Monday, 26 October 2015

Australian Creativity, Innovation and Enterprise


Image via iStock

by Dr Marcus Powe

There is a peculiar phenomenon in Australia. We do not cheer for success unless a
ball, a bat or a horse is involved. We do not cheer for engineers, scientists, teachers,
artists or poets.

It’s time we did. We are facing an era of massive economic change, and we need to
foster creativity, innovation and enterprise to drive future success. We need to focus our leading thinkers on these challenges.

New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia face the same challenges and
opportunities as we do. But where our neighbours act, here in Australia we have
struggled to make real progress.

We make plans, formulate policy, pull fiscal levers, reward experts and consultants (I
was one of those too!) to assist organisations to start, complete research and
development and go overseas to make their fortunes. The dreams of enduring revenue
for intellectual property, job creation and a healthy balance of trade sound fantastic.

Most of our plans and actions have unfortunately either not eventuated or not created
enduring social and economic dividends; they have at best created many short term
wins. We have the evidence of what does not work. Strangely we continue to look
overseas, engage international experts, use North American and European case studies to build the foundations of our own entrepreneurial system. We seem to keep waiting for “the” model.

We simply cannot wait any longer, it’s time we back ourselves.

We need to have the courage to say, “this is what success is for Australia and this is
the way we do things around here”. Look across the Tasman, to see how New Zealand has created their own successful way. My last thirteen years teaching in New Zealand
has seen the Kiwis build an enviable entrepreneurial model. I know it’s tempting, but
we cannot embrace the New Zealand way. It’s theirs.

We need to build our own.

So why have we not found our own way, a way that creates and supports
entrepreneurs?

You may be surprised that entrepreneurship is a university discipline, originating over
30 years ago from an engineering faculty. I was one of the first of four students to
enrol in the first Masters of Enterprise Innovation at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia and was shocked to find that way back then, the tall poppy syndrome was alive and well, especially when an individual or organisation worked hard, invested in themselves and their people and success followed. The public would be suspicious, viewed them as shonky, or they ripped someone off or they were just lucky.

We still cheer for mediocrity not excellence. Why are we often our own worst enemy?
The good news is that many people today, either graduating students or those changing careers, want to learn the skills of entrepreneurship. I still find it remarkable that many think that entrepreneurship is something genetic, “magical” and cannot be taught.

Fortunately for Australia, this is not true.

One of the many things I do today is to assist adults with remembering how to reinvigorate what we are all hardwired with: creativity, innovation and enterprising behaviours.

Young children play together in groups naturally, while adults have to do teamwork courses. Children naturally pick leaders, while we are all doing leadership courses. If everyone is leading, who’s following? And who is doing the entrepreneurship?

We have Ministers, departments, and divisions, directors with the words creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship attached. Most I have spoken with are unclear of the meaning of these terms and the behaviours that go along with them: creatively making the connections others often do not see; innovating by turning an idea into an opportunity; and combining creativity plus innovation to deliver entrepreneurship.

What is required is leadership with courage, and a plan that fits for Australia. That
plan should be:

1. We decide that as a nation we recognise and reward hard work and clever thinking;
2. We support and invest in entrepreneurial education starting in all secondary
schools;
3. Social and economic dividends from any venture have equal importance - we
should not be put into a position where we have to choose. We can have it all;
4. We provide places we can practice starting and growing opportunities – this is
inexpensive, we know what works in our country;
5. The Australian way of creativity, innovation and enterprise will be the only way.

We must have the courage to back ourselves.

We are geographically in the eastern hemisphere, which will be one half of the
world’s GDP. Why can’t we be the creative, innovation and entrepreneurial centre of
our region?

The answer is we can. The only question is, what are we waiting for?

Dr Marcus Powe is founder and managing director of EIC Growth, and has been
Entrepreneur in Residence at RMIT since 2006, working with staff, students and
alumni to refine and develop their ideas and business opportunities. For the last 30
years he has been a student, participant, teacher, voice, observer and enthusiast in all
things about entrepreneurship in Australia.