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The Lift Conference 2013: 3 delightful days in Geneva with technology innovators, rulebreakers, and changemakers. Oh, and some porn, too.

February 9th, 2013 |  Published in Digital and Mobile Technology, Media 2.0

9 February 2013 – We just returned from three wonderful days at  “Lift Conference 2013” in Geneva. Lift is one of Europe’s leading technology and innovation events, exploring the business and social implications of new technology. Lift’s unique format allows for a very rich experience where participants mingle in a dynamic and informal environment. Together they share, connect and create new opportunities. Every year they attract over 1,000 participants from 30 countries, including 70 journalists and bloggers.

The three-day event is made of:

• Keynotes from the world’s best experts and pioneers
• Interactive Workshops to learn from experienced practitioners
• Demos of new technologies
• Social events to expand your network

And Lift is about what EVERY technology event should be about:  discovering new trends and turning them into opportunities. It is a memorable three-day event packed with inspirational talks, interactive workshops and fun networking activities.

Among the speakers were Dave Gray (author of Gamestorming – A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers), Daniel Freitag (founder and creative director of FREITAG, Oliver Reichenstein (founder/CEO of Information Architects), Kate Darling (IP Research Specialist at MIT Media Lab), Rachel Armstrong, and Sebastian Dieguez (Researcher in cognitive neuroscience, University of Fribourg).


The subject areas? A very wide range.  Some examples of the sessions:

• Resilience and Resistance

What methods and mindsets help us embrace our present realm of VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity?

• The Agile Enterprise

We learned how businesses stay lean and nimble in the face of accelerating innovation cycles.

• Reinventing the Crafts – the Future of Jobs Traditions

How leading businesses mix old skills and traditional values with new technologies and contemporary esthetics to become proudly artisanal and globally scalable.

• Innovation Drivers XXX

In the true Lift spirit of cross-pollination, what can we learn from the strongest creative industry nobody talks about: adult entertainment.

• Noise and Speed – Loose Breaks and Failing Filters

Mails, tweets, sounds, images, we are experiencing an age of content explosion and a crisis of relevance. How can we cope without shutting our eyes and ears and inboxes?

• Democracy in Distress – Re-engineering Participation

How can democracy survive and develop in an age of global networks and ongoing acceleration?

• From Fiction to Science, from Science to Fiction

The mutual relationship between science-fiction culture and technological research and design.


There is a lot to cover  in an event like this but Lift makes it easy having posted videos of all the presentations on their website which you can watch by clicking here.

But some of my notes:

▪ One of my favorite sessions was “Reinventing the Crafts: the Future of Job Traditions” by Oliver Reichenstein. His focus was craftsmanship and mastery in the digital age. He defined a craftsman as someone wise in their craft, someone who knows totally what he is doing.

The old masters spent many many years with their master/student, years of being together, seeing each other face to face. Good chemistry. Empathy. Thinking together. He noted “the masters of the Enlightenment mostly knew each other only through letters, never met. God knows what would have happened if they had had a chance to talk to each other”.

And an interesting note on Switzerland. It is an unusual system in that not everyone goes to university to learn a trade, learn something. Apprenticeships abound. In Japan it’s different, a very strict university system. Japanese love being different from the rest of the world (and the rest of the world now believes it). Interesting to listen to the Japanese trying to define how they are so special. Often, the more different people think they are, the more similar they are. Craftsman learns by doing, not by thinking.

Oliver believes that a craftsman knows what he does, a master can explain it. To become a master, you need to meet your master. That is the reason you need to go to conferences, to the office. You need to meet people in person to make progress. You can’t replace a master with text or a video chat. I certainly understand his drift, but I think in some cases a video chat can work.

