Innovation, above all else is the driver of long term economic growth, is the hope for environmental sustainability and is the key to improving the health and lifestyles of people around the world. It is more than just technological breakthroughs: it is about solving human, organisational, industrial and environmental problems.
But recognising the power of innovation is only a first step. Our goal is to be able to harness that power: to encourage innovation where it would otherwise not take place; to direct it to our national advantage; and to solve pressing environmental and social issues at home and around the globe.
There will be no simple formula for enhancing our innovation performance. There are no simple levers to increase the power delivered by this system. But we can still come up with some practical steps that enhance our performance.
There are three great drivers of innovation:
The first of these drivers - Culture - is a term that has been overused and abused in debates on all issues in our society.
Our ideal innovative culture would produce people in all areas of our society who are creative, able to think critically, able to generate ideas, accept uncertainty and risk, welcome change and act as entrepreneurs. Few individuals have all these skills, but our industry, government, educational, research, arts, sports and community organisations - indeed all of our enterprises - should have a ready supply of people to assemble into teams with the appropriate blend of skills.
It has become a truism that Australia has plenty of people with ideas but too few with the ability to see them through into viable businesses. Like all truisms, this has elements of truth and elements of myth.
The mythical elements are apparent by looking at Australia's world leading mining and agricultural industries.
In the minerals and energy sector, a recent independent study of CSIRO's interaction with over 50 companies found a powerful and successful system for turning ideas into technologies that delivered world-scale business outcomes. This system rests on a partnership between CSIRO and the companies and underpins Australia's prime position as producer, processor and exporter of minerals.
The report found that the success relied on a working partnership between high quality people in CSIRO and the companies. These people understood both technology and business and could manage the long and uncertain process of research, while maintaining a focus on business objectives and profitability. A critical element was a culture shared by CSIRO and the companies, imbued with the time honoured precepts for business success:
- listen to the needs of the market
- develop cost-effective solutions to those needs
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