IIeX Atlanta, hot days and hot ideas

In only its third year, IIeX (or the Insight Innovation Exchange to give it it’s full title) has established itself as the key conference to go to if you are interested in innovation within the world of research. As a regular conference goer it is interesting to contrast this conference with the other main ones on the calendar; there are more sales pitches, more focus on technology and fewer longer papers and client case studies. But if you want to know what new things are happening in research then this is definitely the place to be.

Of course there are also speeches and this year kicked off with J. Walker Smith from The Futures Company suggesting we should look at vanishing points, major trends that are in decline instead of very small trends on the rise, in order to find where the next new things are coming from. Then we saw Vasselin Popov from The University of Cambridge showing how they came to be able to predict personality type better than your spouse simply from your Facebook likes!

Day 1 also included the Insight Innovation Competition where 5 companies pitched, Dragons Den style, for a prize of $25,000, mentoring and potential investment opportunities. Not surprisingly all companies were very technology centered but the range of offerings was good with ideas around gamification, social media, app recruitment, automated incentivisation and neuroscience.

IIeX Day 2 – Technology and the human being

For the second morning I tried to see some non tech focussed sessions and so started out with a workshop on how your mind plays tricks on you from Jeremey Sachs and Abe Rutchick of LRW. Abe asked how many of the participants had studied psychology at college and must have been scared when most of the audience raised their hands but they still managed to pull some surprises and again remind us of how fallible and full of biases we humans are. Jeff then followed these insights with some ideas about how they impact upon the market research process and how we can at least overcome some of the worst biases.

Next was Catherine Willis of Delta Airlines and Noah Roychowdhury from Northstar talking through some innovative qualitative research they conducted with millennial frequent travelers. In order to get really close to them they conducted customer workshops and then latched on to some of the most interesting people in the sessions and conducted further sessions with them and their circle of friends (who also travelled a lot). This gave them a much richer picture of the lives of this generation and how they feel when they travel.

Matt Warta of Gutcheck talked through a study they did recently within the industry on how the world of agile research is developing. It seems that in the US clients are beginning to really value agile research and its ability to accelerate their time to market. 77% of respondents saw their company doing even more agile research over the next year with around 90% of the people seeing themselves working in a more agile way.

So the day ended up being much more about agile methods, qualitative and human insight than the first day with it’s much greater emphasis on technology. There was still a lot of tech talk but this time with a much more human touch and results focus which was very welcome.

IIeX Day 3 – Putting it into practice

We kicked off with a passionate call for the industry to start shouting louder about its own success. Unlike most similar speeches I have heard the speaker, Merril Dubrow of M/A/R/C, then had a number of measures to actually do this including consolidating all associations into a World Research Council and getting all the top clients to insist on a code of conduct including no grid questions or long surveys!

Much of the rest of the morning was taken up by a series of presentations from clients taking about how they develop and partner to introduce innovation into their company. They recognized the inbuilt reluctance to change that they are often faced with but talked through interesting examples of how they had overcome these obstacles and created change that was of profound value to their companies.

Carlos Fonseca of The Coca-Cola Company spoke about how they ensured internal teams could innovate and work with great local companies but still retain some unified vision. He spoke about their “freedom within a framework” philosophy, a way of bringing in best in class partners at each stage of the insights curation process. This stopped them ending up with a lowest common denominator approach to global insights but instead a common core with great local ideas coming through. He also talked about moving the insights department towards shorter surveys, smarter systems and a modular process, something other clients seemed to be talking about too.

Lisa Courtade from Merck talked about bringing 3 to 5 key innovations into the company every year. She said they were looking in different areas, the key ones being:

· Cheaper is better

· Faster is better

· Actionable is better

· Differentiated is better

· Holistic is better

· Truth is better

And she had a very pragmatic approach to innovation, telling the audience to just go back to their offices and do it!

Tanya Franklin from Lowes was looking for innovations that were breakthrough, sustaining, new markets and disruptive. She emphasized taking a personal, agile approach to innovation, and she broke this down into key ‘agile’ personality traits that she said helped foster agile innovation:

· mental agility – the mindset that is open to change,

· results agility – being able to inspire others to innovate,

· people agility – self-aware so they can embrace diversity,

· change agility – ability to tinker and experiment.

Her final plea was to remember that organizations do not innovate, people innovate!

So the end of a very successful conference. Previous IIeX conferences have tended to be a maelstrom of new ideas and new companies. This time not only did we hear about these new innovations, but we heard much more about how they were being put into practice and, most importantly, how these innovations are improving how our clients do business.

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