Innovation starts at the edge not the mainstream

I’m participating in this year’s Tijuana Innovadora event. This is event, the first of it’s kind in this city, started two years ago. It’s an attempt to showcase our city’s capability for innovation as well as changing the perception that we’re all about drug trafficking.

The first Tijuana Innovadora was a tremendous success. And how can it not be when you got people like Al Gore, Larry King, Jimmy Wales and Biz Stone here.

But this is a recurring pattern. The same old people are always at these so called ‘Innovation’ conferences. And that’s my argument. We seem to like to bring in people everyone has already heard about. I’m mean Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, is supposedly coming this year. And that’s cool.

But how about inviting people who nobody’s heard about? People who are doing stuff nobody think is relevant yet but might be?

People like this architect that builds with Lego bricks or this inventor who created a wearable LED TV in six months out of his garage. There are plenty more people out there who are doing things nobody thinks are relevant.

Events like TED and BIF bring in people you’ve never heard about, and although I’ve never been to either one, I think you’ll pick up a lot more knowledge from them than listening to the people who are always being quoted on blogs, magazines or the news.

Conferences that feature the same old people are also a signal that you are already late to the party. I remember about two years ago, my Dad was at some conference in Tijuana where they were was talking about social media. My Dad thought that whatever was being discussed was interesting, so he decided to send me an email that contained a link to a live stream video so I could watch it.

I responded: Dad, I’ve been telling you about this for the past 4 years. You had to hear this at a conference in Tijuana to start believing me?

Enough said.

Ideas eventually reach the mainstream and that’s when you don’t stop hearing about them. That’s also a sign of noise, of more of the same. It’s a signal to start looking at what’s not there. To look elsewhere.

And this is where it gets interesting because you also have to remember that most innovations are not finished, they’re just the beginning. And most of these conferences deal with innovation as isolated incidents. It’s practical to do it this way because people come to these conferences to learn and network, not to brainstorm. But it’s also dangerous because it presents a box. And a very seductive box.

I would like to see a conference in Tijuana where ideas that are not relevant yet are discussed, not things that have already come to pass. Wait, that gives me an idea !

Conferences of any kind are interesting, but there comes a point in time where the same old stuff is discussed. You have to be able to detect that because innovation starts at the edges, not the mainstream. And once it reaches the mainstream, you’re already playing catch up.

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