European Innovation

Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn
Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn

Last week, the Lisbon Council hosted one of my favourite events ever, The 2010 Innovation Summit. It was what an event on innovation should be: open to new ideas, collaborative and, well, simply different. Intellectually, the discussions were underpinned by a new e-brief we launched at the occasion, entitled Wikinomics and the Era of Openness: European Innovation at a Crossroads. It was written by our newest team member, Anthony D. Williams, who now serves as senior fellow and is best known as co-author of the international bestseller Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. It’s a brilliant analysis of how the nature of innovation itself is changing – by becoming more open, more collaborative and more interdisciplinary. Highly recommended, and check out the footnotes which are all interactive and will guide you to many cool projects around Europe that we discovered doing this research.

The overall highlight of the event was undoubtedly the thundering speech delivered by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the EUs first innovation commissioner. She was simply fabulous and surprised everyone with the clarity of her vision, articulating in precise terms what her roadmap is, while also signaling her willingness to listen to others and take their ideas onboard. I had the pleasure of chairing the session with her and was looking down on an audience that was quite simply in awe with the speaker and listening to her every word. I think for many it may have dawned for the first time that in order to be a credible advocate for innovation, one needs to be innovative, curious and open to the world and embrace new realities and challenges. Well, that’s exactly what we saw that day – and not only from the Commissioner by the way. Another highlight was the forceful intervention of Prof. Martin Schuurmans, the chairman of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). Anyone who thought that this was your run-of-the-mill EU consensus seeker and bureaucrat was in for a surprise. There was almost a moment of catharsis when he put his finger exactly on the weak spot in European innovation policy, namely the incessant effort to build some kind of common response and allowing the underlying process to become the ultimate goal, rather than focus on delivery and impact, which is of course ultimately the only measure of success when it comes to innovation. Prof. Schuurman’s approach was like a breath of fresh air and bodes very, very well for the EIT if I may say so. Prof. Schuurman’s remarks were preceded by Andrew Wyckoff, who is the innovation genius at the OECD in charge of its exciting, new Innovation Strategy. He is simply brilliant and a fountain of knowledge and wisdom. Andy confirmed what anyone who has remote knowledge of innovation already knows, namely that a lot of innovations are not the result of R&D (what a thunderclap in a town where innovation is too often equated with research spending) but rather new forms of collaborations and changes in processes and business models.

This event has left me more positive about the prospect of innovation in the EU than I thought possible. I have said this so many times before and even if it sounds banal, the key to innovation is the innovator, is the person who makes things happen, who takes a risk, who goes against conventional wisdom and who is prepared to embrace the new and not afraid of change. Máire Geoghegan-Quinn is that person and I know that our participants left the summit in hopeful anticipation that change has finally arrived in Brussels. As Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn so eloquently put it in her speech: “We are all innovators now.”

Watch Commissioner Geoghegan-Quinn’s lecture in full on YouTube
Watch remarks of Prof. Martin Schuurmans, EIT
Watch interview with Anthony D. Williams on Wikinomics in Europe
Watch highlights of The 2010 Innovation Summit

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