Taking the Rising Tide - From Lucky Country to Startup Nation

By Dr Jeffrey Tobias  Monday, 7 December 2015  Features

The Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) has reported that innovation in Australia is suffering from a lack of direction from short-termism and from a haphazard approach. Of the fourteen nations reviewed, Australia scored lowest in the degree of collaboration currently occurring between firms and research institutions.

A depressing result for a would-be smart nation.​​

Every industry today is being disrupted and the smart organisations are not waiting for others to disrupt them but are proactively disrupting themselves. So why, as a country at peace with a reasonable economy and only moderate unemployment, are we so complacent that we do not recognise the need to reinvent ourselves? Perhaps we do not know how?

Kotter's 8 Steps of Change provides a useful framework for embracing innovation:

Step 1: Create a Sense of Urgency. There is no doubt that business in "the lucky country" is complacent and lacks a sense of urgent challenge. We are continuing to fall behind in the innovation stakes, entrepreneurship is not a cultural norm in Australia as it is in the US, Israel and Finland, and our reliance on commodity exports exposes us to risk in the digital age. Instead of foolishly resting on our Australian laurels business needs to see itself well-placed to disrupt itself. The focus on building an innovation and entrepreneurial economy as espoused by the current government is good – we can step it up to excellent if we create a burning platform from which we can all feel the heat.

Step 2: Build a Guiding Coalition. We suffer way too much from a silo mentality and the need to derive value for our own organisation, rather than for the whole. We must build a guiding coalition of universities, research organisations and the corporate world, collaborating not just in name only, but devoted to producing the rising tide that will lift all boats.

Step 3: Create a Vision for Change: Malcolm Turnbull has articulated such a vision. Let's get behind him, reinforce this vision, and translate it into meaningful initiatives at all levels in the country.

Step 4: Communicate the Vision. How do we create a leadership network that will effectively communicate the vision at all levels, in a consistent and articulate way such that the vision is clear, concise and well understood?. It's also important to "walk the talk." What we do is far more important – and believable – than what we say. Demonstrate the kind of behavior that we want from others.

Step 5: Enable action by removing barriers. Let's think and act like a lean startup: Break down the silos and hierarchies, get rid of ineffective timelines, PowerPoint decks and committees, continually test new ideas from diverse sources, facilitate communication within and between organisations, continually test new ideas and learn at every step from failure and success alike.

Step 6: Generate short term wins. We already have many of these, let's showcase them. For example, AGSM @ UNSW Business School are already placing MBA Entrepreneurship and Innovation students into startups around the country for 12-week internship and immersion programs – as part of their course. The program "Strategy meets Startup" has been running for three years now. It's time to uncover and highlight such activities that are happening across the nation.

Step 7: Sustain acceleration. How? Not just through tax rebates, but through the momentum generated by the guiding coalition and leadership network. Let's take these groups, combining research and the corporates, and develop a nimble and agile Australian start-up culture!

Step 8: Institute change. We cannot make this a one-off. The opportunity is for Australia to sit alongside some of the most innovative and entrepreneurial countries in the world. We need to ensure that when we embark on this journey, we never again stand still. The innovation journey is never-ending, the uncharted territory infinite and full of the most exciting possibility.

At the AGSM @ UNSW Business School, we have been implementing many of the recommendations of the ACOLA report over a number of years. Our Entrepreneurship and Innovation program is immersive, using world's best practice of flipped learning, Lean Startup methodologies, and a focus on getting out of the building. 

Let's all "get out of the building" and take the opportunity to make Australia innovative. Together we can build a startup culture in this country second to none.

 

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