Switching off from Aussie innovation for the time being …

The slow dawn of reality has crept into my thinking, that what I’m presently witnessing, is the rise of politically correct innovation within Australia. That is, that there is a rush on, to be positioned, to secure funding and “innovation wash” existing service offerings, ready for when government programs come into affect.

My high hopes for an ideas boom have been dashed somewhat of late. Not so much from the intent, but from the reality, that the intent does not match reality. There is significant education (dare I say re-education) required.

Let me show you what I mean.

If we look at the innovation website Business.gov.au. (their definition here ), it basically suggests, that innovation is about change. It follows:

What is innovation?

Innovation generally refers to changing or creating more effective processes, products and ideas, and can increase the likelihood of a business succeeding. Businesses that innovate create more efficient work processes and have better productivity and performance.

Now if we look at the wikipedia innovation article  it suggests, The term “innovation” can be defined as something original and more effective and, as a consequence, new, that “breaks into” the market or society.

Innovation is a new idea, or more-effective device or process.[1] Innovation can be viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs.[2] This is accomplished through more-effective products, processes, services, technologies, or business models that are readily available to markets, governments and society.

So from my perspective the first one, is inwards looking, about the term innovation (as in thats an innovative idea) to do business change or continuous improvement.

I’ve often argued that changing a business process to make it more effective is not innovation. However if that idea, is bought to market, as a new product or services offering, then it is innovation ie there has to be diffusion into a market or society.

Now if we look at the slick new marketing or education material (your viewpoints may differ on this) being produced by National Innovation & Science Agenda Australian Government it refers to how Australians have been good at Ideas, but now we need to get better at commercialising –  turning those ideas, into new products or services.

As you can see, there is a long road ahead, with a lot of jargon presently such as “Ideas Boom”. It will take some time for people, to agree on what things mean (even though they have great definitions available now) and to reach consensus. Then decisions will need to be made about how much capital is to be made available and under what investment thesis it will be allocated.

There are a lot of people shouting about a number of things surrounding these topics and if your not shouting the politically correct message too then no matter how novel and disruptive your idea or invention is, it may not benefit from the “Ideas Boom”. If this is effecting you, jump on a plane and go to Silicon Valley or elsewhere that may be appropriate.

I keep hearing about the lack of opportunity here in Australia, in many fields on podcasts I listen to occasionally. On those podcasts, when people ask eminent panel members about their thoughts on the subject, invariably, their answer will be that we do hope you stay and help drive the next generation. It always surprises me, assuming that these persons are in tenured positioned, how devoid their responses seem to be, from the reality of needing money (or some may say capital) and support to do so. Its this later bit, that’ll take so long to grow here in Australia. It may also require a generational change. The notion of not taking risks in some is the antithesis of what is required in an “ideas boom” era.

So I’m thinking of slowly fading away from observing and commenting on all of this, until I need something concrete from it. Presently it all seems to be a nice discussion, but discussion is after all discussion and not tangible outcomes.

 

Deflect, defer elsewhere and finally block – councillors answer to innovation

No one likes to be blocked on twitter. My first reaction to being blocked by William Owen-Jones, a local Councillor on the Gold Coast, was that he’s a sore looser and I had won. He’d just thrown in the towel. I was sort of rejoicing. However, there was more to this, I must have really hit a few bad nerves. This happens when cultures and what one values as important are worlds apart. Tweets_with_replies_by_William_Owen-Jones___WOJgoldcoast____Twitter

As can be seen in the photo, attached to this article, William Owen-Jones threw this blocking straight in my face. I never swore or called him bad names and tried very hard not to be rude. I asked questions and responded to tweets directed at me. I’m not really sure that this is acceptable behaviour for a public profile – which can be seen here.

One may also argue, that this blog post, is doing the same thing – throwing it back in his face. However, I’ve been thinking for a while, should I write it or not. Clearly, I’ve decided to do so, because the little online incident shows just how much work is required in the city I live presently, being the Gold Coast Australia, to change attitudes. There is no real tech/entrepreneurial culture here, outside of a small few pockets; whereby those presently classified as leaders have had little, to no real exposure to an innovative tech culture based around startups; nor to large groups of techies & programmer types.

Twitter is the place where you can communicate with persons that you normally wouldn’t. In the case of an elected officials, twitter acts as a conduit through which those persons can engage more readily to find out what constituents needs and wants are. But this works both ways in that constituents can find out the machinations behind the public office. When a public official blocks – it just says, don’t talk to me unless you agree with what I’m going to tell you. For intelligent and inquiring people, thats just so wrong.

I, like so many other techies, in Australia, have been amazed over the last decade or so at the very conservatism in our leaders, at all levels in public and private sectors, regarding technology and innovation. It was the later, that I was really pushing the councillor on. I wanted to know what the local council was doing and how they intended to respond to the recent statements by Australia’s new Prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull that innovation is at the forefront of Australia’s economic agenda – opinion piece can be found here. An excerpt from Malcolm’s speech

“We have to work more agilely, more innovatively, we have to be more nimble in the way we seize the enormous opportunities that are presented to us. We’re not seeking to proof ourselves against the future. We are seeking to embrace it,” Malcolm Turnbull said during ministry announcement speech.

What I found was that I was deflected to things such as a press release to run for office (yea right) Tweets_with_replies_by_William_Owen-Jones___WOJgoldcoast____Twitter

Or I was deferred to other levels of government.

