What the Australian Economy Gets Right About Innovation; and Lessons for Other Countries (Part 1 in series)

Over the past few months I have been spending time with a range of Australian companies, getting to better understand their business models and approaches to innovation. After working with US / European organizations for many years, it’s been refreshing to see the actions and impact of innovation in this market.

As background, the Australian economy makes up less than 2% of global GDP, but is the second-wealthiest nation in terms of wealth per adult (after Switzerland). Further, in 2018 the Australian economy recorded 27 years (not quarters) of sustained economic growth, setting a record for a modern economy. Of course, it’s not all good news, with fundamental challenges such as increasing wealth polarization, low scores on global innovation indexes (ranked 18th country in recent Bloomberg report) and questions around the ability to sustain growth in a constantly innovating globalized economy.

Based on my personal observations, I’ve created a list of positive perspectives on the role innovation plays within the Australian economy. Admittedly, I am in the process of being reintroduced to this marketplace, so I welcome your thoughts in comments section below.

Government (Departmental) Innovation

In any part of the world the last word anyone associates with innovation development is Government. However, it seems that pretty much every Government Department / Agency in Australia has developed a set of innovative actions, largely focused on digitization. Specifically, they seem to be making serious efforts to engage with the startup community (which can be a difficult goal to achieve, especially as a starting point), but I have seen plenty of action and headway.  This is exciting and some early examples appear to be working, with Transport for NSW and NSW Department of Education. However, I did not see much focus on employee-focused innovation (competency building), which should be a clear next step for these Departments to scale and embed impact over time (Check out my recent co-authored article for more details).

Government Policy Support

Beyond Government Departments innovating themselves, there has been a consistent push to support private-sector innovation through a range of policies and programs, at both Federal and State Government levels. Examples include the innovation tax credit, which appears to be well utilized and the Sydney Startup Hub, which aims to support the development of a robust startup community. Though there has been plenty of controversies around the government research agency CSIRO in recent years, they continue to push forward in developing new technologies, aligned with a more commercial focus, sometimes through groups such as Data61 or ON. Though there is a sense of catch-up, the government appears to be pushing hard on these efforts, with a tight focus on sectors that are at the core of the Australian economy. Looks promising to me.

Education Sector Support

The higher education sector has been a leader in Australian exports over the past 20-years, driven by an innovative agenda. More recently almost every institution seems to be focused on supporting an innovative strategy (directed towards their own organizations), thinking (course curriculums) and outcomes (students). As constant, ongoing learning plays such a key role in innovation development, the support of these institutions creates real leverage that benefits all Australian businesses.

Combining Digital with Innovation

I was surprised at how often I see Digital Transformation and Innovation functions combined within Australian companies (or at least have the same leadership). At first, this didn’t make sense to me, as innovation is much broader than digital efforts and has a specific set of associated skills, but in many respects they share the same approaches and sensibilities. They both drive change (often facing status quo resistance), they can share resources, processes and methodologies, and they both need a certain determination / mindset to push forward. As far as I can see, it works!

Innovation Networks

Though my focus has been on the Sydney marketplace, I am impressed at the quality and openness of networks amongst innovation professionals. There are plenty of well-developed / attended events, people seem supportive of each other, and they are interested in new thinking / approaches. This kind of formal / informal network is not easy to build and maintain, but it seems solid to me.

Quality Innovation Leadership

I have been extremely impressed at the quality of innovation leaders that I have been meeting across Australian businesses and government departments. These people are engaged, articulate and globally aware. Importantly, they are increasingly being placed in positions of driving significant structural change within organizations.

While it’s great to focus on the positives driving innovation within Australia, of course it’s not all rosy, with serious challenges in place. In my next article, I will focus on the innovative problems that I have observed. Look out for that in the next week or so.

In the meantime, let me know your thoughts on anything that I may have missed, or that you disagree with?

By Anthony Ferrier

About the author

Anthony Ferrier is a well-regarded executive, advisor and thought leader on corporate innovation, with a focus on employee engagement and training. He advises companies on how to thrive in an exponential world, by developing appropriate strategic frameworks to guide organizational change and build cultures that encourage the development of new ideas. Anthony is a widely-read author, speaker and advisor to organizations such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Fidelity Investments, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, ADP and USAA. He previously led The BNY Mellon innovation program and has a Master of Commerce (University of Sydney) and Bachelor of Economics (University of Newcastle).

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