Innovation Systems

A new report has been created by Terry Cutler, the Chairman of the Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, and has stated that Australia’s innovation system need to increase the amount of money invested in University Research to remain relevant. He warns that “Australia’s innovation system must be urgently remodeled.”

The ‘Innovation System’ is incredibly complex, and I’m not even going to begin to pretend to be an expert on it. But in an interview with Smart Company recently, Cutler referred to some areas where such remodeling should take place. Innovation is a funny game, and the following are some of my thoughts on where the whole innovation thing is headed.

1) International Firms = International Communities

Cutler talks about how many of the firms within Australia are not globally orientated, which leads to poorer innovation outcomes. I have to say that a lot of what happens in Australia is quite ‘aussie focused’ but I think it depends on what you define as ‘firms.’ The larger firms in Australia tend to advertise that they are global, and some truly are, but many only dabble in international business. I think we are just discovering that the greatest of untapped resources are in small, organic communities that are springing up around the world at the moment and providing real concept innovation opportunities to those willing to be a part of them. The nascent but growing Ruby on Rails network is one such example of a small network of real industry pioneers, connecting and working collaboratively around the world.

 Railscamp UK 2008

How we create and participate in new communities such as these, is a key innovation question for me. Funky business indeed. The challenge for ‘innovative global firms’ is how to connect with such small communities.

The mining boom = by definition an innovation opportunity

Cutler refers to the mining boom as hiding problems we have, because of the sheer increase in revenue generated from it. It’s true that whilst good times are rolling people can often put off innovation because of the assumed success in the way things are going. Many large companies struggle with this exact problem, putting off till tomorrow a systemic problem which needs to be solved sooner, rather than when it festers later.

The key is, to continue to scour the landscape for new opportunities whilst the gravy train is-a-coming. In mining, we have a unique opportunity to lead the conversation around how to make mining more sustainable and efficient. Bio-mimicry is now a known idea, with a key community following it around the world. A community
(see point 1 above) which could hold real possibilities for the Australian mining scene. Our best talent is making its way to Perth and WA to be a part of the boom. Perhaps it’s time to launch a idea-harvest around how mining can learn from nature, and swing in those funky folk who ‘get’ bio mimicry?

Export and the infatuation with Scandinavia

We here in Australia have a real inferiority complex with the rest of the world. Australians can do their very best work here in oz and go unrecognised. But, once they do something that receives ANY slight amount of plaudits from anywhere else in the world (especially in the US) we laud them as being ‘ours’ and being ‘amazing.’

Which is why this whole infatuation with the Scandinavians frustrates me slightly. Yes, the Fins, Norwegians et al have an amazing innovation culture. They ‘outsource talent’ and their biggest export industry is ‘knowledge.’ Finland especially has moved from a resource driven economy to a knowledge driven economy very quickly. But, this is easier to do in a country so close geographically to the Europe Union and other locations. It is harder to do down here in Australia. People continue to refer to the Fins as the example that we should copy but clearly there are some things we need to differently:

  1. Communicate better with Asia. About a third of the worlds population live just above our Australian heads. Why haven’t you (or I, for that matter) visited Thailand, Hong-Kong, Indonesia, The Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore or the obvious India and China yet? Many people are, but not enough.
  2. Finland invested heavily in ICT’s. Australia claim to be, but with only 5-6% of the population understanding what RSS is, I think we are a long way off. Don’t even mention our dawdling broadband network and the politicking between the G9 to fix the problem.
  3. See International Organisation = International Communities again. We need more communication between communities of people, internationally.

These are just some of my observations about the whole innovation game here in Australia. I’d be interested to hear about any other innovation systems you might have heard of, especially as they are involved within large organisations.

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