Stephen Maher: the chief executive of MBA
Stephen Maher: the chief executive of MBA
A view from Stephen Maher

Lions Innovation: what did I take away this year?

While Anna, Gwyneth, Iggy, Will and co were taking centre stage in Palais I, I decided to go "off Broadway" this year and spend two days in Palais II at Lions Innovation, writes Stephen Maher.

Not only does this mini SWSW vibe with its mix of creativity, tech and data, chime nicely with the work we do for our clients at MBA, but it can offer new angles on many of the main tech themes – AI, VR, bots and beyond, which are transforming our industry (and Cannes).

So here are my top five takeaways purely based on what I found most remarkable this year – over and above all those stunning award winners and the highlight of hearing from the impressive and crazily young founder of Spotify Daniel Ek, who told us that Metallica now use Spotify to localise their set lists per city).

All my observations betray the inherent tensions in this creative tech world for both agencies and brands and emphasise how many unknown knowns still remain 

1. Is big now really small?

Orwellian this may sound but there were a real focus of presentations and displays this year from the world's biggest corporates and brands talking about how staying big today is about acting small. These include PepsiCo and its "dynamic steering" culture, Unilever and its booming Foundry, Nestle with its "digital acceleration teams" and Henri incubator, and Coke citing their Reddit Superbowl campaign, which they turned around in six days

2. Will 'Invisible UI' rather than 'Immersive VR' inherit the earth?

While the supercool superintelligent ZZTop dead ringer Rama Allen demo-ed the Mill's mindfulness-inducing VR prototype on stage, the equally convincing (and cool) John Fremont from Fjord told us the future will most likely be in the hands of human centric 'background UI' – a sixth sense for humans and which could popularise teeth implants, tech eye wear, VPAs that understand our emotions and what we want, gesture driven wearables and even brain controlled skateboards.

David Rowan of Wired echoed some of this thinking when he underlined the benefits for brands of such a frictionless world.

3. Is the future ECD really an AI?

While Wired founder Kevin Kelly and PHD (courtesy of Hugh Cameron and Mark Holden) made us believe a robot could win a Lion (just look at Google's AlphaGo), talks from Pixar and Bob Greenberg underscored the many opportunities of blending data tech and creativity.

Herdmeister Mark Earls and Laura Jordan Bambach – who playfully took us into the worlds of Bowie and Burroughs – emphatically declared that to be human is to make errors and be random and it is exactly this quality that gives rise to the most creative work in music, arts, culture and Lions.

4. Will our current system of connectivity be the future system?

We all now of course expect the "network" to deliver all ways. But Estimote's Steve Cheney asked whether what was originally a Reagan-sponsored military spy system ie GPS – the system that a whole industry of location based personalised marketing now relies upon – would always be the system in view of the fact that it does not work inside buildings?

So he suggested the future may be in cloud connected beacons as the best way for brands and services to identify precisely where we are at any given time in a store or just indoors. Startup Lisnr conversely suggested sound waves only mobile phones could hear may be the way forward

5. But how do we ensure this future is not written mainly by men?

Girls Who Code's Reshma Saujani eloquently outlined that in 1984 in the US there were 37% female computer science grads and there are now only 18%. Still so much to do here ....

So definitely two well spent mind stretching days with lots for brands and agencies to debate and build upon. As Fjord's John Fremont reminded us – we are still in the childhood digital life stage. Indeed so much of the future is still to be written in this brave new tech world (must come again next year...).

Stephen Maher is the chief executive of MBA