OK then, so how DO we innovate? My Aussie trip and the AMP idea.

I have yet to meet one American who is opposed to innovation. Which does not mean that we all know what it means, or what is required to get it to happen. Michael Bloomberg, who knows a thing or two about business, is energizing New York City to get a major university to center a cluster of efforts and turn NYC into the new Silicon Valley (kid you not) – recently critiqued, err, savagely, by innovation guru Vivek Wadhwa in the Washington Post and elsewhere (he argues that clusters are really great for pols). President Obama has a strategy and some interesting implementation efforts, one headed by Steve Case, whose takeover of Time Warner by AOL ranks as one of the very greatest triumphs and disasters of American business; Steve is one very smart fellow.

Well, I went on a trip a few weeks ago at the invitation of a company that is seeking to take innovation very seriously. AMP, the Australian finance powerhouse, every two years invites a dozen or two futurists, innovators, digital gurus, and general innovation troublemakers to spend a week down under with its execs and anyone else in the company who is interested. Aside from my speeches I had dinner with top telecom and finance execs. First person on his feet after my main presentation (on how we should think about the future) was the chair of the board. And on it went, day after day. A huge benefit for the 20 or so of us on the troublemaking team was to get time together. We mostly knew each other by repute, or on Twitter, and the rest of the DC contingent was my friends Mike Nelson (C-PET Board member and senior fellow), and Debbie Weil (corporate blogging guru). So late at night, or at jetlagged 3 a.m. on Twitter or email, or on the rare occasions we were not on duty, we hung out together and planned the future of the planet.

But my question here is, What was AMP seeking to do? If you want the real answer, tune in in a few days, as we have a telecom planned with top AMP execs to discuss how you bring innovation into an oldline company.

Some observations. First, innovation is inherently counter-cultural, and therefore innovative efforts can’t avoid being counter-cultural in character as well as content. So a not infrequent off-the-record question at AMP (from staffers)was, I’m not sure why I am here. Fair enough: a special week of company-wide events is atypical. And, as some of the off-the-recorders went on to say, their recognition and reward in the company are not always related to the fresh insights they get at the AMPlify Festival of Innovation. But we do have to get there from here. And, here, innovators tend to be punished rather than rewarded. AMP is making a huge effort to change all that.

Second, their approach – building a high-profile innovation/futures focused event into the corporation every two years – is definitely innovative. For one whole week, AMPers high and low were encouraged to leave their desks and come along. The chairman was there. The CEO was there. Board members were there. The rooms were full, but what was perhaps surprising – and challenging – was that everyone wasn’t there! I’m sure AMP are working on that. I wondered how the world would be if every company did the same thing. Is it catching?

Third, I was made freshly aware of the many nodes of innovation. Not that I was able to join all the sessions. But I got to know futurist John Smart and Google education guru Iveta Birgis. Venessa Miemis, who inter alia has made a movie about the future of currency. John Hagel, who runs Deloitte’s Center for the Edge. All-round digital guru Ray Wang (who like me joined the little group who did the scary climb to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge). Check the Amplify website, watch the videos, and enjoy. Jim Benson, with his personal Kanban. The extraordinary Mike Hawley from MIT, who recently joined the C-PET telecom on the Internet of Things. Many more.

Fourth, the profoundly interpersonal nature of innovative leadership. The leader for this event was the remarkable Annalie Killian, AMP’s “Creator of Magic.” Her boss, the innovation champion in AMP, is the CIO. And her Chairman, Peter Nelson, was there at every event I attended. It’s personal and it depends crucially on the high end of the chain of command, if it is to have any prospect of success.

So join us for the call and hear more about this case study in company-wide innovation and change leadership. See the website where videos and more are stored. http://www.amplifyfestival.com.au/ And follow @maverickwoman/amplifyfest-2011-2 on Twitter where some of the participants are listed.

Nigel M. de S. Cameron
President and CEO
Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies

Permission granted to reproduce in full and with acknowledgement.