Role of Conferences in Open Innovation

The process of innovation can be insular. Teams of talented people heads down on improving their vertical and their business. As you become overwhelmed by the constraints of your market and your organizational politics, the sources of fresh air get smaller and smaller. To keep innovation fresh (and relevant) you need to get outside!

This is where conferences come in. They have both pros and cons, which we will go through below, but TL;DR, you should go!

Pro: Forced Collision

The very process of looking for inspiration all too often limits what you can see. By putting yourself in a space where inspiration can come to you, you are free to focus on how what you are seeing and hearing can impact what you are working on.

Industry-specific conferences are great places to stay in touch with colleagues, former coworkers, business contacts, and the like, but the magic happens at the conferences that are less familiar. You want a place where you can be tossed into a blender with all different kinds of folks you wouldn’t seek out in the doldrums of everyday life. Conferences like ResolveTO bring in people from all walks of life and their perspectives can help shape and drive your thinking. Consider attending conferences that are entirely unrelated to your industry. If you are working on innovating cars, for example, attending a travel show could help you understand how journeys are changing.

Pro: Free Snacks

All your needs are taken care of at a conference and you are left to focus on what is important to you and your business. Without the distractions of work, or attendees venturing off-site, a conference turns into a fishbowl. Also, the lunch table is a great spot to meet people.

Pro: Good Practice

Conferences are not cheap. If someone pays to be there (or exerts the effort to get the budget and buy in to attend) they are committed to interacting with others, listening to their thoughts, and hearing new ideas. There is nothing better than a warm audience to help share and hone your story.

Make sure to listen to how your audience is receiving what you are working on. Sometimes it is a framing issue, sometimes it is something deeper. It is always helpful to bring someone new to your problem, in order to help you understand where the sources of confusion exist.  

Con: Too Much Noise

Sometimes your badge can be your worst enemy. If it says “Investor” or “Big Company” you are going to be inundated with requests to chat, partner, or advise. This can be super taxing emotionally and eat up a lot of your time.

On the plus side, this gives you a chance to get quick baselines for interactions. Personally, I find it a great way to test for what is important to me. Are they a good listener? Do they care about what I am saying or just thinking about what they will say next? Do they follow up?

Barely anyone from conferences follows up! It is a great way to differentiate yourself and move things forward. Nobody’s inbox is inundated with coffee meetings after a conference. Sometimes the silence is deafening.

Pro: Stopping When You Get What You Need

Conferences are not where you go to tell your life story or hear someone else’s. They are for exposing yourself to new ideas and new people, but you don’t have to move forward with everyone or everything. Take the time to digest and incorporate the key things you learned into your own thinking.

I am looking forward to ResolveTO this week. It will be great to see the crew from Startupfest in my hometown and bounce ideas around.

the author

Jared Gordon

Jared Gordon is head, financial services innovation Idea Couture. See his full bio here.