This article was originally published by The Australian Financial Review
By Nina Hendy
November 12, 2020
University of Newcastle is among the Australian universities focusing on growing its innovation courses, which is attracting leaders, managers and entrepreneurs keen to hone their innovation capabilities.
“There seems to be major growth among universities teaching innovation in Australia. In an increasingly dynamic, complex and networked workplace, innovation opens up many opportunities for firms to come up with new and better ideas and business models to remain competitive and become a force for good,” Suseno says.
Innovation is hardly a foreign concept in Australia. Overall spending on research and development has grown by 7 per cent per year since 2001, government figures reveal. Business is the driving force, with commercial R&D rising almost 2 percentage points faster than Australia’s GDP.
Universities can take some of the credit, with seven universities making it into the top 100 global rankings. In terms of academic impact, Australian publications outperform other countries in 20 out of 22 fields of academic research.
Suseno says that innovators have a range of soft skills – the constant need to learn, the grit to persevere despite failures and mistakes, and the constant need to develop and apply skills in conceptual thinking and critical analysis to solve problems through experimentations and collaboration.
“Innovation is crucial in stimulating growth in businesses and instigating change in society,” Suseno says. “In an increasingly dynamic, complex and networked workplace, innovation opens up many opportunities for firms to come up with new and better ideas and business models to remain competitive and become a force for good.”
She adds: “Innovators understand the need for constant change, comprehend that failures are lessons and adapt and generate new knowledge to always improve and grow. They also understand the need to collaborate and are acutely aware of the importance of creating a culture of innovation through strategic leadership and thinking, empowerment, creativity and autonomy,” she says.
So, it’s little wonder that corporate giants have been clambering to weave innovative thinking into their people in the past decade or so.
Lego, Apple, Google and the Commonwealth Bank have worked with innovation consultancy Inventium to teach key workers how to think more creatively and be a better corporate problem solver.
Inventium founder Amantha Imber says it’s common for major companies to struggle to achieve real innovation. She has run the Financial Review BOSS Most Innovative Companies list for nine years, attracting entries from 700 organisations hoping to top the list.
Innovation is a skill that is learnt, we’re not born with it, she says. And all companies should be investing between $1,000 and $2,000 per person in decent innovation training programs, she says.
Successful corporate innovators understand that innovation isn’t a set and forget function within a company. “Innovation is about consistently looking for improvements in areas where customers are frustrated and where people aren’t challenging the status quo,” Imber says.
A corporate culture that deliberately embraces innovation has a critical role to play in a company’s innovation success, according to Kate Quirke, managing director of health tech company Alcidion. The company was recently recognised on the 2020 AFR BOSS Most Innovative Companies technology list.
“You need to create the right environment for innovation to happen, where people can promote ideas, challenge norms and importantly, make mistakes and learn from failure.
“As a leader, you need to set the tone, create the vibes and nourish a context where people understand that their ideas are valued and trust that it is safe to express and act on those ideas. It requires open-mindedness and a deep commitment to the company’s purpose and values,” Quirke says.
Innovators challenge the status quo. This not only applies to product development, but how things are done – processes, staff engagement, customer engagement – innovation can be applied to every aspect of corporate life, she says.
“Something we do at Alcidion to build these capabilities and confidence is to give team members three weeks’ training before allocation to a development project. It creates opportunities for managed experimentation and for people to try out new topics and ideas,” she says.
Innovation isn’t inherent, but some people will be more inclined to innovate than others. “These individuals might be leaders in innovation in the company. But for innovation to truly thrive, everyone in the company needs to be open to it, even if they’re not the ones driving it.
“I think this comes back to organisational culture, but also giving people tools and processes to improve innovative qualities, such as critical or analytical thinking.
In sectors such as healthcare, media research, information technology, Australia does well, despite our small population and distance from the rest of the world, punching above its weight as a nation in many respects, she says.
“I don’t believe our innovation is well supported across all industries as it could be, but as a result of this pandemic, we now have an unexpected opportunity to create that focus on Australian innovation,” Quirke says.