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Today Charles Leadbeater, author of “We-Think – Mass innovation, not mass production”, kicked off the Lisbon Council’s Innovation Day 2008, a high-level debating and networking event that took place in Brussels.

Leadbetter’s bestselling book is a guide to the brave new world of internet-based innovation. Check out this link for a cute little video-summary of the book. An interesting footnote is that Leadbetter walked his talk developing his book online involving people across the globe.

I found his lecture on mass innovation and the power of the Internet very stimulating and full of entertaining and enlightening detail. The man is a great story-teller and his images and metaphors, such as on the boulders and pebbels, well-placed and fascinating.

The lecture has been recorded and is videostreamed on the you-tube channel of EUXTV . Don’t give it a miss. Watch it!

While Leadbeater said a lot of interesting things, I would just like to highlight a couple of points, I found particularly relevant to our debate in the EU.

He said what struck him, was how imitative innovation policy in Europe really was. Every place wanted to become the next ‘Silicon Valley’. But rather than copying or transplanting bits and pieces of that model to Europe, distinctiveness was going to be critical.

Innovation was often misunderstood as being only about new technology embedded in new products. The traditional R&D model of innovation, however, accounts only for a small part of the real economy.

Innovation often involves new technology, but not necessarily so. Often it is the application of old technology, of technology that has been out there for quite some time until somebody bases a profitable business model on it and turns the ideas into action.

Innovation is therefore as much about services than about manufacturing. It is a circular rather than a linear process and needs involvement by users, who often have the best ideas. It needs a lateral culture, where everybody can take the initiative, which is what the web enables people to do. And it needs the ability to combine and the courage and audacity to challenge the status quo (“unless someone calls you bad, you are probably not innovating”).

The biggest enemy of innovation is complacency, says Leadbeater (and, I should like to add, arrogance and self-importance). What innovation essentially needs is curiosity and openness. We are what we share!

Compliments to the Lisbon Council for putting this great event together!

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