Friday, October 19, 2007

Economist Conferences: how they all should be



My colleague, fellow brit, sailing enthusiast and co-conspirator on some dangerously interesting ideas, John Clarke, is the CIO of Nokia. Unfortunately for him his role means he has real customers to keep happy, vendors to whip, and crises to solve.

Fortunately for me, a perfect work storm hit him this week, and he had to grudgingly hand over to me his attendance at the tremendously interesting Economist 6th Annual Innovation Awards Ceremony and Summit. As a peon normally labouring several layers under the public radar screen, I normally just hawk my wares to an internal audience where I do only limited damage. Hence, when handed this opportunity I was a little nervous. The idea of sitting up on stage with bulging-brained business editor of the Economist, Tom Standage, the CTO of BT and a VP at P&G and talking to a press-strewn room of senior execs about Nokia's innovation story was a little disconcerting.

But actually things went rather well, I think, and my next blog post outlines roughly what I would have said, had I not been answering questions the whole time. But first, it's worth describing the context of this uniquely colourful and interesting meeting. The night before the Summit is an Awards Ceremony at the Science Museum. As a Speaker, I was invited, albeit last minute, and brought along my bemused friend Daryl (who I had planned to meet up with). He had great fun in trying to embarass me in this esteemed company, and fracture the delicate artiface of grownup professionalism that I wear rather awkwardly. However, as the champagne flowed, we started to get into our stride - we buttonholed famous Peruvian economist Hernando do Soto for 15 minutes. He's one of my heroes (I think I may have actually used that phrase to him) - his work on identifying the importance of property rights in developing countries has had a profound impact in his lifetime, and as such he now consults to 21 heads of State. His think tank is described by the Economist as one of the two most influetial in the world. We were seated at the table of Economist editor John Micklethwait, and inches away from the procession of Nobel laureats, billionaires and brainiacs that were honored in this year's awards. My shoulders were brushed by some pretty impressive midriffs: scientists who developed a way to do AIDS tests really quickly, the Chairman of India's outsourcing marvel Infosys, the founder and CEO of RIM (garage tinkerer to hero in 10 years); pioneers in LEDs; the guys who invented GMR (memory storage) which made my iPod possible, and finally an African telco entrepreneur who just sold his corruption-free business for $3.4bn. Phew.

At the end of last night it was obvious that I'd already had more than my money's worth and was starting to enjoy myself. The event was expertly managed, with delicious food, crisp timing, inspiring surroundings and ridiculously bright and successful people at every turn. Encouraging words from Tom Standage put me at my ease, and all I had to do now was think through what was the Nokia innovation story that I wanted to tell. I soon realized that actually, we've got a lot to say, the question was picking the right bits. Whether I did or not, you decide. That's the topic of the next post.

4 comments:

Stefan Constantinescu said...

now why do you have to be such a tease? can't wait to read the next post. i am a firm believer in the statement that innovation breeds innovation. put several people in a room with talents that stretch a variety of disciplines and you will walk out after a 2 hour conversation with completely different views on the world.

Stephen Johnston said...

not a tease - just slow. it's turning into a bit of a tome already, and still only half way through.
am not a real zealot - blogging still does not take precedence over food...

karoshi said...

Kudos! That must have been a great experience. Waiting for you to post the next part, which must be interesting.

Tommi Vilkamo said...

You lucky bastard :)

Can't wait your full story...