▪ In the session Noise and Speed: Loose Brakes and Failing Filters, the focus was on the abundance of tools and services to produce and distribute messages, mails, tweets, sounds and images. Result? an explosion of content and a crisis of relevance – the distinction between substance and spam is continuously blurred. So filtering, purification and concentration thus gain more and more importance, both on a personal as well as on a technological level. So how can we cope, apart from just shutting our eyes and ears and inboxes? What sorts of new noise do we have to prepare for in order to pick up the remaining signals from the slew of randomness? And what creative potential can artists and designers mine from it? Sebastian Dieguez, the cognitive neuroscientist I mentioned above, was one of the panelists.  He was brought on to be the “resident neuroscientist” for the event. An interesting presentation on technology’s affect on the brain:

▪ My other favorite was something we’ll call Lift’s “tradition of innovation by cross-pollination” where we explore what businesses can learn from one another. In this case, the most profitable industries on earth: the adult entertainment industry. Which is something we actually learned quite a bit about … if you can believe it … at a 451 Research conference.  Not only did x-rated content bring us streaming video, online payment and perhaps one third of all internet traffic, but it’s also a role model in terms of business innovation while broadly eschewing legal patronage. From personalized experience goods to the sophisticated use of free content and an emerging class of entirely new devices … think Google Glasses which I will write about in my pre-Mobile World Congress post … and interaction models, there’s a lot to learn from the strongest creative industry that nobody ever talks about.

And it seems more meaningful, some way, when you hear Kate Darling talking about it. Watch below:


There were also numerous workshops so let me cover just a few:

▪ Niklaus Moor who is the Head of Swisscom Labs gave a brilliant presentation on how companies “theoretically” know how to drive innovation, but actually getting things to move forward is not always easy. He approached the problem from a new perspective … one I am sure you have read about … which is gamification. It was something I had not understood up to now but he showed how it can actually motivate employees to perform tasks they normally do not. He had a whole set of gamification methologies. Quite interesting.

▪ My favorite was a workshop titled “Payments 101: Commerce in the Digital Economy” led by Iason Nikolakis and Michael Rolph of Anthemis It was my favorite because (1) they did a very neat “from beads to coins, checks to cards, to digital wallets to virtual currencies” history across time and space of trade and commerce, and (2) they went through digitized cash and the plethora of innovative business models in the digital economy and I have adopted 3 of the suggestions in my business. Having gone paperless 2 years ago … no checks of any kind … I was intrigued by digital payment systems I had not considered.

▪ Equally enjoyable … and highly useable … was a workshop titled “How to become a dizmoi” by Matthias Aebi of futureLAB and Michel Zai Head of Design dizmode. The theme? Learning how to stop killing your audience with bullet-points by shifting from static and linear presentations to taking your audience on board of an interactive and dynamic journey through your subject. Shift into “dizmode” by combining and orchestrating various interactive elements, called dizmos, to produce a new and immersive experience when making your point. We all got a free copy of the toolset and were awarded the title of a «dizmoi» after a few demonstrations.


My conference take-aways

There was a lot to learn from this event, the “off-the-program” meetings and chats … as always, I suppose … being the most important. But being in a mix of scientists, artists, designers and technology engineers you could truly be immersed in all facets of the modern implementation of creativity. We sometimes simply rebel against technology: it’s too complicated, DVD players have too many menus, software is accompanied by 75-megabyte “read me” manuals, etc. We find ourselves caught up in what John Maeda calls “the simplicity paradox”: we want something that’s simple and easy to use, but also does all the complex things we might ever want it to do. Without thought.

But the brilliant innovators out there see it all. They do not draw a stark distinction between science and the arts. Scientists need art and artists in their professional lives in order to invent and innovate successfully. It is all part of that movement of which we are all aware … “Stem” – science, technology, engineering and maths … but widened to include art.

Best example we talked about? Apple’s iPod. A perfect example of technology – an MP3 player – that existed for a long time but that nobody ever wanted, until design made it something desirable, useful, integrated into your lifestyle.

I am a big fan of Maeda. His idea of “stem” being expanded also applies to art and design links into leadership. In a presentation he made last year at MIT he said that leaders … political and business … are now are facing a very chaotic landscape, things are no longer black and white, things are harder to predict. What better mindset to adopt than the artist’s, who is very used to living in an ambiguous space? Real innovation doesn’t just come from technology, it comes from places like art and design.

We seem to forget that innovation doesn’t just come from equations or new kinds of chemicals, it comes from a human place. Innovation in technology, in the sciences is always linked in some way, either directly or indirectly, to a human experience. It takes a conference like Lift to help you see that.

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"The mind that lies fallow but a single day sprouts up follies that are only to be killed by a constant and assiduous culture."
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