The Temporary City of InfoComm

by Paul Chavez


I learned recently that there is a strong correlation between the emergence of civilization’s first cities and what was an exceptional period of human innovation. Inventions such writing, wheels and candles all developed in conjunction with the development of cities. Cities provided a platform for people to share their ideas and a catalyst for morphing existing ideas into new ones. Cities with hundreds or thousands of individuals created what you might call a meta-brain - an idea network far better than individuals or smaller groups at creating and inventing.

In the last 10 years Infocomm has been evolving into something beyond a forum for manufacturers to show off new products. It has become the largest gathering of new media technologist and practitioners that has ever before existed. New products are, as always, introduced there, but today there is less value in seeing a new black box or a narrowly differentiated video display. The main reason we should attend Infocomm is to be part of the audiovisual meta-brain and help take our industry to the next level.

Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation talks about how groups of people create “innovative environments (that are) better at helping their inhabitants explore a wide and diverse sample of spare parts - mechanical or conceptual - and they encourage novel ways of recombining those parts”. We all come to Infocomm with a set of spare parts whether it is a new product, a the new way we found of laying out a touch screen interfaces or a unique speaker layout that worked for the last lecture hall we installed. Infocomm provides the best possible chance, because the sheer density of people and talent, to synthesize these individual ideas into something new and industry changing.

Recent cognitive research has also shown that we are significantly better at solving other peoples’ problems than our own. As a manufacturer, we have a lot to learn from our customers who attend Infocomm. Manufacturers often focus on selling at trade shows. Getting exposed to all of the potential opportunities is an important part of why we participate in Infocomm, but we often overlook the rich brew of ideas that can be mined through the environment that Infocomm affords us each year. In a recent New Yorker Column James Surowieki, writer of The Wisdom of Crowds wrote, “Venturesome consumers . . . provide companies with feedback that helps improve products, and often even repurpose them, in ways their inventors hadn’t imagined. In the process, the value of the innovations themselves increases. In that sense, our culture of innovation depends on consumers as much as on entrepreneurs.”

This year attend Infocomm with the goal of trading as many of your most creative ideas with others as possible. Encourage others to give you their ideas, synthesize them into something new - and remember them. In order to do this effectively, you will need the simple tool of every innovator - a capturing device. It may be a blank book that is small enough to fit in your back pocket or an iPad - anything that will allow you to capture an idea so that others can explore it. Capturing devices also double as communication tools. Visual expressions of your concepts can take ideas to another level - so sketch as you talk.