Trieste, Italy -- The historic industrial port city of Trieste hosted the 22nd Global Forum conference last week, where the focus was on innovation in information and communication technologies as catalysts for economic and community development. Invitation-only delegates this year came from 36 countries and international organizations such as the European Commission and the U.S. government, augmented by delegates from corporations and global government agencies.
Prosperous and picturesque, Trieste has long been a center of science and culture, frequented by writers such as Mark Twain and Rainer Maria Rilke. The 19th century explorer Richard Burton wrote The Arabian Nights here and it’s also the place where James Joyce produced his novels Ulysses and Dubliners. Global Forum often forecasts world trends in the information and communication industries and Trieste was chosen to highlight the transforming strategies of the information economy.
The Chair of Global Forum’s 2013 Innovation panel, Bror Salmelin, of the European Union’s Directorate General CONNECT organization, outlined the differences between the old days of corporate-government research being the dominant model, to a new era of user-centric innovation, open innovation, systemic innovation and experimental mash-ups.
“Sustainable innovation is full of disruptions,” he said. “Science-based linear innovation is not mainstream anymore. Success probability and success speed are critical.”
During a question-and-answer session, Finland native Salmelin was asked about the future of the once-leading mobile device company Nokia. He noted that before it got into telephony, Nokia was a manufacturer of rubber boots and paper products. The company will have to innovate once again to meet the challenges of the new era it’s entered, he said. He is confident that Nokia will rise to the challenges, but it will be a different Nokia than it is today.
Enrico Fiore, CEO of Truyoins Ventures (a neologism based on the slogan “Trust Your Instincts” he said), said the essence of innovating in the global environment is to follow the slogan (originated by an Italian fashion company) “No Fear.”
Innovation requires the ability to be fault-tolerant, to see yourself making mistakes and learning fast from them; improve and move on. Fiore said this is why corporate managers often are unable to be innovative, because they fear making mistakes. Fiore advised: “Listen. Try. Act. Remember.”
A change this new era requires is for governments to stop protecting status-quo businesses, said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, which sponsors the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Shapiro said, “Innovation is a belief system. It’s not just Silicon Valley. It’s regional. It relies on risk-taking and investment. It benefits from diversity, culture and reward systems. It is enhanced by a higher mission, goals, measurements and passion. It needs leaders/doers.”
Professor Yoshio Tanaka of Tokyo University offered some technology design suggestions. He said it is difficult to sell hardware by differentiation. What is required is service design with value-added. For example, two key drivers of satisfaction in the modern era are: to be stress-free by having less responsibility for outcomes, and to belong to a community. Technology can be built to deliver on both these drivers of user satisfaction.
“Open data is the raw material for innovation,” said Ann-Marie Fineman of VINNOVA, Sweden’s government agency for innovation systems. “Collaboration is key,” she said, and recommended Hackathons and Make-athons, which they have sponsored as “coworking spaces.”
Regional development was emphasized. No longer are separate nation-states driving innovation, but regional partnerships, and innovative city states. One of the most intriguing approaches is “Danubio,” a trans-national approach linking the countries and regions of the Danube River drainage, which crosses most of southern Europe.
This is an approach forecast by the American nature writer Gary Snyder. Observing that many political borders are based on abstract surveyor’s boundaries like the Mason-Dixon line, or historical precedent based on wars and treaties, Snyder recommends building identity based on the naturally-occurring river basins worldwide. Such identity anchors the population in the natural environment it’s in, and in fact begins to reinforce what was most often the historic movement of peoples, trade and information until the industrial era.
Taking such an approach, new configurations emerge. Antoine-Tristan Mocilnikar, a French government ministerial “Delegate to the Mediterranean,” says the south and western parts of that region have 290 million people, almost the population of the United States. There is a 100% rate of mobile adoption, along with 100 million people sharing Internet access. The region has 50 million Facebook accounts already.
Global Forum 2013 was led by Dr. Sylviane Toporkoff, president of Global Forum, and a founding partner of sponsor ITEMS International. The next Global Forum will be held in fall 2014, at a European venue to be announced early next year.
Gillette is professor of information and communication sciences at Ball State University, director of its Human Factors Institute, and a senior research fellow and officer at the Digital Policy Institute.