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The Innovation Renaissance

What’s the Big Idea?

What do an art exhibit, live music, and a car manufacturer have in common? A lot more than you’d think. The Avant/Garde Diaries, a digital interview magazine sponsored by Mercedes Benz, just concluded their Transmission LA series at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The series was curated by Mike D. of the Beastie Boys and billed as a celebration of the latest and greatest in cultural aesthetics, with the primary purpose (unbeknownst to the attendees) to create a platform devoted to innovation.

The free-to-the-public event transmuted the MoCA into a hipster’s paradise. On display in the gallery was a collection that included artworks of all sizes and types, with everything from traditional paintings to virtual-reality-esque rooms reminiscent of the movie TRON. Thom Yorke of Radiohead and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem threw down some memorable sets, and Diplo, Santigold, and Aloe Blocc also took part in the festivities. The idea, according to Mike D., was to create a “Six Flags for grownups”, and the LA community seemed to be in full support of that sentiment.

But more important than who and what was there was why they were there. The vision behind the Avant/Garde Diaries was to explore creativity through a “compendium of various, very personal perspectives that disclose new ways of thinking and spread inspiration.”  As far as guiding visions for innovation go, this is spot on. The science of creativity is a blossoming field, and if it has taught us anything, it is that in order to innovate we must think different. 

Steve Jobs fondly referred to engineers and scientists as artists; the only difference being the medium upon which they extruded their ideas. Jobs understood that at its crux, innovation is art. He recognized that innovation is imagining a new possibility or way of looking at something, and then figuring out how to move it forward into reality.

A key component of the process is connecting things that may not initially seem to be connected. As Picasso said, “good artists copy, but great artists steal.” If Kanye West and Steve Jobs have anything in common, it is their uncanny ability to steal existing ideas and make them better. This is exactly why festivals of ideas like The Avant/Garde Diaries are so powerful: they bring thought leaders from different fields together into one interdisciplinary exchange.

What’s the Significance?

The global connection of the web has done, and will continue to do, many great things for planet Earth. Futurist Kevin Kelly points out in his book What Technology Wants that “evolution has evolved its own evolvability.” With 7 billion people and counting connecting on a regular basis -- learning and collaborating across time, space, and levels and varieties of expertise -- we have entered an inflection point in history. Innovation is ubiquitious: we’re living the Renaissance 2.0.

Think about the implications when people all around the world are interacting, learning, and inspiring with the planet as a whole. It is, as Matt Ridley describes, the perfect bed for “ideas to have sex.” Jobs ingrained this notion into the culture at Apple, and it fuelled the company's extraordinary success.

Exposing oneself to new ideas and inspiring possibilities is the blueprint for creative success. It is the formula for how we invent, how we innovate, and how we progress. For companies and institutions to mimic the innovation that has taken place at Apple, they must be innovative about innovation. Mercedes Benz has set the standard and should be commended, but the Avant/Garde Diaries is merely a component within the larger continuum of innovation, and it seems we are just reaching the the tip of the iceberg.

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