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Bright Ideas at the Science Gallery by Ann Treacy
February 8, 2008, 1:52 pm
Filed under: Dublin

020808.jpgThursday night we went back to our new favorite place, the Science Gallery at Trinity. There was a panel discussion on innovation called Bright Ideas.

Here’s the description from the program:

David Edwards, Terry McGuire & John Herlihy
What are the factors and conditions that contribute to innovation? How are important problems found and solved? How can insights from the arts, science and creative industries be leveraged by business to develop an innovation environment?

The Science Gallery presents a unique opportunity to discuss the next generation of idea-environments with
David Edwards, founder of Paris’s Le Laboratoire and Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Harvard University, John Herlihy, European Director of Online Sales & Operations at Google and leading Irish American venture capitalist Terry Maguire and facilitated by Irish Times technology columnist, Karlin Lillington. The talk coincides with the launch of David Edwards’ new book ArtScience: Creativity and the post-Google Generation (Harvard University Press 2008). The talk will be followed by a book signing.

I found it so interesting that I thought I’d write up my notes for the interested minority:

First they talked about what environments spurred innovation.

What Spurs Innovation

The guy from Google talked about Google’s 20 percent policy, where some employees are allowed to spend 20 percent on projects that “might not be on the Google radar.” I didn’t realize it but Gmail started as one such project. Also it’s OK to fail at Google. They expect that not every idea will succeed but they don’t want to be hindered by failure.

(Later someone from the audience wisely asked – how often people are able to fail. I mean after 9 failures doesn’t something have to give. But the Google guy pointed out that generally there is always something of use in every failure.)

The venture capitalist pointed out that generally in successful companies you’ll see strong leadership and trust. That may come in many forms – for example Google leaders seemed to be collaborative wear Larry Ellison (Oracle) seems to be more of a top down guy. But both approaches work.

VC also brought up the idea that the environment for innovation has changed so dramatically because of remote workers. He worked with a company that served millions of people yet was entirely virtual. Everyone worked from home.

Tech Transfer

They talked about getting universities and businesses to collaborate on business ventures. (Tech transfer is what I’ve known that as.) Apparently tech transfer has not worked well in Ireland. Someone from the audience knew of a study that showed that not only did putting professors in a workplace not help, it seemed to hinder.

VC pointed out that perhaps the professors were brought in at the wrong time. I thought that was an excellent point. Bringing an academic into an existing workplace didn’t seem to work – but perhaps taking an academic with a great idea and building a company around him to commercialize the idea would (and accordingly the VC) has worked.

Someone else asked about government support/intervention and VC said the best thing government could do was get out of the way.

So that’s what I remember. Three of the four speakers were American. I found that interesting.

Then in contrast to all of that technology talk, we had dinner at Bewley’s a sort of institution on Grafton Street. They couldn’t take credit cards last night due to a problem with technology and the bank. Amazingly enough we had cash; the table next to us didn’t. And they were from Northern Ireland (where they use Sterling) so they weren’t going to have much usable cash either. Hmmm. That technology stuff is great when it works.

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[…] was at an event last night where a guy from Google was talking about innovation. He was also pretty quick to mention Google […]

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