Small groups congregate around giant sheets of paper, excitedly writing notes and drawing charts, so immersed in their creative flow that they barely notice movement in the room.
“Everyone is trying to make innovation happen!” Augustin Solioz, Project Manager at Lift, explained when ITU News spoke to him at the 11th annual Lift conference in Geneva. “We have a fantastic creative mess!”
Once described as ‘the edgier of the Swiss events’ when compared to the much bigger, high-level World Economic Forum (WEF) event in Davos, Switzerland, Lift:Lab 2017 has just shaken up the model of its annual innovation and digital technology conference.
“We always try to be different and stay at the edge of innovation,” says Mr Solioz.
Unlike previous years, which delivered TED-style plenary sessions and workshops, this year, 26 small teams (usually of about 4 people) from various fields worked in an open and flexible environment to develop new ideas, explore new opportunities via new technology, boost projects with a short acceleration programme, or bring an idea to prototype. The change in model brought a reduction in participants from roughly 1200 to roughly 400, but has arguably enabled more of an impact by providing experiential learning based on the participants real-world projects.
“We are taking these people out of their companies so they can be out of the corporate culture in order to think about new ideas and really try to be creative and make innovation happen,” Solioz said. “Everybody comes here with an idea, project or challenge that they are trying to solve and get feedback on it and try to fail as soon as possible without involving too much costs.”
The result is a dynamic and chaotic space where knowledge and ideas are shared, and participants benefit from early-stage feedback. “The LiftLab is really a collective intelligence device that is hopefully beneficial for every participant,” Solioz said.
The teams have access to 70 experts in a wide range of fields, from finance, energy and science to design and communications.
The experts share knowledge with teams to help them achieve their goals and build their “unique prototyping journey” within a set of consecutive modules called “beacons” that are based on their specific project-development needs. These modules are classified in six categories: Inspiration, Solution Shaping, Testing, Ecosystem Engagement, Project Management, Team Happiness.
Projects this year include identifying ways that blockchain can secure student diplomas, setting up an accelerator in Geneva to advance the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and developing methodologies for town municipalities to become energy self-sufficient.
For one team, the event is helping to construct new ways of working as a diverse, eight-company team on a large-scale project to reconstruct parts of Paris.
“They need to come here to create the team alignment, to break the silos of the company, in order to improve their comprehension of the project, and think: ’how can we enhance the quality of life of citizens? How can we reduce the problem in terms of mobility that happens when you have such big construction sites on thousands and thousands of square meters?’” Solioz explained.
By Lucy Spencer (@inquisitivelucy), ITU News