Tag Archives: Innovation

TEDxBelfast 2012

TEDxBelfastAt TEDxBelfast last night I was inspired by the stories of individuals who passionately believed in an idea and then made that idea a reality. From working with autistic children to building a new arts centre, these people all made a difference. Presented in Titanic Belfast in front of the replica of the famous staircase, it was an unforgettable evening.

Titanic Staircase

As with all TED conferences, the presentations will be posted on-line but that will take a week or two before they are ready. In  the meantime, these are the speakers, their stories and how they made a difference.

David Maxwell of Tyrone Timberframes presented his work with Habitat for Humanity in building highly energy-efficient homes that have no central heating. The significant cost of fossil fuel-based energy can be a big factor in poverty and these homes can save the inhabitants over £1000 per year.

Maureen Murphy, Director of Aurion Learning, grabbed attention with the headline that 70% of training was wasted and proposed an innovative way of providing effective training using the acronym ASSAULT. One of the best bits was that of story-based approach that hooked the learner and got them more emotionally involved.

Fransuer Makula grew up in the slums of Kenya but is now a teacher in a prestigious school in Northern Ireland. Describing the harsh reality of existence as a street child, where death is commonplace, he related how the children dared to dream big. In the midst of utter poverty, these children wanted to grow up as doctors, nurses and lawyers. Fransuer established “Jengana” to help orphans, street children and schools in West Kenya.

Colleen Hardwick, billed as an urban geographer and serial entrepreneur from Vancouver, laid out the loss of personal engagement in democracy. The statistics she presented on the fall of voter turnout over the past few decades were shocking. To counteract the anonymous global nature of the web, she’s developed PlaceSpeak, a community-based website that lets local people be authenticated as stakeholders in local issues without necessarily giving up that anonymity.

Next was an absolute gem…acoustic guitar duo Declan McKerr and Andy Toman, aka Gypsy’s Wish, serenaded TEDxBelfast, equipped with a brand-new George Lowden guitar. His guitars are world-famous with owners such as Eric Clapton and Mike Oldfield. Sublime.

Following a musical theme, Chris Blake, Principal Horn with the Ulster Orchestra, talked about the work he’d done with autistic children and the therapeutic value of music. The results were truly ground-breaking, increasing the evidence between autism and musicality.

Dr Nigel Hart took us all on a trip to the peaks and Mt Everest in particular in his talk on Mountains, Medicine and Mantras. Clearly a keen mountaineer, he combined his medical training with his passion to investigate the effects of hypoxia on humans at altitude. During his climb to the top of the world, he had to rescue another climber who had collapsed. Apt for many shared endeavours, his response to the famous climbing question was not, “Because it’s there” but rather, “It’s not the height or the distance, it’s the people you travel with.”

Anne McReynolds, CEO of the Belfast Metropolitan Arts Centre, had TEDxBelfast captivated by her struggle to get a world-class arts centre built in Belfast. Starting in 1996 and finally opening in 2012, it’s an amazing story of architects and artists (“good clients get good buildings”), buildings and space. If you want to build an arts centre, Anne should be the first person you talk to.

Colin Williams of Sixteen South tackled the “Can’t Do” attitude that has often afflicted Northern Ireland with a great story of “Can Do” success. It’s likely that you’ll never have heard of Sixteen South, a children’s TV production company but if you have kids under five you’ll have heard of Sesame Tree, Big City Park, Pajanimals, and Big & Small. Working with the BBC and The Jim Henson Company, Sixteen South produces these great TV programmes here in Northern Ireland. Fantastic.
Colin’s business plan was pretty clever too. “Do some good, make some money, have some fun.” Good advice for anyone.

Chris Horn completed the speaker line-up with his inspiration for Dublin’s Science Gallery, an exhibition space that takes a creative and artistic approach to the presentation of science and related issues. By taking the traditional remit of a science museum and combining it with the changing presentation of an art gallery, the Science Gallery is an innovation in itself that has proved tremendously successful. So much so that Google recently awarded the Science Gallery $1m to setup other Galleries around the world.

Overall, it was a great evening, with inspirational speakers in a fantastic setting. Thanks also to Davy Sims and Gary Burnett and Mark Finlay for organising #TEDxBelfast.

Innovating for a Digital Future

Over the past year, Deloitte have publish a short series on digital leadership and are wrapping it up with the final edition “Innovating for a Digital Future”.  Each publication looks at the different challenges facing leaders in the digital era particularly in the technology, media and telecoms industries.

This last one examines the challenges around innovation and how it’s possible to be innovative particularly within large organisations that feature heavily in the technology and telecoms arenas. Doing the research for the publication, Deloitte found three unexpected paradoxes.

1. Innovation is a social sport. It is not the preserve of “lone geniuses” yet it requires lone geniuses working effectively with others to make it work.

2. Innovation is somewhat anarchic and organisation can impede it. Innovation rates substantially increase when there is a large population of people, yet large organisations do not appear to gain an innovation premium. The construct of the organisation itself is in many ways anti-innovation.

3. “Good” failure is critical to the innovation process. For innovation to flourish organisations need to embrace failure, yet not many chief execs would survive if they made failure a virtue.

The research further suggests that leaders need to work across four areas to develop organisations that can successfully innovate.

