PY Gerbeau debates at another splendid creativity conference at Clare College, Cambridge
The 2006 Creativity Conference, The Act of Creation, at Clare College, Cambridge, was another invigorating, exhilarating and highly enjoyable event. What is it that attracts delegates from organisations as diverse as FremantleMedia and GE, Lloyds TSB and The Department of Work and Pensions, RWE npower and The European Court of Auditors? Firstly, the opportunity to meet people from organisations as different as those just mentioned; secondly, the stimulation of attending a conference where you don’t just sit there reading bullet point after bullet point projected onto a screen in a darkened room; and, of course, a genuinely shared interest in encouraging creativity and innovation in their respective organisations.
And it was a profoundly organisational question that formed the topic for THE BIG DEBATE – This House believes that small organisations are inherently more innovative then large ones. Proposing the motion, PY Gerbeau, CEO of X-Leisure, drew on his extensive experience of working in, or with, organisations both large and small. At the heart of innovation, said PY, is the idea, for without an idea there is nothing to innovate. And ideas, surely, are the fruits of the human brain, whereby individuals generate embryonic concepts, which can then be enriched by dialogue. This is inherently the domain of the individual or the small group, and as an organisation grows, it becomes progressively more difficult to coordinate these conversations. And once a good idea has been crafted, small organisations are much more nimble at making something real actually happen, in taking fast decisions, and in deploying resources effectively and quickly. Large organisations are much more bureaucratic, more risk averse and slower. So, concluded PY, small organisations are inevitably more innovative.
In opposing the motion, Dr Tony Lee, the now-retired Head of Corporate Research for Unilever, distinguished carefully between ‘creativity’ – having an idea in the first place – and ‘innovation’ – bringing that idea to fruition. “I agree with PY,” said Tony, “that creativity is indeed the act of the single human brain, and that initial ideas are much enriched by discussion within a small group. But imagine the power of a large organisation that can harness the collective brainpower of a larger community. Surely it is the job of management to ensure that this happens, for real, and the successful large organisations – such as GE – do just that." Furthermore, large organisations can bring much greater resources to bear in developing and implementing the idea, resources of people, resources of market access, and resources of time and money. “There can be no doubt,” said Tony, “that the motion should be opposed.”
Who won? Listen to the podcast to find out! And to hear not only the main speeches, but also the very insightful speeches from the floor.
After drinks in the Scholars’ Garden, we enjoyed dinner in Clare Great Hall, to the accompaniment of some great music from Kintamarni, the Manchester-based saxophone quartet.
The second day opened with some personal views of creativity from the perspectives of philosophy (from Dr Alex Oliver, a reader in Cambridge University’s Department of Philosophy), science (from Dr Nigel Weiss, Emeritus Professor of Mathematical Astrophysics) and the arts (from Dinah Casson, one of Britain’s top designers and cofounder of Casson Mann).
What, precisely, is creativity? Is creativity in science similar to, or different from, creativity in the arts? And how does this all map onto the organisational and business world? Good questions; and we heard some great answers, to which this summary could not hope to do justice. Far better to listen to the podcast!
Delegates then participated in some discussion groups:
How can our organisation become a true magnet for talent?, led by Alison Bott, co-Chief Operating Officer for HR management at Goldman Sachs
Is radical innovation more valuable than incremental improvement?, led by Roger Leech, Operations Director for Unilever Corporate Research
After feedback from the groups, the conference ended with an exploration of how to build a culture of organisation, led by Dennis. Do listen to the podcasts, and please click the cover image for a copy of the conference report with low-resolution pictures: if you are interested in any further details about the conference, or in receiving a copy of the conference report with high-resolution images, pleased contact us.
“Fantastic venue, a very diverse group of high quality delegates, and some great discussions that were deeper than most conferences ever deliver.”
“I really enjoyed the debate, and the depth of knowledge of the delegates.”
“What did I enjoy most? The discussions and company over the meal in the evening.”
“The contributions from the floor during the debate were superb – but they were of course inspired by excellent speakers!”
“What a fantastic bunch of creative, talented people!”