Today I want to write about something amazing, and that amazing thing was Amplify09, the corporate innovation festival organised by financial services company AMP in Australia last week.

Corporate innovation festival, I hear you ask? Well, yes indeed, and when I first heard about it, I was impressed, but couldn't for life of me see how anyone could possibly get a business case together to support such a thing.

Let me paint you a picture: get your Head of Innovation to go around the world and find the most interesting people she can. Doctors, political advisers, new media people, web psychologists, and, yes, even a banker. Then bring them all to Australia and let them talk about their work to the whole institution. See if it inspires new and creative thinking in your people.

But don't just stop at internal. Have an event in a pub where local ph.d students can pitch their research on a mic in two minutes of less, and give prizes to the best as voted by the crowd. And then have your CIO decide that everyone deserves a prize and give each struggling student $1000 to roaring applause.

And since you're not just doing internal, how about you broadcast the whole event, including all these expensive internal guest speakers, so that the world can share the inspiration. Do this even though traditional thinking would suggest that allowing just anyone, including competitors, to participate, would reduce any potential competitive advantage you might generate from the investment.

And just as icing on the cake, bring all your top customers and investor in to meet all these interesting people. Don't just stop at confronting traditional thinking in your staff, make sure your most valuable customers get their thinking challenged as well.

Finally, finish it all off with a staff expo where everyone gets to show how off their work in new and creative ways. Have, for example, a mock cave complete with cavemen to explain how your legacy systems have evolved to their present state.

You can understand, being somewhat a traditionalist myself, that when I looked at all this, I couldn't understand the business case. That's because the results aren't obvious when you just look at the numbers. I'm very busy running an innovation function that tries to get all these nice predictable returns from investments, so doing a festival hardly seems a great use of money.

But then I realised this: Amplify09 is the most magnificent ideation campaign I've ever seen. It makes the ones my team and I run internally at the bank look ridiculous in comparison, and we know how to turn our little attempts into money predictably.

Can you just imagine how much differentiation AMP will have as it actualises all that out-of-band thinking it generated from this event?

But the more important point is this one: quite obviously, AMP is an institution that's realised that the real competitive advantage it has is the people who choose to work there. Who cares about technology and products and processes, when you have the ability to invent uniqueness whenever you want?

Meanwhile, the rest of the industry is very busy with dark ages thinking about the nature of competitive advantage. They're all still doing trade secrets and patents, and trying to close down the ability of their staff to collaborate in, and outside, their institutions.

Want to bet which institution I think will really differentiate in the long term?

9 Responses to“AMPlify09”

  1. July 1, 2009 at 7:33 am # inspires people by showcasing other inspirational people. Something innovators need more of….support – to know there are more people like me!!
    And it sounds and seems like AMP (CEO)has the guts to support imagination and creative thinking. I have no doubt this will translate into success.
    And to those of us familiar with Machievelli or Ruperts “Diffusion of Innovation” will remember, what should be qouted by every innovator and change agent….
    “There is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new order of things…Whenever his enemies have the ability to attack the innovator they do so with the passion of partisans, while the others defend him sluggishly, so the innovator and his party alike are vulnerable.
    Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince.

  2. July 1, 2009 at 10:12 am #

    Wipro has been running a series of WiCamps in India (more at WiCamps are inspired from BarCamps and run as un-conferences open to every-one.
    For people who have participated to un-conferences, I think there is little doubt that open discussions with external participants are an incredible effective way to make thinking progress at light-speed. Competitive advantage no longer lies in the capability of generating new ideas, but in the capacity to understand their meaning and ability to turn them into reality.

  3. July 1, 2009 at 1:27 pm #

    It was an event for all times to be sure. Absolutely amazing collection of people and thinking.
    If we could get this level of collaboration going more across the globe there would be no limit to the possibilities.

  4. July 1, 2009 at 1:36 pm #

    Just saw Jeff’s comment above- What if we create an event that visits every financial centre on every continent as an extension of Centre for Future Banking or a repair initiative following the GFC- and we show emergent banking too?

  5. July 1, 2009 at 3:08 pm #

    @Annalie if at all possible, would be interesting to collect during your event short videos from local innovators across the globe and display them in one place to show the vibrancy of new ideas animating the banking and finance world right now.

  6. July 1, 2009 at 4:42 pm #

    Hey James, Annalie, Frederic, Nick and friends,
    Isn’t the idea of today’s collaborative commerce and social tech meant to inspire such shared experiences of ‘magnificent ideation’.
    I think a roving meeting by region, supported by a Facebook or LinkedIn Group, would be excellent.

  7. July 1, 2009 at 5:11 pm #

    @Chris sounds great. If the roving event is run as a series of un-conferences, it may even make sense to use as an anchor point.

  8. July 1, 2009 at 6:44 pm #

    James, This is great recap and I share your thinking: If we could get this level of collaboration going more across the globe there would be no limit to the possibilities. Spot on!

  9. July 1, 2009 at 8:29 pm #

    Hello James,
    fantastic article, and one that should be quoted around innovation departments for some time to come. I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation at AMPlify ’09, and found that the quality of speakers at Annalie’s event was just fantastic.
    One of the emerging themes from the festival was that we are entering an era of unprecedented processing and communications power; and that this will lead to an explosion of creative abundance because of the connections and interactions it will facilitate amongst really intelligent and creative people. In this new world, we will need ar better balance between collaboration and competition than ever before; and controlling IP will become secondary in nature to amplifying the power of that IP itself.
    Interestingly enough, we see those emerging trends (at a micro level) in the way Annalie run AMPlify09. The theme was collaboration and sharing far beyond what are traditionally acceptable boundaries (by the way, I was one of a handful of external attendees that were given the privilege to purchase a ticket to the event and attend ‘in vivo’, so there is yet one more dimension to the ‘openness’ you discussed in your article). By showcasing a broad range of thought leaders across the planet, Annalie also taught us all (by example) the power of generating an encouraging and nurturing environment for the cooperation amongst seemingly disconnected ideas & people. As Annalie did this, she proved that the experience becomes THE catalyst for creation and innovation. (Do I dare say the Catalyst for Magic?)
    Thanks for sharing some of your thoughts at this event and in this article. I have created a short video where I explain in under 10 minutes the main concepts from BJ Foggs workshop on computerised persuasion, and from Spike Jones’ workshop on story telling; If you were unable to attend those 2 sessions, I encourage you to visit and see the video.
    Looking forward to meeting with you at the next AMPlify!
    With my warmest regards,
    Diego (The crazy Colombian)

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