Australia’s Future Innovation Policies

October 30, 2007

A really interesting article in the Fin Review of 29 October by Roy Green, Dean of the Macquarie Graduate School of Management, of a subject dear to my heart:  innovation policy.  He notes that “it would have required an unusual degree of incompetence for a resource-rich economy such as Australia not to benefit from favourable world conditions, especially China’s industrialisation” and that it really doesn’t matter who wins the debate on taking credit for our current prosperity.  For more importantly, has this windfall gain been squandered like the UK did with its North Sea oil and gas resources, or has it been invested wisely like Norway in a “future fund” to create the “research and innovation infrastructure recognised as essential to build a knowledge-based economy.”

He notes OECD data that shows Australia lags in “investment in knowledge” in comparison with our international competitors.  It reminds me of the days prior to the 2001 election with the whole concept of the knowledge nation (yes, and that lampooned noodle diagram) which provided some form of vision of Australia as more than a quarry and foodbowl. 

Many areas of the services portion of our economy (finance, games, some areas of new media) are leading the world.  Yet others are relatively slow to progress and we run the risk of being overtaken by more competitive countries who are advancing their own economies.  There was much talk in 2000/2001 with the Innovation Summit and the Chief Scientist’s Chance to Change report, but what’s actually happened on the ground. 

I’d like to hear more about this future vision of Australia, of innovation beyond products and R&D and really coming to grips with the knowledge aspects of innovation in companies, industry sectors, government and the community.

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actKM 2007 Day 1

October 23, 2007

Just a very quick update on progress at the end of Day 1 of the actKM conference being held in Canberra.

This conference is in a far more convivial setting; one that has a lot more intimacy which suits the high proportion of experienced practitioners in the audience.  The day’s program has been a real mix of erudite presentations, thoughtful contemplation, a bit hard of dense theory from yours truly with Richard Vines, and ending with some fun exercises on how to get workshop participants to engage in fun exercises from Arthur Shelley.  All up a great mix that worked really well.  Mark Schenk closed off the day well with some additional exercises.  And great to see the indigenous influence with both the presentation and the award ceremony tonight.

More considered reflection when that occurs (probably on the plane home tomorrow!).  It’s an amazing conference and one that I am still trying to get a handle on as to why I keep coming back!  Certainly part of it is the good conversations that bound the presentations and the lack of vendors. 


Revisiting the Knowledge Energy Equation

October 18, 2007

Some time last year, I wrote about the KM equation (E=mc2). 

A recent article about Gen Y and their attitudes to work noted that young employees want four things from their workplace; meaning, autonomy, feedback, and trust.  This  reminded me of the KM equation.

What the article was really trying to say was that Gen Y people want a vibrant and energetic workplace.  Now the first item about meaningful work directly relates to the meaning part of the KM equation.  It is a precursor to the others which are more about the work environment.  Autonomy has strong health benefits and generates a positive workplace through enabling workers to decide on work priorities.  Feedback obviously is in relation to assessing and monitoring performance and giving a few words of encouragement on a frequent basis. Finally trust in the working relationships is then developed if all of the above are first generated.  These last three items all require regular and quality communication – the other part of the KM equation.

It’s amazing how simple it is to reduce things down to easy mathematical equations – although these four items of meaning, autonomy, feedback and trust provide a slightly more sophisticated and nuanced view than just that KM equation!


Agile Government: Challenging the Bureaucratic Dinosaur

October 17, 2007

The Victorian Government’s State Services Authority is running a project at the moment on the notion of Agile Government.  It emerged from their previous work on their Future of the Public Sector 2025 project.  In collaboration with Demos, a UK thinktank, they have released this provocation paper

In the paper, they describe government agility in relation to being responsive to the needs of the community being served, being more adaptive in changing products and processes in response to broader changes in the operational environment, and shaping the external environment through policy making, taxation and service delivery. Three types of capacity are required which form an agility cycle:

  • Scan emerging trends and issues through gathering information and analysis
  • Respond to opportunities and risks by being sufficiently flexible at tactical and strategic levels
  • Shape future environments through driving change.

They also list a range of agility capabilities:

  • Outward-oriented culture to scan the external environment, join up different departments and agencies, shift resources with ease and stopping services and projects if they are not delivering a sufficient return.
  • Systems and policy alignment between strategy, values, budgeting, etc, particularly focusing on realignment when goals and tactics shift as one part of the system changes.
  • Workforce adaptability to match skills to changing tasks which could include service redesign, new capabilities and rapid deployment.
  • Fast and effective decision-making through making judgements based on imperfect information, particularly on operational matters.
  • Successful use of information such as analytical skills and the use of ICT including more responsive relationships with citizens.

For me, the agility cycle does not quite sit right, particularly with including the shaping aspect in the cycle.  Agility is about scanning and responding and having that cycle move faster.  The concept of shaping works at a different level . In one way, it is a form of responding but really it is actually something more systemic.  It brings in the notions of complexity, societal behaviour change and community dialogue – an important part of government but perhaps shaping forms part of a framework that supports agility rather than forming part of the agility cycle.

