Friday, December 07, 2007

Seven suggestions for an Innovation stream

This week I've been in Amsterdam, in Nokia's annual jamboree - the rare occasion when the Finnish modesty and reserve is traded in for a colourful look-at-me celebration of all our cool stuff, good people and great partners. It's actually quite glitzy, and I hesitate to say, "American" in theme, and getting more so - a hedge fund manager I met at lunch said this was the first time that he felt Nokia was behaving like a media company. He thought that was a good thing, and given that he owns a large chunk of our stock, I didn't like to argue. And it is true that this really was a very well organized, vibrant and confident conference with some strong messages about Ovi and our new Internet services ambitions that made people sit up and take note. However I'm not sure that associating with an industry that has - in parts - an imploding business model and famously dubious business practices is necessarily a good thing. But that's for another post. This post is about innovation seminars, and what makes them sing. Or sink.

I can honestly say that one of the highlights in my 4 years at Nokia was being asked to be the chairman of the innovation stream at Nokia World this year. Nokia World is a Big Deal - we spend a small fortune putting on a real spectacular two day show that highlights most of what we are as a company and it involves all the top management. It's not completely clear why I was chosen; my co chair - Lee Epting, the VP and head of Forum Nokia was a more obvious fit in terms of the other moderators. Probably had to do with the Speaker Series sessions I host, and the fact that I've been mouthing off about Internet innovation recently.

Anyway, I'm writing this post to consider what the best possible innovation stream at a conference would look like. In short, I don't think we really got it right -- the audience in our session started off large and gradually shrank over the 2hours, losing energy all the while, and in terms of format it was fairly standard stuff - 4 presentations with just a few Q&As at the end. I felt the topics were actually interesting and relevant - Nokia's UI vision; mobile payments and NFC from Citibank; Yahoo! on web development and a session presenting the winners of the Open C developer challenge competition. The latter was the highlight for me - interactive, interesting and the demo of the winner (MobiTubia - lets you browse YouTube videos) was really cool. Ironically, getting the N95 live demo worked fine, but the lady from Citibank was tripped up by the first of her videos not working. We didn't have any really cool gimmicks - we killed off the audience voting feature since the tool had SMS disabled and we weren't convinced of the usability of the WAP portal. The irony of all this was that there was a huge amount of stuff that we could have talked about and showed off - just a few yards away in the Expo the innovation stream had 19 demos with some of the coolest gizmos, gadgets and services that I've seen during my time at Nokia, including the mobile web server, Point & Find, voice recognition and an eye-controlled UI.

The contrast with the panel I was on the Economist Innovation Awards Summit a few weeks ago was stark, and also the Internet and innovation Conferences we've had at Nokia over the past couple of years. The first Nokia2.0 Conference we organized in March 2006 received a huge amount of positive feedback and led to a set of tangible actions.

So, with these in mind, here's some guidelines for what could be the bones of innovation stream 2.0, in next year's Nokia World or similar event. Would be interested to have feedback from participants of the Amsterdam session, and general thoughts on what would make an innovation-themed session as good as it can get.

1. Suffer the children
Any panel on innovation should probably tap into what the real innovators are thinking - and in the web space nowadays that means kids, not fusty grey suits. I first saw a panel of kids being interviewed stage at one of the Web2.0 conferences when Safa Rashtchy did this to great acclaim (my favourite was the kid who said he'd never pay a penny on DRM'd music from iTunes but was spending $50 a month on ring tones). Don Tapscott's New Paradigm group has done this quite well too. Nokia has hundreds of expert groups including teens, we should just reconvene one of them on stage. This is what I was trying to move towards with the call for videos on my blog, but I didn't push hard enough to make it happen.

2. Do an Oprah
Always fun to give stuff away, and Nokia's been more generous recently - giving away phones used to be taboo, but now it's more common. Random gifts under people's seats can become muted if people expect it, and can have a downside - as Oprah Winfrey dramatically discovered.

3. Pack in the powerpoint
The presentation by our user experience director was - I thought - rather beautifully done, with a new kind of presentation that it half video and half powerpoint. The crowd asked for more specifics about our touch screen strategy, but we weren't able to talk about that. In future combining great presentation graphics with data points makes sense, and in any event, the time for dull slides with small fonts is definitely over. If there are no powerpoints, then maybe the answer is to adopt a conversational tone...

