days, with his horror stories of how a Lufthansa flight went wrong from a plethora of misinformation and information at inappropriate times.

After this, a lively panel discussion on ‘David and Goliath’ - comparing the innovation that happens in startups vs. innovation in large corporations - was really interesting. With a panel including Paul Smith from ignite100 and Nigel Hudson previously of Sage fame - but now running startup - the discussion was lively and some excellent points were mentioned in favour of both parties, although personally I would have to agree that the 'lean and mean' startup side won me over.

Next it was Eddie Obeng and his insightful and action packed talk about innovation in business, and how you have to actually build something and do something to succeed - you can't just have ideas and expect them to make themselves. His talk was fantastic and he made some really thought provoking points about innovation.

Then after a swift break and a cup of tea from the great selection laid out in the Tyneside Bar, it was time for workshops. The one that I chose was with David Cleaves, the creative director of frog's studio in Munich. For an Apple fan and design lover like myself, getting to meet and talk to a creative from such a prestigious agency (frog notably worked with Apple and Steve Jobs in the 1980s to create the Apple II, the original Macintosh, and later the revolutionary NeXT computer - on which the World Wide Web was created) was a fantastic experience, and I learnt so much in the hour or so.

The lunch break also gave a great opportunity to mix with the other members of the 'innovation delegation', who were a very mixed bunch - with many from both tech and non-tech backgrounds.

The afternoon kicked off with Roy Sandbach previously of Proctor and Gamble - one of the most influential and arguably innovative companies in the world. His fantastic talk took us through how innovation happens within the research and development in a large corporation, and his talk had some really interesting insights.

Then after that, Dan Lyons - of Fake Steve Jobs fame - called in to the conference from Boston over Skype, which was a particularly amusing experience at some points due to the Skype issues experienced. Despite this, he made some really excellent points about innovation at perhaps three of the biggest and most profound 'innovation companies' in the world - Apple, Google and Microsoft, taking us through how each company manages its innovation now, and what future predictions he had.

Steve Vranakis from Google then gave a fantastic talk about the 'Google mindset', taking us through exactly how innovation happens at Google, and showing us just what his job involves and how great products like Google Chrome Jam and Google Comedy Hangouts were created, from initial concept to product. He also had some brilliant tales about life in the early days of the internet, and really knew how to innovate.

Music legend Tom Robinson came on to do a great talk about his experiences whilst growing up, which then focused on making music in the digital age - 'there has never been a better time to make music' he said, making some really inspiring points about how 'all you have to be is good'.

Afterwards, Pam Warhurst from Incredible Edible came on to talk about how her community food growing project had transformed the community and the people of a small Yorkshire village. Her message was that innovation starts with people. She was really inspiring and really made the audience want to actually take action and do something.

Overall, ROI was a fantastic, inspirational conference, giving delegates the feeling that they really could do something, that they really could innovate, and they really could change something. It showcased some great innovation and certainly made me hungry for more. I'm looking forward to next year’s!