The Blouin Creative Leadership Summit Returns as a Think Tank for Innovation and Global Problem-Solving

From left: Nicholas Negroponte, Vivek Wadhwa, Thom Mason, Louise Blouin, Ali Velshi, Josh Wolfe, and John Kao
(Courtesy of Louise Blouin Foundation)

"Innovation" may just have been the word most frequently voiced by global leaders in every sector who congregated this week at the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit. For the sixth consecutive year in panels organized around themes of health, politics, and the arts in a globalized world, leaders in those fields discussed pressing economic and social issues. The guest list was packed with heavy players like Nicholas Negroponte of One Laptop Per Child, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Rhode Island School of Design president John Maeda, Henry Schein CEO Stan Bergman, and the artist Richard Tuttle.


Louise Blouin, chair of the Louise Blouin Foundation and CEO of Louise Blouin Media (owner of ARTINFO), delivered grim figures on the financial markets during her opening remarks, but cited innovation as the catalyst to solving global financial issues. She then opened the discussion to her guests. 


The first panel to tackle the topic was the "Principals of Innovation" group, moderated by Ali Velshi of CNN. He asked the distinguished panelists John Kao, Josh Wolfe, Nicholas Negroponte, Vivek Wadhwa, and Thoma Mason, "Is it true that innovation will save us?" While the group had a number of answers to Velshi's question, it became clear that defining the term was central to understanding and evaluating it in the scope of global issues. Also, among an infinite set of global problems, what were the ones being put out on the table? The group concluded its talk in general agreement that education is central to creativity and innovation. 

The "Art and Design: Being in the World" panel, moderated by Art + Auction's Benjamin Genocchio, continued the discussion of the role of education in respect to innovation and creativity. Mickey McManus of MAYA Design emphasized the importance of teaching design at a young age, referring to to the skill of drawing as a "lingua franca." He also cited figures that show the rate of information production in that year alone to have surpassed all such production from 2008 stretching back to the dawn of mankind.

Maeda, of RISD, revealed his "STEM-to-STEAM" initiative and added "Innovations are about change, but institutions are about keeping things the same." Tuttle, for his part, became the default voice of art in the conversation, pressing that there are fundamental differences between artists and designers. "It's very important to the artist that there is no goal in sight," he said. Wrapping up the discussion, he asked the rest of the panel and the audience, "Are you concerned with ends or beginnings?" 

During the same panel, Mickey McManus noted that "big ideas are easy, details are hard" — a statement that was borne out during the next day's "Education for a Global Age" discussion. By day two the summit truly was a place for big ideas to be juggled between guests easily, but where ironing out the details proved to be tougher than it looked. The panel's moderator, Stephen Kosslyn of Stanford University, began with the million-dollar question, "What is the greatest problem with U.S. education?" Allan Goodman of the Institute of International Education responded that study abroad rates in the country are actually very small, and that international travel should be an essential part of higher education.

While there seemed to be plenty of large systemic problems the current educational apparatus, when panelists were asked what could be done to solve them it was small but radical changes that were proposed — like the elimination of textbooks or the use of passports in place of student ID cards. 

When the two days of back-to-back meetings came to an end on Tuesday afternoon, a comment from Louise Blouin during one of the first panels of the summit remained just as relevant: "Do we need to have deficiencies to enhance innovation and creativity?"

While many problems were discussed between the entrepreneurs, heads of state, and academics represented on the panels, the talks themselves proved to be examples of the creativity and innovation under discussion. The summit continues to be a place for creative leaders to connect each year and touch base, some continuing the dialogue outside of the Metropolitan Club's rooms and even forming new businesses together.