The keynote to open the second day of the ANZAM conference was delivered by Prof Jonathan West, of University of Tasmania. His talk, Are innovation theory and practice oxymoronic? Tasmania as Exemplar, provided a breath of fresh air and a reality check for those involved in innovation research and entrepreneurial activities.
West noted that, despite the best intentions of researchers, very little innovation research has any meaningful impact on practice. He suggested that this is because most research and practice is based on the myths that innovation is necessarily based on high-technology, and that "we (Tasmanians) punch above our weight". He then proceeded to dispel the myths and offer an alternative approach. Millions of dollars are spent every year, on strategies and innovations efforts that have no real chance of providing a material return. Rather than ignore existing successful industries (in Tasmania's case: wine, horticulture, aquaculture, others) and try to create whole new replacement industries (high-tech, biotech, nanotech), West asserted that stronger innovation outcomes (and the follow on economic and societal benefits) would be far more likely if innovation efforts were focussed on improving existing strong industries and sectors.
West used the example of the wine industry, and suggested that if the size of the industry was doubled—through investment and genetic, product, production and distribution innovations—then the level of unemployment and a host of other negative indicators would plummet. The natural assets of the state and the demand for premium wine suggest such growth is readily achievable. However, two serious stumbling blocks exist: belief in the myths noted above are so deeply held, and innovating within an existing successful industry simply isn't "sexy". Consequently, governments and industry are reluctant to invest for the common good, and, in many cases, innovation efforts are subverted by incumbent companies for fear of increased competition emerging. The promise of the holy grail (biotech, nanotech and information technology) is simply too compelling, even though the chance of achieving a strong return is slim, at best.
West's remit was refreshing, for it tackled what is clearly a delicate topic head on. Such candour needs to be encouraged.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.