Friday, 10 September 2010

My time with TEDx (Part 2)

The second half kicked off with Alex Graham from the BBC, discussing his five blocks to creativity:

• It can’t be done
• It’s been done
• Let’s think outside the box
• What does the boss think
• Listen to your Customers

The ones to note are the third and fifth. The ‘let’s think outside the box’ argument is that being totally free is limiting. This Paradox applies to the supermarket. They could stock a whole isle of instant noodles to offer a limitless choice – but that only confuses the customer and limits what other products are on offer.

It may be useful to think differently but there needs to be guidance and rules. Rules, of course, can be broken, but it establishes a direction and framework to create a solution. His example was going for a walk. You can be free to go to your local shop anyway, because you know where you are. You could go via the park, the cinema or even just go straight down the road. Go to Borneo and try the same thing. You’ve never been there before and you’ve not seen a shop. A map might help, but you may also need a guide and a translator. This aides the exploration of new territory, not hinders it.

The last point is controversial and deliberately so, but it is more a devil’s advocate point of view. It ties in with the theory of second best, and the view that democracy may be a good solution but it is imperfect. Ask 1000 people what TV shows they want to watch, and create one show to fulfil it. I bet it will be absolutely rubbish, pandering to everyone and no one at the same time.

While it is important to listen to people, it is also important to have your own mind and use the advice to improve an idea, not to drive the idea forward. While a cafe might benefit from someone suggesting serviettes are available from the counter, the same person telling to the chef how to cook the food without any specialist knowledge could be a disaster.

Tom Scott’s presentation speaks for itself and can be seen here - very thought provoking and worth a watch.

Andy Hessleman, a management consultant, said a lot – most of it was interesting but amaountedf to reviewing your business. How can you not only be better than your opposition, but be demonstrably better in a way that’s hard to copy. Part of it is about having a culture, and the other part is how you do your own job better. He had a thought that marketing is a tax on the uninspiring company links in with Cennydd’s comment that only one company can be the cheapest, the others need design. Equally it shows why PR is being increasingly seen as important. Not only do people have to create a compelling product or service, but people need to be aware it exists.

The final presentation was from former Dragon’s Den’s Doug Richard. I wasn’t expecting a rich economic argument about the sate of this nation and a criticism of the current government. It was refreshing to see a view that I hold being held up when we only get half the argument from the politicians. They say the timing of cuts is critical and the two sides bicker over how miuch and how fast to cut. But like a mortgage, you could pay it off quickly or spread it over a longer period of time. There is a cost to spreading it over time, but it might make repayments easier.

Now Doug’s main argument is that cuts are all good and well, but there has to be investment, innovation and growth as well. Just like the earlier ‘happiness’ measurement presentation, the discussion misses the value in the economy and the way we make it stronger. Growth can only come by using the same resources better, not by working harder or using more.

There has to be an investment in people, in infrastructure and freeing up the capital resources of people who create wealth. These aren’t the big companies, but the SMEs who need help to take on apprentices, develop new products and create the new industries of the future. He hailed back to Schumpeter, his ideas of creative destruction. Vinyl wasn’t ‘improved’, it was destroyed by the arrival of a new and better format, the CD, which in turn was eroded by digital technology. In between you get tape, MiniDiscs, Digital tape and the like.

Equally we can’t support everyone in trouble. He was a bit too Friedman in his approach, but I like the way the Liberals put it in 1911 “What we have done is to strap a lifebelt around him, whose buoyancy, aiding his own strenuous exertions, ought to enable him reach the shore”. It’s a good starting point for a successful British government. Hopefully Mr Cameron will listen to the advice.

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