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Can Australia Become The World's Leading Innovation Nation?

When the new Prime Minister of Australia and his new cabinet ministers after being sworn in on September 21, all started using the word "innovation"  twice or three times in their first media appearances, my ears pricked up decisively. Was it possible Australia was on the verge of finding the beginnings of a new national voice or better still returning to its deep heart, the very DNA that founded the country - innovation and adaptation - in order to survive?  The Prime Minister's uses of the word "innovation" were well nuanced, offering the layman a simple argument for its need, giving his message a gravitas I have not heard from Federal Governments of either persuasion in the last decade or so.
Innovation is extremely difficult in organisations, let alone in government and public services,  especially with the three tiered systems of government that Australia has. Nevertheless any government that builds its political narrative around a national conversation based on innovation, where ideas are not ruled in or out based on ideological point scoring, is reflecting the essence of where a visionary 21st Century democracy seeking social cohesion needs to be moving in the rapid fast changing unstable global world we are currently experiencing.
So what might the impediments be to Australia in building a strong innovative nation in 21st Century?
On Monday November 16, Professors Alan Fels AO and John Hewson launched the results of a national research project conducted by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) on behalf of the Chief Scientist for presentation to Prime Minister and Cabinet entitled Building Australia’s Comparative Advantage in 21st Century. I had the honour of being part of the ACOLA work group with special responsibility for gaining understanding and insights from an external global perspective on the state of innovation in Australia.
A specifically designed international survey, facilitated by Australian based international chambers of commerce and foreign embassy commercial attaches, asked questions of survey participants around themes of working relationships in Australia, entrepreneurship in Australia, innovation in Australia and doing business in Australia.
The survey was conducted over three months from December 2014 through to March 2015 and all respondents were required to have had experience doing business in Australia as well as in other countries. The study was originally designed to target only foreigners and was later expanded to include Australians meeting the same requirement. There were 262 completed surveys, the majority (61%) were foreign nationals; 39% were Australian nationals. A plurality of the respondents worked for companies headquartered outside of Australia. Overall, respondents assumed high-ranking positions within their companies, with 67% of respondents indicating they were C-level senior executives (e.g. CEO, CFO, etc) or owner within their company.

So how is Australia viewed from an innovation perspective internationally? I offer this brief snapshot summary from the research report.

  • Australia rates high in key areas that foster innovation, implying that Australia has the potential necessary to be a world leader in innovation. Indeed, Australia is seen as having more opportunity for innovation than other countries. Yet, Australians view Australia differently and less favourably than foreigners on key aspects of innovation.
  • International executives look favourably on the Australian workforce. Australians are viewed as productive,well-educated with capable scienists. They are easy to work with yet are less likely to be viewed as leaders in the workplace.
  • A majority of respondents feel Australia’s financial/credit constraints impede innovation activities in Australian firms and government is not viewed as being supportive of innovation compared to other countries. Indeed, Australia’s taxes on businesses and rules and regulations are not viewed favourably in comparison to other countries.(It is worth reading the anecdotes on this point to obtain a sense of the specific issues.)

A full 59 page report including qualitative and quantitative data can be downloaded that drills down deeply into the issues of innovation in Australia from a global perspective highlighting in more detail the potential impediments

The recent release of the 2015 Global Creativity Index (GCI). ranking Australia as the number 1 nation in the world creatively, based on the GCI's broad-based measure for advanced economic growth and sustainable prosperity using Richard Florida's talent, technology, and tolerance framework, is more reason to be optimistic about Australia's future. ACOLA's overall report offers great insight about the challenges facing Australia in 21st Century. Hopefully it will assist the Australia government in setting policies and incentives to enable Australian organizations the potential to build on this important GCI ranking.

As the former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, (a dual Australian-Greek citizen) recently said on Q&A. "Australia's public debt is minuscule and has been extraordinarily well managed. However it's private debt is very high and that should be worrying. The way forward to reduce that concern is through investment and innovation!!"

Is Australia lucky enough again to be on the right track at the right time?

Personal Update

My focus in 2015 has been with global partners developing new innovation services and products based on big data analysis designed to measure organizations' innovation initiatives and the development of an advanced innovation ecology platform that is far more than a simple crowd sourcing star rated idea generation software package. So I look forward to announcing some major new initiatives in 2016 that I believe could be very useful for you and the innovation practice within your organization.
I want to thank you for your support in 2015 and hope you have had a great year. All the best for the coming festive season and have a great 2016.

Reader Comments (2)

Hi Ralph

I think you'll have to ask another question if you seek an answer to this: Do we, as a nation, want to be the world's leading innovation nation?

Results follow desire and intent, and I doubt if there's enough of that for what you propose (for a number of reasons - e.g. creativity often thrives in 'hubs' or centres of activity. I think we're too remote for sufficient stimulus to initiate what you perhaps desire.

December 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Pirie

I should add, I omitted the elephant in the room -- our 2nd rate (some argue 3rd rate) NBN won't enable us to be a leading innovation country.

Some of the comments in this SMH article Malcolm's NBN Mess highlight how far behind we are, and how, with the MTM "Malcolm Turnbull Mess", we'll remain behind.

Sorry Ralph, short answer is no, while ever we lack the political chops to create a decent world-leading NBN.

December 12, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Pirie

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