4. Conversation not presentation
Nobody wants a sales pitch at these events, however most powerpoints slip into a few sales-y spiels at some stage. The Economist event was different - three of us were up on stage with Tom Standage - a super sharp guy and not used to being overly nice to business types. We had no idea of the questions, apart from they'd be about innovation, so there was little time to prepare a spiel, you just had to answer the question. Am actually thinking about inviting Tom to join us on stage for next year, if am involved.

5. Lighten the load with a dash of humour
One of the best sessions from last year's Nokia World was Clive Anderson. Ok, he's not known for his innovative views on technology, but provided a wonderful and insightful moderator. One of my favourite comedians is Stephen Fry and his recent blog posts / tomes, have proven that he's no slouch when it comes to geekery - for all those with a spare hour or three, peruse his thoughts on smartphones and the like here. So, my second invite would go out out to Stephen Fry. Stephen - fancy a chance to deliver your message to the heart of the borg?

6. Shiny, new things. Aka more signal, less noise.
Demos and launches are always noteworthy, and make people think there is something new and unique happening at the event they are happening to be at. Nokia World happens just once a year at about the same time, so why don't we make a point of launching a bunch of cool products here, rather like Apple does at its annual conference. Even if we don't launch products, let's make announcements that people are looking for, and issue a blizzard of statistics - people love data. Think Mary Meeker at Web2.0. Less of the fluff, and more of the "Phwoar, that's so cool!".

7. Breakout the backchannel
The audience voting worked ok in the end using WAP in other sessions, though i still prefer SMS. What was missing, and something we discussed ahead of time since we'd had this in some internal conferences, was a "hecklebot" to display comments from SMS or in an IRC-type format. This can be quite disruptive if managed badly - people tend to be quite unforgiving if they're not impressed, but it does make for a real sense of electricity in the room, and can work wonders at creating a sense of inclusiveness.

Funnily enough, looking at these ideas, it seems that the new Nokia values have them embedded (these are, btw: Engaging You, Passion for Innovation, Achieving Together & Very Human). Hmm, maybe should have brushed up on them in the planning stages...

Anyway, we live and learn. Let's hope we take some of these learnings into account next time.

6 comments: said...

This was my first Nokia World and to be frank, I wasn't impressed. If it wasn't for the amazing people I met and the great conversations I was having in the hall then the entire event would have been a bust.

The content was bland, too drawn out, too much fluff as you've said. I don't understand why the innovation track was limited to 4 one hour talks.

I would have much preferred 8 30 minute talks or even 16 15 minute talks. When you put that kind of restraint on presenters then it forces them to think differently and to get to the point faster.

At the end of that "Innovation in UI" speech I simply left because all that guy did was waste our time. You don't invite the man who leads user interaction design at Nokia to tell a juvenile story about a woman named Anna and how her camera phone is all seeing and all powerful.

None of the innovation streams were archived and posted on the net either, all we have are the keynotes and capital market day speeches.

You could tell the event was not geared for people like me. It felt like a giant business meeting with everyone in suits drudging along going from panel to panel where they spent 40 minutes with their head buried in their laptop and a total of 10 or so minutes popping their head up to see what was going on.

I'll say it again, the conversations in the hall and outside of the event saved Nokia World for me. If it wasn't for all the interesting people I sat down with and the less than stellar expo hall than Nokia World would have been a Grade A waste of my time.

Jukka Eklund said...

Thanks for mentioning Mobile Web Server, it was a fun event to be and we got really good feedback (see Good to hear your ideas, since I've been wondering about the same things. But we live and learn, like you said :)

Stephen Johnston said...

Thanks Stefan for as ever pulling no punches. For the record, it wasn't 4x1hr talks it was 3 30min presos with Q&A and a 30min session prizegiving and demo session. But I do agree that more and shorter (a la TED) would make sense, and have videos available after for more sessions would make sense (that was discussed, and could be revisited next year).
And yes, the Expo Hall was great - even for me, I saw some new stuff.
Jukka - all genuine. I think the MWS is one of our coolest innovations and funnily enough have been chatting with someone in Southwood about using it for some pretty cool identity-related concepts - let's continue offblog, am in Helsinki later this week.

Martin said...

Unfortunately 2007 was the first Nokia annual event I've not made for the last 4 years. I was hoping to catch up with you there. I have several thoughts on how to present Innovation. Maybe catchup in London or Farnborough at some point next year... br Martin

Stephen Johnston said...

Thanks for that Martin and the for LinkedIn. Seems like you've got an interesting role, so yes let's catch up for a coffee and a chat about this topic before long.

Surya said...

But why are there more suits? Did Nokia invite at least some of the N-Gens working for the company there?

Or was it more of a corporate hierarchy based list?