Thursday, 6 September 2012  Features

Innovation may be a current buzzword for trying new things, but the debate around it is familiar.

"There are plenty of fads in the business world," says Tim Harcourt, J.W. Nevile Fellow in Economics at the Australian School of Business. "It used to be the new economy. Now it's innovation."

"Ten years ago we were supposedly too old an economy, bound for trouble because we were producing rocks and crops and not exporting software like Taiwan. But on closer inspection, we had a lot of innovation within these so-called old economy sectors, such as providing mining technology to Russians in Siberia, or viticultural techniques to Argentina and France."

A decade on, we're still being innovative in the services sector. And with 85% of Australian employment and 40% of overseas sales coming from its industries, Harcourt sees future economic growth in global applications, such as the Australians running BHP Billiton's massive mining project in Mongolia.

"The Mongolians have great technical skills but they can't manage [the operation]," Harcourt says.

"Managing projects, managing people and providing leadership across international borders are things that Australians are quite good at."

Take the case of our largest trading partner. "The reason Australia does well in China is not just because we have iron ore, LNG and coal to dig up," Harcourt says. "It's actually the soft skills that have made us a success. In China we are architects, we manage building projects, our business professionals supply good solutions to Chinese companies and our education providers are helping to build local skills."

Education is an important part of the services sector, with up-skilling a driver of innovation. So, how can we get better at it?

"By combining the traditional sorts of education that we've been good at and putting it on an even more international footing," Harcourt says. "That's why we're taking ABS students at the Australian Graduate School of Management to China, India and Brazil. Internationalising management is a good way for Australia to go."

Harcourt is a key participant in the upcoming Innovation for Impact in Business conference to celebrate the AGSM's 35th anniversary.

"The conference is about providing the tools for people to be adaptive and able to respond to the different challenges in the global economy which Australia will increasingly be integrated into in the Asian 21-st century," he says.

When: Tuesday, 11 September, 2012.

Where: Australian Graduate School of Management building, UNSW

Contact: Alison Avery (a.avery@unsw.edu.au)