Mark Simpson
Mark Simpson 6 November 2013

5 things I learnt about innovation and ideas, at Inspiration London

Interesting things I learnt from the Digital Doughnut Inspiration London event, at the Royal Geographical Society in K

Last Thursday I attended the Digital Doughnut Inspired London event at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington. The event was structured into a series of 20 minute talks, with speakers from various backgrounds presenting around the subject of ideas and inspiration.

These are the top 5 things I took away from the event:

 one: The definition of innovation is a value-based idea


BBC Chief Creative Officer Pat Younge (responsible for the creative content of all the BBC’s television broadcasts including Top Gear, Eastenders and Strictly) shared the framework that the BBC uses to generate ideas from within the organisation.

Each member of Pat’s 3,000 strong team is encouraged to generate, submit, and comment on ideas via an internal web portal. All ideas are welcome but the contributor must have considered the co-star guidelines before submitting:

  • Who is the Consumer – who’s going to watch, engage with, or buy your idea once implemented?
  • What is the Opportunity – how will it change the organisation?
  • What is the Story – how will you sell the idea to the business and then to the target market?
  • Who is on the Team – an idea can rarely be implemented by one person, who else is needed?
  • What is the competitive Advantage – what makes it different to what we or our competitors are already doing?
  • What will the Results be – what would be the business case for moving forward with this idea?

If you can answer these questions and answer them well, chances are you have a value-based idea and have innovated. I would encourage those who don’t already have something to benchmark ideas against, to use something like this to validate all ideas, whether they are internal or on behalf of clients.

 two: Innovation is rarely where you expect it to be, but it is all around you


Many of the presentations were showcasing ideas that had been executed in the past, some around marketing, social and even internal operations.

The latter being best represented by the Intensive Care Unit of Great Ormond Street Hospital who collaborated with the Pit Stop Crew of the McClaren Formula One team. The unit had identified failures in the handover processes by the team when performing surgical operations on new-born babies, and were looking for ways to improve it.

A doctor and a professor, watching the Grand Prix together on a Sunday afternoon, recognised the similarities between what they do and the multi-person, multi-discipline, intricate team work of the F1 pit crews. They identified an opportunity to improve their processes. They invited the F1 team into the hospital and the GOSH team went to the British Grand Prix to watch a pit stop first-hand.

They collaborated and the hospital unit saw a 30% decrease in errors and the F1 team went away with an appreciation of the GOSH team’s work, putting what they do into context.

Thanks to Ian MacArthur of Once We Were for that story.

 three: Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time

Actually this headline is slightly misleading. Brian Cannon of Microdot was the creative mind behind some of the most iconic record sleeve designs of the 1990’s, including The Verve, Suede, Inspiral Carpets, Super Furry Animals and Oasis.

Despite trying for several years to be hired as a ‘Record Sleeve Designer’, Brian’s big break came after meeting Richard Ashcroft (lead singer of The Verve) at a gig in Wigan, some months before the band were signed to a label. He made such an impression with his desire to be a ‘Record Sleeve Designer’ that when The Verve were signed to Virgin Records, Richard Ashcroft hired him to design the sleeve for the first single, against the wishes of Richard Branson.

The big break with Oasis came after a chance meeting in a lift. Following the purchase of a pair of Adidas trainers in Rome, Brian shared a lift with a yet-to-be-famous Noel Gallagher who mid—lift-journey asked Brian, “Where the **** did you get those trainers from?”. The conversation started and the rest is history.

At first glance it looks like luck played a huge part in this career, however, I think there is a lot to be said for being:

  • Clear about your goals and focused single-mindedly on achieving them
  • Passionate about your industry and being driven to make a difference
  • ‘Being there’ because after all – to be in the right place at the right time, you have to be in ‘the place’ to begin with.

Number four: Many minds are better than one for creating ideas

Antony Mayfield of Brilliant Noise talked about the concept of ‘Transactive Thinking’ used in personal relationships where one half will remember birthday dates and the other, how to fix the boiler (like Antony I will choose not to be explicit about which is which). People simply do not think in the same way. In a digital agency, we see the best results when people from all disciplines come together to contribute to ideas from different points of view.

Another twist on this is using technology to assist in the thought process. In 1997, after finally being beaten by IBM’s Deep Blue computer chess program, Garry Kasparov created the concept of Centaur Chess (or Advanced Chess). Advanced Chess is a team game, with each team comprising one man and one machine.

Kasparov identified an opportunity to bring together the best tactical qualities of the human mind with the immense processing power of the modern computer. The result of this is levels of play never seen before in chess. A great example of using technology to improve something that appeared to be an offline process.

 five: Use numbers in your headlines to encourage people to read your content

Only 2 out of 10 people read beyond the headline according to Eileen Brown, Chair of Women in Technology. Eileen talked about the pressure on organisations to create content in line with content calendars, driven by product launches and marketing campaigns.

This pressure has lead to waves and waves of content flooding out on to the Internet (and beyond) and this deluge means that to get your content read, you have to be original. The two key takeaways from Eileen’s presentation for me were:

  • When producing content, don’t write what you want to write, write what your readers will want to read
  • Numbers are powerful, as are carefully crafted headlines. Combine them together to encourage readership beyond the headline. Are you more likely to read an article with a number in the headline? Hey, I guess if you are reading this then that tip must have worked in some form.

In conclusion, I hope that sharing these learnings has inspired you to generate and follow-through on some of your own ideas. If you have any thoughts on ideas and innovation that you would like to share, feel free to leave a comment below.


Mark Simpson, Building Blocks

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