1. Strategy and vision
2. Environment and culture
3. Organisation and design of work
4. Leadership and talent

Each of these areas is explored over a couple of pages and there are case studies as well. If you’ve done a Degree or Masters in management, you’ll find much of it familiar but there’s the odd nugget in there. For instance, the question is posed, “Innovation should have real monetary value attached to it. How many executives in organisations received bonuses based on innovation metrics?”

Overall, worth spending 15 mins to run through the material and see if there’s anything of interest. Also might be quite a good primer if you are trying to get innovation off the ground in your organisation.

The previous editions, “New Shapes and Sizes” and “Leadership at All Levels”, are still available for download as .pdfs.


For some time now, when it came to desktop and laptop computer hardware, innovation has seemed to be somewhat stagnate. After all, what more can be done with word processing software? How can spreadsheets possibly be improved? How can the browsing experience be made better? Can email be made more effective or efficient?

Form impacts function, but function often defines form. The popular form of the day is the smartphone and the tablet, both popularized thanks to Steve Jobs and his team at Apple. Today’s smartphones have processors that are as powerful as desktop machines were five years ago. However, the smaller capacitive touch input screens as well as always-on Internet connections have ended up making possible convenience, ease-of-use and sheer simplicity paramount features. That new software design/interface aesthetic is now traveling back to it’s larger computer counterparts.

Some time back, I downloaded the App store on my Macs, but gave it no more than an initial cursory look and promptly forgot about its presence. This evening while waiting for some files to upload, I noticed the Mac App Store icon and decided to look it over again now that it’s been around for a while.

I must say, the Mac App Store pleasantly surprises me. I ended up downloading a few free apps. The Mac App Store browsing and download experience replicates the iPod/iPhone app store experience. The process couldn’t be easier. By putting all of these apps together in one coherent place it makes it much more likely I’ll end up finding software that (a) I might never have gone looking for in a search engine and (b) gives me a place to look for specific types of software when I might need it. While it’s by no means a complete list of all possible Mac software, it is a welcome addition that will likely spur additional future software development.

Can desktop/laptop operating systems become more useful? There is always room for improvement. Basic business software – word processing, spreadsheets, etc. likely cannot be improved beyond what they are. On the other hand, other computer functions such as photo editing, video editing, etc. likely still have dramatic gains that can be made, particularly as hardware speed and throughput continue to improve.

The Xi3 Modular Microcomputer

David Politis of Xi3 Microcomputers ) presents the Xi3 Modular Computer. It is an extremely small form factor and operates on only 20 watts of power, yet contains a dual-core AMD Athlon x86 processor operating at 2 gigahertz. The standard model ships with 2 gigabytes of DDR 2 RAM and 8 gigabytes of solid SSD solid state drive memory.

The Xi3 is revolutionary in several different respects. Not only is the unit as small as possible, the motherboard is broken down into three modular, replaceable components. Thus it becomes possible to upgrade to the latest technologies such as USB 3.0 once it becomes widely available in the near future or to higher-performance future CPU processors.

Imagine the Xi3 as the heart of a high-performance, low-engergy-drain, absolutely silent-running Media Center PC. Since it’s x86 architecture running on a dual-core processor on a high-performance SSD drive it can easily boot Windows 7 Ultimate in 30 seconds flat.

Why didn’t someone think of this before?

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of The Geekazine Podcast and Tom Newman of The Fogview Podcast.

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Google Wave is a drink of cold fresh water.

On Thursday, at the i/o conference, Google unveiled a project two years in development, Wave.  Answering the question, “What would email look like if it were invented today?”  Google’s answer awed me.  For the normal person, like myself, let me just say that it brings instant delivery, interaction, commenting, joint authoring, and media/attachment sharing into one mix.  It is not simply email on steroids, it is truly a new way of thinking about internet communication.  And most of the time while watching this demo, it is mind boggling.

Further mind boggling. . . it is open source.  This is not meant to run on one companies server.  This is going to run on anyone who has a server.  Kind of like a new google_wave_logocommunication client that sends pop3 and imap into oblivian.  Imagine sending a note to your coworker who is at their desk.  They see the new “wave” arrive and read it.  You have not yet turned away from the screen when they begin to type their reply.  You begin to see their reply character by character while they type.  Instantaneous.  Now wave is no longer “email” but instant messenger reinvented.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg.  You can add in other participants to your conversation, wave, and they can replay it.  That means they can play the message and see how it all took place start to finish.  No more scrolling to the bottom to see the previous conversation.  They can play it back, jump in and participate.  Wow.  I didn’t know I was thirsty but Google Wave is like a refreshing glass of cold water on a warm day.

I love the name of  Wave.  Communication is not meant to be separate individual messages, but all rather ripples of water, waves, that join together and separate.  I would love to further explain it, if I had the right words, but I have touched only the tip of this tsnami of a Wave.  There are embedding API’s for your website, extension API’s, as well as the server software itself.  For now do this.  Know that it is scheduled for release later in the year.  When it is released we will see a communication revolution that will overwhelm email and the social networking sites.  Secondly, head on over to the landing page for Google and watch the demo video.  Thirdly, take a drink of the refreshing Wave.