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Conference Review – ICSI 10

Conference Review – ICSI 10

| On 02, Dec 2019

Darrell Mann

The 10th International Conference on Systematic Innovation was convened at the University of Liverpool from 9-11 July. Statistics-wise, the event was attended by over 100 people, from 16 different countries. They got to listen to 4 plenary presentations, 77 papers and 14 entries for the Global Competition. Considering that the organisation is largely done from its home in the Chinese-speaking world, this has to be considered as something of an achievement.

As ever, the atmosphere at the conference was convivial, and there were lots of good conversations to be had from different parts of the TRIZ/SI spectrum. The breadth of possibility was increased substantially through a new policy of encouraging contributions from a much broader array of innovation related topics. I’m not sure how well this worked ultimately, however. Great to get more people. Not so great that the TRIZ/SI and non-TRIZ/SI worlds turned out to be so far apart. Sitting listening to a non-TRIZ/SI-based paper was likely to provoke looks of confusion from the TRIZ-people. Why didn’t they use TRIZ? If they’d used TRIZ/SI, they would have asked a different question. Or gone down a different direction. And for the non-TRIZ people listening to TRIZ/SI content for the first time, I’m pretty certain there was a similar level of confusion. Albeit this way around it looked more like a confusion around, ‘what one earth are these people talking about?’ ‘What do you mean contradiction?’ etc.

If the aim was to bring the two worlds together, other than the social events, I suspect nothing was achieved. Everyone’s confirmation bias ultimately kept them inside their respective echo chamber. Will any of these non-TRIZ/SI people be back again next year? I seriously doubt it.

This is clearly a problem for the community. As was the lack of participants from industry. Their absence either means that the content is not relevant to them, or they’ve reached the same basic conclusions that Samsung have: why should I tell the rest of the world the secrets of my success? Either way, this is another big problem that needs to be solved.
Personally, if I had to speculate on the heart of the problem, I’d point to the keynote presentation on the subject of ‘how to get your paper published in academic journals’. Which was a bit like stepping back into the 1970s. If the main job of conferences is to make me angry, the objective was certainly achieved during this hour. Unless you’re a career academic, the world is no longer interested in approval cycles of over a year. Especially in light of the fact that the whole paper refereeing process seems to be a game of spite and jealousy.

Everyone is right and everyone is set to ‘transmit’ mode. No-one is listening. And as a consequence, we get authors talking about their discovery of something that was first written about, in some cases, twenty years ago. If TRIZ/SI is built around the idea of ‘someone, somewhere already solved your problem’, it is quite remarkable that so few (academics) take the time to go and find the previous TRIZ/SI authors that have already covered their topic. Maybe this is one of the reasons academia-at-large hates TRIZ? Academics are becoming the world’s worst re-inventing-the-wheel offenders. And if it’s happening in the TRIZ world, heaven help us regarding the noise coming out of the non-TRIZ world (on which topic, see my ‘Two Mountains’ blog… written in the immediate aftermath of my post-‘how to get your paper published’ anger).

When I look back on the conference, much as I enjoyed the social side of it, and offer my continued admiration and support of Professor Sheu for all the time and effort he puts into keeping the event running every year, it feels to me like we’re definitely stuck at the top of the current S-curve right now. Which means, unless some serious contradictions get solved in the coming months, the ICSI world, like a lot of academic-driven conferences is going to find itself in an unrecoverable tailspin before too long.

Fingers-crossed for ICSI’11 in Tianjin next year.