Monday, January 21, 2008

Davos - collaborative innovation

On Sunday I went down to San Francisco's Ferry Building to watch the 8 teams of architects participating in "The City of the Future" competition build their models. They'd had 7 days to come up with concepts, 3 hours to build the models (in public), and 15 minutes to present their concept to the judges. The competition is part of a History Channel show.

As I watched these teams, I was impressed by many things. First, in a very short time frame they had come up with vastly different themes - though higher water lines, the cumulative effect of garbage and the "victory" of mother nature over built environments seemed somewhat common across all 8 visions of San Francisco in the year 2108. Second, seven of the eight firms are professional architectural firms - who had clearly put in this effort around and in between their client responsibilities and come up with full-fledged themes and models and exhibits. Third, a team of students from Cal Poly's exhibit was indistinguishable from the pros' exhibits - in terms of creativity and craftsmanship. Fourth, all of the team members looked like they had slept and showered - something I remember very little of among the design and architecture students I knew in college around charrette time. Fifth, under pressure, and sleep deprivation (hidden as it may have been), and public scrutiny, and cameramen, reporters, and small children weaving in and out as they assembled their models, the teams seemed calm and happy. I overheard one team member say - "Only one disaster so far - the plexiglass broke - its going great!"

The whole thing struck me as a nice fun lesson in collaborative innovation. Which is the theme of this year's World Economic Forum conference in Davos, which runs from January 23-27. One thing Davos has done really well the last few years in integrate the web and internet tools into its conference offerings. This year they've expanded the pool of bloggers, have launched a YouTube conversation, and are using twitter and SecondLife to get folks involved.

The interesting question is - will any of the talk about collaborative innovation at Davos yield anything as interesting as the acts of collaborative innovation taking place around the City of the Future questions?

So what for philanthropy? Well, I admit it, this post may be a bit of a stretch - except that it touches on my regular themes of innovation, the need to try new things, the importance of cross-disciplinary/cross-sector discussion, the potential of design thinking and methodologies for philanthropists, and I got to use the word charrette, which is one I have always loved. Thanks for bearing with me.

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