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Pulling Australia out of its innovation rut

A quick glance at The Global Innovation Indexshows us Australia's innovation is stalling. We’re ranked 19th in the world, and based on our past performance, we are firmly labelled a ‘stall out’ nation – a category for countries that have achieved a high level of evolution in the past but are losing momentum and are at risk of falling behind. 

The research suggests that countries like Australia that are labelled as “stall out” can only rev their economies up by intensifying their innovation and looking at overseas markets. It also suggests that attracting highly-skilled, highly-talented young immigrants is a strong and viable solution.

The very first step, it seems, in ramping up our innovation – it’s sparking our hunger for it; our ambition. 

Ambition has proven to be a catalyst in improving economies around the world. San Diego, for example, displayed an enormous amount of in the mid-eighties– when its defence industry abandoned the city, forcing a large chunk of the population into unemployment. To find a solution, the city rallied together and opened itself up to new industries, centred around the university. Fast forward to 2019, and San Diego is an international centre for the wireless industry and home of much of America’s biotechnology industry. 

Finland has also shown itself to be an ambitious and innovation-driven nation. In the early nineties, Soviet markets disappeared, and a large portion of the population was left without a job. Government and industry leaders worked together on a strategy based around technological growth – and then, Nokia was born. Today, Finland is known as a highly progressive nation – distinguished by high levels of education, research, and collaboration. It’s now arguably the sturdiest economy in Europe.

So, how is Australia working towards pushing our innovation forward? 

The Australian government has come out with a plan, Australia 2030: Prosperity through Innovation, that outlines a strategy to elevate Australia’s place in the global innovation race. 

Released in 2017, the plan works towards an economy that all Australians can aspire to by 2030 – making 30 recommendations that underpin five strategic policy imperatives:

  • Education: respond to the changing nature of work by equipping all Australians with skills relevant to 2030
  • Industry: ensure Australia’s ongoing prosperity by stimulating high-growth firms and raising productivity
  • Government: become a catalyst for innovation and be recognised as a global leader in innovative service delivery
  • Research and development (R&D): improve R&D effectiveness by increasing translation and commercialisation of research
  • Culture and ambition: enhance the national culture of innovation by launching ambitious National Missions

While the collective works away at boosting the nation’s innovation, we should all be looking at what we can do individually to help accelerate the process. After all, the micro is what makes the macro. Much innovation is led by entrepreneurs and small businesses around the country – and here are a few key ways to make your mark in the innovation race.

Think in networks

Individuals think of ideas, teams make them happen. In the corporate world, ideas need to be evaluated for viability, turned into concepts and made into reality. To make the process effective, and as seamless as possible, you need a variety of skillsets. Every step of the way in implementing something innovative requires the participation of numerous different people, all of whom contribute to the overall process.

Create a culture of innovation

A sterile, super-structured, closed environment does not for innovation make. For creativity and innovation to thrive in your small team, you need a culture that encourages and nurtures outside-the-box thinking, creativity and idea generation. No idea should be too crazy. No initiative too far-fetched. Not every idea will have the longevity and solid legs to stand on required to get it on the ground, but every idea should be considered. 

Invest in innovation

The ideas with the greatest innovation potential are usually a shake-up from business as usual. This means they are also risk and require some investment – both financially and   time-wise. If you’re taking innovation seriously enough, you’ll need to allocate some budget towards implementing it. 

For more on innovation tune in to episode 4 of new SBS podcast, The Few Who Do – two hosts, one problem, two possibilities.