The need for Authenticity in Innovation (or don’t eat sushi with a fork)

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Guest post by Madeleine Gasparinatos  At a creative innovation conference held earlier this year in Sydney, Hollywood Art Director Jeffrey Julian said “You can eat more sushi with a fork. But it would be wrong”. Julian went on to say “…don’t innovate for innovation sake. Remember ceremony”.

When thinking about innovation and the need for authenticity, his words have stuck in my mind.

It begs the question - how are we really making technology work for us on a day-to-day basis? It’s becoming clearer that we need to harness its ability for making real, personal, cultural and creative connections.

Last month a two-day summit was held at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence. Called the Indigenous Digital Excellence Agenda (IDEA) the summit brought together nearly 40 emerging and established Indigenous leaders to co-create a nation where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can thrive in the digital world. Through a series of workshops and learning processes, participants were asked to come up with ideas to work towards Indigenous digital excellence.

What came out of the summit were ideas that were able to grasp current technology and make it work for communities. Some of the ideas included Blackfella Enterprises – an initiative aiming to sensitively and appropriately commercialise traditional cultural knowledge. Through new digital social enterprises, elders and young people would work together to revitalize and strengthen culture and to bring economic independence. Another example is Doris – a playfully named Indigenous search engine (Doris means to have a bit of yarn) that helps people find authentic Indigenous content. The search engine would use filters and approval processes developed by Indigenous people and maintained through community legitimacy.

There was also a lot of discussion about language apps – preserving the hundreds of languages across the nation, or welcome to country apps, so people can geo-locate where they are on an Indigenous nations map and understand past and present history of the land. What was missing and what was encouraging to see is that people weren’t looking for the next best thing in technological advances. They were thinking about making the current technology benefit them in greater ways.

Looking at this approach from an entirely different angle, technology allows us to work from home, interstate or overseas with minimal fuss. But is it worth it? Yahoo! doesn’t think so. Earlier this year Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer asked for all those working from home to resume an office routine. In the memo that went out to all staff it noted that “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings… Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home…”. Whilst this may have been dramatic and left some staff disgruntled, maybe Marissa has a point – are we innovating for the sake of innovating? Just because we can work from home doesn’t mean we should. The real magic can happen through connections and whether they be online or offline they have to be authentic enough to work.

So when thinking about your business, technology or your daily routine, don’t innovate for the sake of it. Remember ceremony and don’t ever each sushi with a fork.

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Madeleine Gasparinatos is a digital media strategist, events manager and brand consultant who has worked with companies including NCIE, Portable Studios and Das Monk.