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I was promised a smorgasbord of intellectual delights at IDEAS Boston 2012, and for the most part, the bill of fare didn’t disappoint. This day-long innovation conference was held at the University of Massachusetts Boston. On the agenda were over a dozen creative people from entirely diverse business sectors united by one goal: to innovate. Here are the top five inspirational stories:

  1. “Everything that rises must converge.” Wesley Morris is a Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic for The Boston Globe. In 15 minutes, he managed to link the Fast & Furious movie franchise to Barak Obama, NBA uniforms, and writer Flannery O’Connor. His point was that how we handle race relations in the United Sates is fundamentally changing. Different cultures have melded to yield a new conversation, beyond race-based dialogues. Best line: “Barack Obama has put black American culture on its best behavior.”
  2. “The media gets it wrong.” Journalist Linda Killian wrote a book about the undecided voter and who they really are. She’s found that the largely unaffiliated “Facebook Generation,” meaning people under 35, are more likely to register as independent, with some leaning towards the social libertarianism of Ron Paul. Best line: “Youth aren’t sold on the democrats’ social service approach but they don’t like the Republican’s social messages either.”
  3. “Winners don’t punish.” According to social emotions researcher David DeSteno, science proves we are more compassionate of others when we can see commonalities to ourselves in the victims. Best line: “We can build a sustainable society one act of cascading compassion at a time.”
  4. “Driven to fly.” Never mind that folks have been trying to build a flying car since 1916. Carl Dietrich, pilot, inventor, and entrepreneur, is determined to change all that. His prototype flying car named Terrafugia promises faster, easier travel from highway to airport. Best line: “We haven’t reached the Jetson’s yet, but soon.”
  5. “Supply chains are the biggest social networks on the planet.” Supply chain transparency advocate Leonardo Bonanni thinks everyone has an obligation to know where the products we use come from so we can insist on efficiencies that ultimately increase competitiveness, create jobs and reduce the carbon footprint. Best line: “Your iPhone has had a much more interesting life than you.”

Innovation is about looking differently at something, and finding inspiration where it’s least expected. In many ways, there’s nothing rational about it. Failure is pretty much an accepted fact of life for anyone serious about innovation. It takes a lot of faith to go against conventional wisdom, and insist on charging ahead despite a trail of failures. Innovators in technology, science, and culture may be the ultimate gamblers. Unlike Las Vegas, though, when their bets pay off, everybody has a much better chance of winning.