It is perilous to dismiss innovation as irrelevant to ordinary Australians. Certainly, innovation is not well-understood, but it is nonetheless vital to how ordinary Australians—not just boffins and tech entrepreneurs—earn a decent living and fight off job insecurity and rising costs.
Critics of Government attention to innovation say it mostly serves the interest of elites, or worse, that innovation equals automation, which equals job losses particularly the more routine, low-skilled and lowly-paid jobs.
But the reality is different. Innovation actually occurs in many different, ‘low-tech’ ways and many successful Australian businesses are innovating not simply with new technologies, but in co-production with customers, supply chain and logistics management, bundling products and services into new business offerings, creating new businesses in the shared economy, reinventing their business model and/or how they deliver exceptional value to customers.
Put simply, innovation means making a change for the better.
It covers more than commercialising new products, technologies, inventions and discoveries. Innovating by successfully implementing a change for the better is open to all and allows potentially everyone to benefit.
This innovation can make ordinary businesses and people winners, because it transforms what Australian businesses can do; it opens up new more flexible jobs and industries; it gives school leavers more options for different careers; it lifts Australia’s competitiveness internationally and our national income; it capitalises and builds on the skills of Australians at work including retraining as necessary; and it can occur in any locality and in any size business.
More specifically, innovation benefits happen by:
- Solving big social, economic or environmental problems.
- Recognising and reinventing the skills of people in declining industries for employment in relevant, but unrelated, growth industries.
- Creating new enterprises, jobs and ways of working online and through social media.
- Making old communities thrive again with new facilities and opportunities.
- Helping established small and medium sized enterprises discover and become adept at new ways of doing business profitably in the face of market disruptions.
- Finding and filling a gap in services people need and are prepared to pay for.
- Helping people turn hobbies, passions and creativity into a sustainable way to make a living.
From this wider angle, innovation creates winners not losers.
But, to gain these benefits, action on innovation needs to be shifted beyond a focus on start-ups to transforming the capabilities and resilience of all Australian businesses, their current and future workforces. Further, innovation does not stop at the borders of capital city knowledge precincts—action is needed to support home-grown entrepreneurial activity tailored to different regions and localities across Australia.
Tony Featherstone, in a Sydney Morning Herald commentary, argued that Australia’s innovation policy should be rebooted to address today’s problems by focusing on regional entrepreneurship, local government collaboration, and small business. This, he said, is a vision of innovation that is real, relatable and delivers early results.
One practical program to kick start such an innovation agenda that is worth a look are Maker Spaces like TechShop. These are open access, community based spaces providing tools, classes, software, teachers as a DIY workshop and fabrication studio.
Described as a ‘playground for creativity’, it attracts a mix of arts and technical people, including entrepreneurs, small businesses, hobbyists, artists, students and corporate employees. Maker Spaces encourage collaboration and learning, and are used to retrain workers, trial business ideas, test out the business application of new technologies, create artworks or manufactured products, or just for having fun.
Tony Featherstone, Innovation not just for inner-city hipsters, Sydney Morning Herald, July 23-24, 2016.
TechShop, go to www.techshop.ws