The release of the Australian Government’s Innovation Statement has widely been seen as a signpost for Malcolm Turnbull’s Prime Ministership.
Innovation is one of those things that businesses are told they need to do to remain competitive. Everyone heralds the value of innovation, far fewer can describe it, and seemingly even less people are doing it.
The big gearshift here is a cultural one – if we can inspire people to be innovative … I promise you our opportunities are boundless (InDaily: Turnbull’s $1b plan to drive ‘ideas boom’)
If the statement is to be believed, “innovation and science are critical for Australia to deliver new sources of growth, maintain high-wage jobs and seize the next wave of economic prosperity.” I actually believe that.
Yet after reading this statement and despite nodding my head in agreement throughout it, I felt somewhat unfulfilled by the time I finished the document.
Why the disappointment?
After some reflection, here’s why:
1. It focuses on creation of technology, neglecting to mention the use of technology – this implies that the main benefit to Australia from innovation is from local innovation as opposed to adopting overseas innovation. Truth is we need a bit of both to succeed in the global economy.
2. There is a massive focus on early stage tech firms that have the potential to achieve high growth. Again this is laudable, however the majority of job creation will come from honest entrepreneurs doing interesting, innovative things within traditional sectors. These people who create jobs for themselves and their communities don’t really get a mention. They aren’t really on the radar.
3. A regional perspective is lacking. Other government scorecards highlight the uneven distribution of innovation activity across Australia. This statement does not touch on that. Instead the only real mention of regions is the move to fund incubators and accelerators “in regions or sectoral areas with high innovation potential.” Not sure what the definition of high innovation potential is, but it seems like a recipe for increasing regional innovation disparity.
4. The old chestnut of university-business collaboration gets another run. Report after report says Australia is not good at this. The answer in the Innovation Statement seems to be to throw more money at this. But is money the answer? VC after VC say its important, yet somewhere down the university hierarchy the message seems to get lost, the culture doesn’t exist and an incentive structure is not put in place to support it.
5. There is a distinct lack of success indicators or targets. Maybe this reflects the definitional vagueness of innovation, maybe it’s just hard to nail down. Maybe we’ll never know how many booming ideas are enough.
6. If you are an existing business setting out on the innovation journey, is there much in it for you. No, not really. As has been said much more eloquently elsewhere “start-ups might be sexy but it’s important to remember that existing businesses already have a lot of what they need: infrastructure, collateral, connections and experience, which, if combined with entrepreneurial and creative thinking, still gives you a huge competitive edge. Likewise, whilst there are going to be tax offsets for angel investors who provide seed funding to new ventures, angel investors often prefer the stability and gravitas offered by an established company. This, for example, could provide existing businesses with an incentive to diversify and launch new ventures.”
7. Somehow creativity seems to have missed a mention. Seventy two times the word innovation appears, but creativity gets not one. Interesting given many commentators are now heralding the importance of creativity to drive growth and new ways of thinking.
Maybe I’m sounding like a Grinch at Christmas. I’m not arguing that the innovation statement is a bad idea. All I’m saying is that it reflects a narrow view of innovation that needs to be complemented by other economic policy documents. The risk otherwise is that Australia’s post-mining boom economy will rest on the narrow shoulders of tech savvy hipsters in a few regions in Australia rather than a more broad based approach to job creation across our country.by