DiG Festival: Looking at Innovation

Aisling Philippa basks in the creativity from the weekend’s DiG Festival.

Attending the DiG Festival presentations, 2014
Attending the DiG Festival presentations, 2014

Walking into Newcastle’s City Hall last Friday, I couldn’t help but remember back to what I’d read from the DiG Festival’s website. It seemed far-removed from what I know of the hulking archaic building, with its varnished wooden interior, and usual crowd of blushing bridal parties or clusters of young women posing for their formal photos.

A group of vendors sat inside the main foyer, and I couldn’t help but note with pride that the University of Newcastle had its own stand, showcasing its robotics developments. Feeling a little more at home, I ventured into the main room, where respected industry professionals were invited to grace the stage with their own perspectives about innovation on local, national and international levels.

Starting the day was not-for-profit co-founder Con Georgiou, tackling the cultural issue we’re currently facing in Australian business. No, this particular talk had nothing to do with ethnicity – but everything to do with innovation, and how to cultivate it.

“At the end of the day execution is a behaviour,” Con said. “We need new leadership styles”. He emphasised the need for leadership that encouraged authenticity, trust and self-governance within and without an organisation. “The bottom line for us is happiness . . . in actual fact, profit is a byproduct of something – you can’t directly pursue profit. Profit is a byproduct of aligned values, it’s a byproduct of a pursuit of individual flow: and if you get it right, group flow.”

But what is flow?

Academic Mihaly Csziksentmihalyi (to pronounce his name properly, say quickly: Mee-high Chick-sent-me-high) developed the concept of flow in the 1980s. It’s known as the optimal state “in which the person is absorbed in their activities and when actions follow smoothly from the thoughts” (Larson in Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi 1988, p.163). It’s also associated with the development of happiness and satisfaction for a person.

This is all well and good, but how can we cultivate our own individual sense of flow?

Another scholar, R. Keith Sawyer, identified the following as ways that we can experience flow:

  • “Clear goals
  • High degree of concentration on the task
  • A loss of self-consciousness
  • Distorted sense of time
  • Immediate feedback is continuous while engaged in the task
  • Balance between level of ability and the challenges of the task
  • A sense of personal control
  • The activity is intrinsically rewarding
  • A lack of awareness of bodily needs, such as hunger and fatigue
  • The focus of awareness is narrowed to the activity itself, so that action and awareness merged” (2012, p.78)

So while Con Georgiou expressed the potential that could be had in using flow in the workplace, how does this relate to the innovation that is currently being shown here in Australia?

It has been found that while Australia is 13th in the world for innovative inputs: “that’s knowledge workers, institutions and infrastructure,” Con said.

While this speaks for the quality of what Australia generates, worryingly, we are also ranked 107th for our innovation outputs. Essentially, Australia does not have the financial support from the government to enact the innovative initiatives that are being generated.

“So my question is: what’s missing? I could only think it’s about culture . . . I could only think it’s about changing our mindsets towards risk and failure,” Con said.

And what’s one way that we can successfully change our workplace culture? Through experiencing flow. That, and also acknowledging that Newcastle can also foster its own innovative community through examining its cultural habits.

“It’s difficult to create interest in a new event, especially when we are three small business owners self-funding the whole thing. Everyone tends to hang back to see how it goes first few years before getting involved,” DiG Festival co-founder, Craig Wilson, said.

“We are trying to use DiG to change that perception of Newcastle and to encourage an economy of innovation. I have been saying for a while now that we need to stop mining dirt and start mining ideas. We believe that over time we will be able to attract more and more creative and innovative talent to the region and DiG can be a marvellous showcase.”

And on that note, we can look to ourselves to start our own personal culture change in the here and now. With impending exams, this is the cheat sheet for getting yourself into the headspace for study.

Some further reading:

Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi in McIntyre, P. (2012) Creativity and Cultural Production: Issues for Media Practice, Basingstoke UK: Palgrave MacMillan (p.115)

Sawyer, R (2012). The Science of Human Innovation: Explaining Creativity. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. pp63-85.