How to innovate
Why is innovation important?
Australia must innovate if we’re going to continue to have strong economic growth; if we’re going to have competitive industries, companies, collaboration and knowledge institutions; if we want plentiful jobs that are meaningful and productive; and, critically, if we want a fair and inclusive society.
What is the true state of innovation in Australia?
In 20 years, Apple and Amazon have created more value for shareholders than the entire ASX has in 200 years. Innovation is driving wealth creation in a way in which we have never seen before and which is leaving Australia behind. When people talk about innovation in Australia, they’ll typically say, “Look at all the money that’s being put into it.” But they will not talk about what impact it’s having. How many companies and how many patents? How many inventions? Is there enough commercialisation going on that’s improving our status as a country and laying the foundation for the future? Our bang for our buck is not only bad, it’s getting worse.
What’s holding us back?
I love Australia but there are two things in particular that I’ll point to. One is this attitude of “She’ll be right, mate.” There is also this notion of fairness. Google wins and 25 companies lose; Amazon wins and lots of people lose. Innovation disproportionately rewards the winners and it is not fair in the individual sense but it is very fair for the economy as a whole. Our sense of fairness means that we’re reluctant to embrace that idea. The overall net of this is that 24 years of economic growth in Australia have been absolutely terrible for innovation. Culturally, we need to focus on the celebration of success.
How do we get comfortable with risk?
If you’re involved in the startup world, you may have failures at some level but from a career perspective, it’s rarely like that. My company [LookSmart] failed but I was very successful and that’s generally the truth. A startup is the most educational environment you can be in. You will learn quickly and in many ways get more out of it.
What can we learn from failure?
I learnt everything from failure.
It was a really interesting example of where the wave was so big we couldn’t know how to surf it. And nobody really did know how to surf that wave, with the exception of Google and Amazon. We had a very poor product market fit, poor strategy and poor understanding of who our customers were so we failed on three levels. When I started Redbubble [in 2006], I wanted to make sure that that failure did not replicate itself. We had to be clearer about who our customers were, what we were doing for them and what was the nature of the strategy.