But I wanted to know  “what the local Council policies were?” and “What were they doing?”. Unlike other councils around Australia e.g. Sunshine Coast , there appeared to be no policies. There also seemed to be no understanding of what or how local council, in particular the GCCC, will play a potential role (or like to see it).

It also became clear, that what innovation meant was not well understood by Will – he deferred to some BRW (Business Review Weekly), an Australian publication, definition as “change that adds value”. Thats just continuous improvement. I referred him to Clayton Christensen and disruptive innovation. However that was lost on him ….. no response.

There was no distinction between old school internal enterprise IT and innovation (R&D, entrepreneurship and commercialisation of novel IP) that I could perceive. They seemed to be the same thing??? This really surprised me.

I tried to suggest its time to stop following and to start leading. Clearly by pushing for answers and calling BS on him, I just highlighted his ignorance.

I feel quite strongly, after seeing so many colleagues and associates leave the Gold Coast, for greener pastures, that the GCCC needs to address this question of innovation in a more professional, thought out way. The existing approach is just ticking a few boxes. Old players are protecting turfs (and budgets and reputations).

Its time for some renewal. They can’t just keep blocking it out!!

Renewed Australian tech innovation – will it keep our best and brightest home

There are apparently 20,000+ Australian tech entrepreneurs in the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area. They left Australia, as there is limited ability to pursue what they are passionate about here. The government and business environment, hampered by conservatism and a risk adverse culture, stifles their creativity and throttles funding for early stage commercialisation.

The Australian tech entrepreneur community is rejoicing this week. Finally we have a Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull who is a friend. He is placing innovation and technology at the forefront of Australia’s political agenda. Its a brave move, with significant inertia in all levels of government and business needing to be addresses. Can it be overcome? Will anything change?

These are hard questions to answer succinctly in this post. My initial rejoicing, the same as others, has been quickly bought back to one of the usual lethargy about pursing activity in Australia. The Australian business executive, politicians and government people, appear to be IMHO, living in this dream world, that they have nothing to fear about technology disruption. I believe this, like many other entrepreneurs to be a misguided view.

In the past, Australia as a country, has had economic success from primary production and resources. The last decade seeing a mining boom, fuelled by Iron ore, being supplied to China, producing significant wealth. It enabled the economy to ride out the GFC (Mk I & Mk II). However unlike in other parts of the world, it didn’t clean out inefficient businesses. Its too much to go into the detail here about how technology in the US, reduced the need to rehire to same employment levels and beyond once the GFC was over. They just kept the same number of employees as they recovered i.e. they became more productive.

Australia has one of the worst productivity ratios of any OECD country. The economy now is fuelled by banking and property (Sydney and Melbourne prices have not burst and the ratio of house prices to wages means many simply will not own one in their lifetimes). But this thinking that bricks & mortar, property is a safe bet, permeates throughout levels of execs be it private or public sector.

There are generations in the Australian work forces, that have never bought to market novel invention, which is the crux of innovation. Such that if you try to have a meaningful discussion, they block everything out. They just don’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to talk about it. Even worse they think its SEP (Someone Else’s Problem) so they’ll just sit back and wait to find out. In my eye, its just so wrong.

There are major issues ahead for the federal government, and I keep hearing that communication will be a key part of any policy. Yet I fear, that as an economy we do not have the time or budget to re-educate/bring along these people. Most just like things the way they are now. If we leave it that way, our lifestyles will continue to suffer and the real value of our wages will also continue to decline.

Whats to be done with them? As a nation do we just increase welfare and accept that unemployment will continue to rise?

It does sound harsh, but the smart ones, have already left our shores (Many more want to follow but can’t for various reasons). They won’t want to come back to work with people, that just don’t get what they are talking about. They’ll want people, that can openly debate and discuss the matter at hand, in an intelligent way.

If we invest more in innovation, science and entrepreneurship in Australia, will we attract any of the 20,000 back. Maybe a few, but that’d be natural. Having visited the Bay Area a few times, I feel that the government has a lot of work to even start to come close. Presently it just appears to be euphoria – we’ll need to see actual dollars being invested and attitudes changed. Hopefully, a new batch of political leaders will also be installed to help pave the way. So it’ll take a while.

Big Data – disrupting business?

Maybe it’s the term Big itself, but the mere mention of Big Data causes immense excitement with business executives. This is leading to disruption in business, as they quickly realize that their existing business strategy is inadequate and needs to change.

This has led many to follow past strategies and to be spectators, waiting to see which Use Cases others have wins with.
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It’s argued by many, that this approach, whilst successful in the past, will leave many organisations too far behind to catch up. I myself don’t believe, that with this innovation wave, that you are going to see the killer Use Cases shared within an industry. Those that invest and gain competitive advantage won’t share exactly how they do it. They’ll however share the building blocks, as more formal academic research papers. If you are not a technology or Internet company you most likely will be relying on the old guard tech vendors. It will take these vendors time to create solutions – that can be rolled out in an industry. But “where’s the competitive advantage?”, if all your competitors have the same solution.

Why is it so disruptive to business?

We are discovering that the insights gleamed via data and modern machine learning techniques are invalidating previously accepted business approaches and models. In the past, before cheap computing power and data storage was available, it was acceptable to have higher error rates. It was too costly, in the past, to either automate the processes or to collect sufficient data (sampling interval were long or aggregate/derived data was used).

Now it’s not too costly to do so but it’s difficult to assemble a team with the skills to utilize it. It’s even harder, to show that the ingrained learning of your executives, is stopping progress. But that’s what happens, when they learn more about Big Data, it causes business disruption as they realize the old ways are quickly becoming outdated.