Lift, Day Two

The second day of LIFT started with the obviously wise Xavier Comtesse who continued, somewhat more effectively, the “everything is different” theme begun by Bruno Giussani and David Galipeau at the top of yesterday’s program. Xavier’s thesis is that the new business models growing up around two new notions — TransformActors (“new actors in the new economy untethered to the practices of the old economy”) and ConsumActors (consumers who, in a sense, “finish the product” by, for example, self-checkin on easyJet, or by loading their new iPod with music) — will destroy the old business models in their wake. His arguments were convincing, and bear a lot in common with what Rob Paterson has been saying for many years.

My favourite metaphor of Xavier’s many was his suggestion that new economy will beat old, despite the increased work for consumers (ConsumActors) because fruit picked from a “u-pick” orchard tastes sweeter.

He also mentioned, in passing, that the phrase “plug and play” is increasingly less relevant; this hit home for me, as in recent months many of my consumer electronics purchases have come more like “buy, bootstrap an open source Linux firmware, play.” In other words, imagine the Home Depot model, but everywhere.

Xavier was followed by Thomas Sevcik who spoke about “Innovation Labs,” a system for taking organizations through an extended process — he used three months by way of example — of cross-pollinating innovation exploration. He used as an example an exercise that Deutsche Bank went through, with the help of his think tank, where an off-site “lab” was constructed inside the shell of an abandoned warehouse, and, over the course of several months, employees, executives, analysts and customers were brought together to explore the implications of electronic banking.

Thomas characterized the “challenges to innovation” — in other words, the raison d’etre for Innovation Labs — as being:

  • Silos are everywhere
  • Play is questioned
  • No time to really focus

While my innate suspicion of wacky consultants prevented me from suspending my disbelief, Thomas did make a compelling case for changing the mechanism by which companies innovate, especially the notion of involving customers in the process.

After a break, the conference split itself into two, on either side of a wall that magically rose up out of the floor, and I opted for a session with Hugh Macleod, arguably the poster child for real-world examples of blogging in business leading to success. Hugh is well known in the blogosphere for his efforts with English Cut and Stormhoek, injecting blogging into the heart of their business model and therein transforming almost everything about their business.

The most interesting of Hugh’s revelations was that the transformative effects of blogging have as much or more to do with how the change a company internally as anything else. What I took from this is that if a company can arrive at a place where it’s “blog-ready,” it must already be along the road to re-conceiving of its relationships with its customers, suppliers, employees and stockholders; blogging is really more a manifestation of a changed attitude than a cause.

Following Hugh’s presentation I jumped sides of the divide to attend a session by Pierre Carde. Pierre works for Lyon Game, a non-profit organization working in Lyon, France to stimulate the development of the video game creation industry in the city.

Pierre’s characterization of Lyon Game suggested that they have their act together, and have solved the problem that so afflicts us in Prince Edward Island where economic development initiatives are so often led by amateurs with little experience (or real interest) in the industry they’re promoting. In Lyon they have forged what appears to be an effective partnership — a real, working, practical partnership — among academics, research labs, industry and government. The entire endeavour focuses on tiny companies working together cooperatively — more of that cross-pollination notion — and sharing accounting, HR and other resources in common where appropriate. It was an impressive tale.

Just before lunch the big wall came down and the hall was one again and there were two short DEMO-like presentations: Jean-François Groff took the wraps off VIZTA, a new photo-people-places site that will release soon, and Sigurd Rinde demonstrated thingamy, which he described as a sort of “Lego for business processes.” While thingamy was ugly and confusing, it did seem to have a rather powerful soul, and is worth a second look (it’s either PHP or cold fusion; I can’t tell which yet).

By the time lunch rolled around, I was starving, and so I bolted out the door and ran up the stairs so as to avoid the punishing lines of Thursday. As a result, I ended up finishing lunch almost before anyone else was out of line, which was sort of counter-productive in the “meet new interesting people” department. That said, the CICG food service folks put up a good meal, and lunch was excellent both days (although yesterday I somehow coated myself, my jacket and my mobile phone with chocolate mousse, something I didn’t realize for about 30 minutes after doing so).

After lunch, with the wall back up, I heard Emmanuelle Richard give a rather standard-issue talk on anonymity, a talk made somewhat more interesting by the fact that she works as a PI in Los Angeles, and so knows the other side of the anonymity coin better than most.

The highlight of the day was Thomas Madsen-Mygdal’s presentation that followed. Thomas is one of the pillars of reboot, and I knew him there only as a sort of Ed McMahon, doing the intros and attending to practical matters. His LIFT presentation was a wonderfully rendered soliloquy on “why it feels like it’s all happening now.” His slides were beautiful, his ideas insightful, and the result was the sort of “talk about nothing” that I used to pride myself in putting together for the Access conferences of systems librarians.

My favourite statement from Thomas was “why the fuck you would want to work for somebody else’s passions is a really big mystery,” a statement that prompted me to tell my “the day we tried to give Okeedokee to our employees” story during the Q&A (which, in turn, resulted in an interesting conversation during the break with a Swiss journalist).

The killer line from Thomas’ presentation, however, was “Europe has been more connected by easyJet than by the European Union.” There was much applause after that one.

The day ended with presentations from Euan Semple and Robert Scoble.

Euan, until recently of the BBC, spoke about his efforts to connect the BBC with itself using low- or no-cost software and systems (forums, social software, etc.). Euan’s was a good case study of how practical skunkworks efforts can completely transform a corporate culture in a way that consultant-driven re-engineering programs could never.

Robert’s presentation was a variation of the “how blogging has changed the world, especially at Microsoft” presentation that he gave at reboot. Robert is a better speaker every time I seem him, and he makes a good case for how blogs can be effectively used by companies to humanize themselves, connect to their customers, learn from their customers, and work more effectively as a result. It’s a shame that Robert’s efforts are taking place inside Microsoft rather than someplace less, well, evil; but, then again, Microsoft is a first-class example of a “hard nut to crack,” so if it works there, etc.

And, with thanks and good-byes from Laurent, that was LIFT.

I’m happy I attended: the program was interesting, there was a hearty mix of attendees, the venue was pleasant, and everything appeared to proceed like a well-oiled machine organizationally. Laurent can take pride in taking an idea out of thin air last June in Copenhagen and bringing it to fruition. Plans are underway for LIFT07 as we speak.

After things wound down, I took the tram back here to the hotel, grabbed another falafel for dinner, this time at a smoky Turkish restaurant (again, it was excellent), and, what with being a social dork and all, am skipping the rockin’ after-party. I’ve got Saturday to explore the non-LIFT wonders of Geneva, and then it’s a full day of flying on Sunday back to Charlottetown.



Steven Ritchey's picture
Steven Ritchey on February 4, 2006 - 00:56 Permalink

Wonderfully clear and thoughtful summary of Day Two. I was so busy with the organisation and facilitation of the day that some of the best parts flew by in a blur. I’m grateful for your insights and I’m glad to read that you enjoyed LIFT.