Peter Harris

Australia has always had a great reputation for delivering cutting edge products and services. Included in our country’s long history of innovation is the cochlear implant, a bionic ear invented by a University of Melbourne professor. Wi-Fi, the backbone of wireless technology, was invented by a top Australian scientist. Even the popular wine cask is an Australian invention.

Innovation has had a tremendous impact on the Australian economy. We’ve enjoyed economic growth for more than 20 years and today Australia has the 9th highest GDP per capita. Lately, however, I couldn’t help but notice that Aussie innovation is starting to lag. Sure, we’re still ahead many countries—but it’s hard to deny that our neighbours in Asia are leaders in their own right. In fact, looking at a list of Australian inventions, you’ll see how the pace of innovation has slowed down significantly this century.

Why innovation is stagnant in Australia
A number of challenges contribute to why innovation is being stifled in Australia. The most obvious reason is the reduced funding for research. While R&D remains big globally, we have seen more companies investing less on market research in the past few years.

The ROI obsession is also an issue. The c-suite obsesses over generating ROI for each penny spent. Companies won’t take on unique ideas if they can’t see a clear way of determining ROI.

Perhaps the biggest issue is cultural. In a recent panel discussion on startups, Joshua Tanchel, leader of Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 Program, highlighted how the cultural fear of failure is stifling innovation in the country.

Tanchel noted that in the US, people who have had two or three failures are more respected. Investors in America know that smart people learn from mistakes and are in a better position to get it right next time. Tanchel believes that in Australia, we attach stigma to failure. Even with exceptional ideas, Australian entrepreneurs who have failed have a harder time getting back on their feet.

Using technology, collaboration to drive innovation
Amidst all of these challenges, how can Australian brands gain back competitive advantage? In the Age of the Customer, consumers are empowered with more information than ever and they are not shy about expressing their thoughts. In this new landscape, competitive advantage comes from bringing great products that meet the high expectations of customers.

Many brands profess to be customer-obsessed, but if this is truly the case, then why is innovation stagnating in Australia right now?

Technology’s relationship with innovation is complex, often benefiting and complicating the process at the same time. That’s why it’s important for brands to be smarter in the way they use technology to drive innovation.

When people talk about technology within the context of innovation, they usually talk about the promise of big data. But, much of the conversation about big data has focused on gathering and harnessing it, not necessarily on making better decisions from it.

One overlooked benefit of technology is its ability to help brands collaborate with their customers. Technology can drive innovation by helping brands gather ideas, refine them, and improve how they communicate new offerings. In a small and competitive market like Australia, it’s even more important for brands to maintain a relationship with customers.

Today, we have technology such as cloud computing and mobile devices: advancements that enable organisations to work closely with their customers in almost any aspect of their business. From testing dozens of potential app ideas to ad testing, more and more global brands such as SingTel and Australian based Luma Research are demonstrating how collaborating with customers can help bring valuable new ideas.

Australian brands have proven time and time again that they are capable of bringing exciting products and ideas to the world stage. We might be at a quieter stage of innovation right now, but if brands embrace technology and get closer to their customers, the next big idea could just be on the horizon.

Peter-Harris-146KBPeter Harris is Managing Director of Vision Critical Australia and New Zealand.