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Inspired in Beantown!

by Louis on November 21, 2011

I am an innovation immigrant.


I don’t often feel inspired. But I am inspired by the incredible third annual Aging Means Business Conference held Friday in Boston associated with the Gerontological Society of America annual meeting.  This was my second time at this conference organized by Greg O’Neill and his team of Sarah Wilson and Dani Kaiserman from the National Academy on an Aging Society working with Mary Furlong and this time with the always provocative and fun (and of course, natty!) Joe Coughlin from MIT AgeLab.

I have been involved with Mary’s events for a few years…having been a semifinalist in the first year of her Boomer Venture $10,000 Business Plan Competition and on the winning team a few years ago. This time the results Mary has been working toward really came together. There was a healthy mix of long dedicated and newly interested business thinkers. The energy was palpable. Just being in this crowd was fun.

The air of excitement started at a Friday night reception hosted by First Republic….a bank that is doing things differently. As we learned in one of the next day’s presentations, they are paying attention to their customers! What a novel idea! The innovation I heard that sounds great?…NO music! (Turns out I am not alone unable to hear and concentrate with music playing in the air around me. I avoid retail and restaurant experiences for this problem. This bank listened.)

Curiously (or NOT- maybe expectably) that issue rose again later in the day. Gretchen Addie and Jose´ Colucci  from IDEO, the quintessential design and innovation consulting firm, engaged us in a process throughout the day rather than just giving a presentation. Innovation worksheets were on the tables when we came in. We were encouraged to state ideas, note the participants, explain the idea, make a sketch and then hang them on a board. Gretchen and Jose´ reviewed them, then shared their take on a few, putting our new ideas in a context of some of their previous projects. We saw how they help ideas grow.

One of these ideas related to the bank practice- Cones of Silence for restaurant tables – allowing diners to dial the background ambiance/noise up or down to balance their desire and threshold for atmosphere and conversation. BOY would I love that!

Matthias Hollwich, the keynoter was a real hit. Matthias is a co-founder of HWKN and the design leader of the BOOM senior communities. Those of us in the senior  community design field for many years might say there is really nothing new here, other than wild looking/futuristic house forms. That misses the point. The point is a young, excited and out of the box designer came to this field cold, with no prior knowledge or assumptions and came to the same conceptual conclusions about lifestyle and community we have been promoting for years. That is totally validating! Second, his work is evidence of fresh and growing interest in these opportunities. Third, he brings fresh ideas for reaching the solutions. This young and really pleasant architect and…. just  plain….leader,  pulled together an extraordinary team, bringing real excitement to housing older folks in community.

True to form, Matthias would not be satisfied with the same old survey data. He engaged Hunter Tura of Bruce Mau Design, also new to this field, to develop a tool (looks like an app, folks) to gain customer insight. They hit the nail on the head.

I was excited, but not inspired, when I went to bed. I woke up ready to work, and, reviewing some materials, the inspiration hit.  What turned up the volume? Two more stories.  Do you have the patience?

1. I was so happy to see Jan Hively when I walked into the room Friday morning. Jan Hively, human extraordinaire, is lively, engaged, committed and she gets things done! Jan showed me a brochure from the European Union AAL program (Ambient Assisted Living- the EU term for aging in place or community). The EU has declared 2012 as the European Year on Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations.  Saturday morning I downloaded the ‘brochure’, a catalogue really, of projects- and started looking for individual project pdf’s to download for reading on the plane home. I was bowled over by the sheer number of ideas they are pursuing in the EU effort.
2. That reminded me of a conversation I had at the conference with Marcus Wilhelm, Research Director from Redstar. Marcus, like Matthias, is an innovation native.  He explained the way his company building company works. They generate eight ideas a month, winnow them down through research with the goal of supporting a few startups per quarter. I had heard this sort of thing before but never got much of a handle on it.

I have been trying to get a handle on innovation for a few weeks. I thought I had it recently- thinking it was about leaving assumptions behind. That is part of it. Now I  think it is about the process of rapid idea generation. That fits the pace of the digital/internet world, where I am also an immigrant.

This is exactly what Gretchen and Jose´ did with us.  It clicked for me as I paged through the plethora of ideas being pursued in the EU.  The process of innovation is to generate lots of ideas and consider them. For we immigrants it is a new way to think.

I feel inspired to generate lots of new ideas for the problems I am trying to solve, many of which are identified in Aging in Place 2.0: Rethinking Solutions to the Home Care Challenge

Trust me there was much more to think about and many other exciting, even inspiring, people at this conference. I may get another post or two out of it.

Congratulations and THANKS to those who worked so hard to pull this together. Inspiration is a gift. I appreciate it. I hope I see all of you at next year’s conference November 14-18, 2012 in San Diego.    Why miss a chance for inspiration?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Marc Gunther November 21, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Great post, Louis. The best conferences are those that energize to do things, after all the talking and networking is done.

Yes, innovation is about leaving assumptions behind and rapidly generating ideas but it is also about doing, testing, experimenting, then learning, revising, and doing again. The Steve Jobs book makes this clear. FDR, perhaps our most innovative president, had a great phrase for this–“bold, persistent experimentation.”


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