Gordon Brown talks innovation


I spent most of Tuesday at The Innovation Edge, a one-day conference and exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall, London.

Put very simply, The Innovation Edge “aims to provoke thought and encourage debate about innovation.” It was organized by NESTA.

It’s worth explaining concisely what NESTA is as until I registered for the conference a month ago, I have to admit that while I knew of NESTA, I had little idea of what this organization does:

NESTA is the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. We are the largest single endowment devoted exclusively to supporting talent, innovation and creativity in the UK. Our mission is to transform the UK’s capacity for innovation. We invest in early-stage companies, inform innovation policy and encourage a culture that helps innovation to flourish.

So it’s an influential body firmly plugged in to the business and political establishments in the UK.

One reason, no doubt, how NESTA secured some pretty big names to speak at the conference and in the afternoon seminars and panel discussions.

Plenty of posts and media reports have started to appear with some very good and detailed commentary about the event overall, which I suggest you might peruse to see what people have to say and to get a better sense of what the event was about.

See also the audio and video content produced by NESTA itself.

Among the many thoughts in my mind about this event – which may lead to another post at some point – is one concerning Prime Minister Gordon Brown who spoke right after lunch.

It’s the first time I’ve seen this Prime Minister up close in the flesh, as it were. Well, not too much up close as the photo above that I took with my Nokia N95 8GB suggests – about 15 rows back in the packed enormous Royal Festival Hall auditorium (it seats 2,500), so the large projected TV image helped see his face as he spoke. (This and other photos I took are on Flickr.)

Brown spoke for just over six minutes. He was actually on stage for less than seven, whisked in and out very quickly.

He talked about innovation and how individuals like those at the conference were the key to releasing talent and driving success.

Even though he said he wasn’t there to deliver a political speech, it was of course a (not too thinly veiled) political speech. And why is it politicians love to invoke famous historical characters all the time in the metaphors they use?

Brown did just that, with anecdotes of Einstein and Montgomery.

The stories might be good ones but it’s all far too backward-looking to me; if you want to connect with today’s voters, look forward not backwards.

But listen yourself and see what you think – I recorded his speech in its entirety from my position seated in the auditorium, with my Microtrack 24/96 portable digital audio recorder.


(That little gadget never ceases to surprise me with its consistent high quality of recording. The acoustics in the auditorium helped, clearly, as did the outstanding sound system.)

I was quite impressed with his speaking ability, though, able to talk in a compelling way without notes.

Maybe such a live environment is good for someone like Gordon Brown. It certainly was refreshing to see him talking in such a conversational way – and it looking as though he meant it – compared to what you always see on TV news or on the Parliament channel: controlled, scripted and stressed-looking.

Still, it was a worthwhile six minutes to listen to on Tuesday even though he said little that I would regard as enlightening. A motivational talk, really.

I wonder how he’ll do on ‘Ask the PM’ on YouTube next month.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.