Judging the Innovation Lions is incredibly tough. No other Lions award puts before the wall of judges the variety of a boot-strapped start-up, multi-billion dollar corporation, prototype of early-stage technology, or scale-up that it iterating innovation.
Which raises the question - how is it possible to judge a giant of innovation like Google or Baidu or Intel, who consistently change the world, next to a passionate, inspired business of two years with one to five employees that could change the world?
Of course, the answer is you have to focus on the question – what is Innovation?
We awarded two gold winners this year and you could not get two more contrasting examples of Innovation. Google’s Tilt Brush won one gold and has, as many of my fellow jurors argued, the potential to be the next Photoshop or Illustrator.
Democratising the creation of Virtual Reality, it enables anyone, with a tilt brush in hand, to create 3D imagery in virtual reality. Tilt Brush has been applauded for a beautiful user interface, it’s ease of use and Google are continuously developing on the platform to add more social and sharing features.
Of course, (and I can hear you, you doubters), it is easy to say – Google has limitless budget and resources so is their gold fair?
The answer is, undoubtedly, yes. Many businesses have limitless budgets and resources and yet do not contribute to the worlds of innovation and creativity with acts of such magic and generosity as Tilt Brush. And more importantly, when you are a fellow award-winner at Cannes, for example a boot-strapped start-up, and get to sit alongside Google well, as my fellow juror Luke Eid from TBWA put it, that lifts your achievement up.
And there can be no more perfect example of this than our next fold winner for, sitting very proudly next to Google, was Stockholm Pride’s Los Santos Pride.
This was created with no budget, no idea of how to make it happen and no expectation of what it would achieve. Whereas Google’s Tilt Brush is an example of managed, iterative and crafted innovation, Los Santos Pride was naïve, experimental and very easily could have failed. It was in every sense of the word a wonderful, brilliant hack.
Stockholm Pride’s brief was to take Pride to a new city. Contrast this with the many documented challenges in the gaming community around LGBT+ acceptance and they hit on a genius idea. To take Pride to one of the most violent cities in the world – Grand Theft Auto's capital city Lost Santos.
So the agency representing Stockholm Pride put a request on a gaming forum – does anyone want to work with us to create a free Mod (a modification that can be uploaded to a game) that will encourage peace and fun and acceptance?
The responses came in and a virtual team from within the gaming community was created – conforming to type they never met, talked, or Skyped, as the gaming creatives preferred to text. The most complex Mod ever made was launched enabling you to place a Pride march in Los Santos replete with rainbow shirts and face paints and, via social extensions and press partnerships, changed perceptions worldwide.
So a game tech hack and a large-scale well-funded piece of pure technological innovation took golds. Which probably makes it even more surprising that the Grand Prix arguably had no technology in it at all.
Humanium is a new metal made from deconstructed firearms. The metal can be used in industrial goods in the place of say steel or aluminium and the proceeds from the sale of this metal goes to communities around the world affected by gun violence. IM, the organisation behind
IM, the organisation behind Humanium, are the Swedish Development organisation who have a long history of working with communities affected by gun violence and so had the expertise and networks to make Humanium a genuine solution to a world-affecting problem.
So what was the innovation?
Humanium is a business innovation – an example of a brand seeing a problem, identifying a solution and then changing supply-chains, working with procurement and regulators, building a brand, testing business models to deliver that solution. What IM achieved was incredibly difficult, took years and has created arguable the most precious metal in the world – one that can save lives.
In a world where Innovation is often misinterpreted as either invention, a thing with no obvious commercial value or impact, or abused for PR, Humanium encapsulated everything innovation should be about. Moon shot problem-solving on behalf of a business at industrial scale with positive impact. And sometimes technology is simply not needed to achieve this.
So there we have it – a hack, a technological innovation and a business innovation from three totally different organisations. Each one a tough call. Luckily, my fellow judges were the right diverse, expert and down-right brilliant bunch of people qualified to make those calls.
Most importantly of all, the Grand Prix and gold winners we awarded in 2017 are an excellent exploration of the live debate "What is Innovation?".
Nadya Powell is co-founder of Utopia, a business change consultancy, and Innovation Social, a network of Innovation leaders and thinkers, and was a judge on the Cannes Lions innovation jury.