Another aspect is that agility is a relative concept.  If standard processes takes 3 years, than an agile government could be expected to do it in 12-18 months.  Also, if it would normally take 20 years to generate larger generational change, then perhaps an agile government could do it in 5 years through its various levers of taxation, incentives and policies.  The latter is more shaping, the former is more responsive. The longer term aspects of shaping have strong links to systems and complexity thinking.

All up, a most interesting paper and concept and one that the SSA are currently seeking comment upon.


R.I.P. Alex – That Damn Bird

October 13, 2007

There was a great article published recently about a parrot called Alex.  No ordinary parrot but one that had been trained over many years to perform complex cognitive functions.  No mere bird-brain either but one that has been compared in complexity to young children and higher-order primates.  But parrots are different to primates- they can actually vocalise their sounds and perform similar cognitive tasks to young children. 

I was absolutely fascinated by this article on Alex.  Some quotes:

What the data suggest to me is that if one starts with a brain of a certain complexity and gives it enough social and ecological support, that brain will develop at least the building blocks of a complex communication system.
[With training,] they are going to produce meaningful, complex communicative combinations.

Why is this interesting?  Well it shows that parrots (or at least this one) can label, can categorise, understand the concept of absence, can count up to 6, and learn up to 100 words.  The techniques that have been used to train Alex and other parrots are now being used to great effect with children with autism. 

This shows that knowledge can come from the most unlikely sources and the benefit of detailed and innovative structured training techniques.  There is more here in a New York Times article that announced his death. 

I especially love the last anecdote in the Edge article.  That others can leapfrog over the level of maturity that you think they are at and yield surprises that are humorous, thought-provoking and motivating. 

RIP Alex.


Smart, Balanced, Fair and Simple

October 12, 2007

Interesting article the other day by ex-VicHealth boss Rob Moodie on the future design of Australia’s health system – a recent topic of debate in the faux Federal Election. 

He wishes for a health system, rather than a sickness system – one that focuses on maximising health rather than treating illnesses.  I like how the design of that system needs to cover just four things; smart, balanced, fair and simple.  Smart in investing earlier in prevention and education strategies, balanced so it is not out of kilter like the US system, fair to address inequality, simple with fewer more integrated systems across the tiers of government.  I also like his use of the term diabesity that links the health issues of diabetes and obesity.

These four principles are excellent criteria to apply in any form of system design and I like it particularly because it does not mention cost.  If you do these others, then cost will look after itself!


Australian American Leadership Dialogue Gala Dinner

October 2, 2007

In mid-August, I attended the Gala Dinner of the Australian American Leadership Dialogue. This is a two day annual dialogue of eminent people between the two countries.  I was very fortunate to be invited to the dinner (thanks Peter).  I heard from dialogue participants that the second day of the talks focused on energy and climate change which would have been very different from a similar discussion just two short years ago.   

The main keynote was Larry Smarr and he spoke of the need to maintain our standard of living in the face of growing competition from developing countries.  He stated that Australia’s main problem was our lack of telecommunications infrastructure and that we need 1GB/sec per person – that’s symmetric bandwidth!  I find that fascinating seeing as I had just been speed limited until the end of the month so I was on dial-up speeds at home.  This debate is crucial and of critical importance to Australia.  It seems to have gone off the radar in the Federal non-election campaign at the moment but will re-emerge once the leaders start to focus on the future again.

Smarr’s view reminded me of the article penned by Samuel Palmisano,  CEO of IBM, in the Financial Review of 18 Sept who wrote that globalisation and innovation are two sides of the same coin.  Globalisation is the new playing field whether the game is economics, technology, politics or culture and innovation is how you win in that arena.  You can’t afford to deprioritise innovation – you need fast speed internet access with a robust and sustainable ICT infrastructure.  By combining technology and expertise, invention and insight, small companies can be global and established corporations can be more agile. My take from these two sources is that expanded Internet infrastructure is crucial to future growth and productivity in Australia and that we will be ouptaced by others if we delay its implementation. 

Speaking after Smarr was Kevin Rudd.  It’s the first time I have seen him speak in person and I found him remarkably eloquent and pleasant to hear.  He spoke of the four main challenges facing Australia into the 21st Century.  These were integrating China into the global rules-based order, the rise of militant Islamism, the future of trade liberalisation with the link to the Millenium Development goals and finally, global climate change. 

Last was Paul Wolfowitz who spoke of the common values between Australia and the US of individualism, free institutions, welcoming of immigrants and free and open debate.  I found his presentation less than insightful on the whole compared with the two previous speakers. 

What I found particularly interesting were comments from others on the two-day event of its bipartisan nature, the high level of people involved and the trust that had built up between memebrs of the two countries to actually have these discussions without fear that they would be quoted externally.  Such closed-conference meetings are essential to engage in rigourous debate about policy positions so long as they are combined with other forums that permit some openness in discussion of the various views, rather than simply a parading of established positions in the media. And if an invite is going for next year’s dialogue, I’m very interested in attending!