Bringing innovation back home
THERE’S a lot of discussion at the moment about innovation. It’s on Malcolm Turnbull’s agenda as he launches his innovation strategy and seeks to advance Australia fair through toiling our grey matter rather than just relying on our golden soil.
It’s always on the agenda for business, as companies search for the new and best products, services and means of delivery to separate themselves from the marketplace. And it should also be on your personal agenda. Turnbull’s government, through his $1.1 billion “welcome to the ideas boom” initiative, is cultivating an environment for innovation by driving research, backing ideas and encouraging risk-taking.
Success will partly depend on whether the program is directed and managed by those who have actually innovated. For that to happen it should include private sector oversight as it is private enterprise, much more than government, which fully understands the fundamentals of how innovation works at scale.
Peter Farrell, one of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs and founder of ResMed, a leader in the business of sleep apnoea, is adamant innovation won’t happen without funding and guidance, and further, is not truly innovation unless it’s been commercialised. ResMed, a start-up which now has revenues of $2.7 billion and a market cap of close to $12 billion, has innovation in its DNA.
“Innovation can only be said to have occurred when someone pays for the product or idea by writing you a cheque,” says Farrell. “If there’s no cheque there is no innovation. It might be creative or imaginative but if there is no sale, innovation has not occurred.”
But innovation is not solely the domain of entrepreneurs or global corporations with a big budget. It can be just as relevant to each of us on a more practical, day-to-day, scale. At its simplest, innovation is about doing things differently, and innovating our own lives can be one of the most practical innovations we attempt.
Self-innovation signifies a need to change, something we humans are not generally keen on, and it often sits as the biggest impediment towards self-improvement. Importantly, this drive is not about self-importance and making comparisons between yourself and others. Rather, it is about comparing yourself to yourself. Ernest Hemingway may have summed it up best when he said, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
I like to check in on five key spaces in my life: my health, career, wealth, relationships and my soul. As life is more a blur around the edges rather than well-defined boxes, each of these five feed off each other, positively and negatively affecting us and those closest.
In each of these five areas I like to have a general theme for the year, one or two factors which support that theme, and a genuine tracking mechanism to monitor my progress.
For example, with health, I keep it simple and target eating a good breakfast. I try not to snack on rubbish between meals, and aim to move three or four times a week with a particular focus on back health. The tracking mechanism can be as simple as the notch on my belt and the number of sessions I do in the month and year.
It is also valuable to have a guardian angel – an expert or confidant who can advise and encourage you to stay the course.
One area people often ignore is their soul. Soul can mean different things to different people. For some it might be religion; for others a connection with nature, or playing a musical instrument.
Murray Mexted, the hard-nosed All Black number eight of the 70s and 80s once said to me that everyone needs a creative outlet, because it’s your creative outlet that allows you to take pain in other areas of your life. That’s the replenishing role of your soul.
The lesser known second verse of Advance Australia Fair calls for Australians to toil with their “hearts and hands”. For true innovation of self, and if our country and businesses are to reap the benefits of Turnbull’s initiative, businesses and individuals alike must engage their minds, as well as their hearts and hands, for us all to innovate towards a better future.