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Get over parochialism, share ideas and think big

Want to become a global innovation hub? Get over parochialism, share ideas and think big

New Zealand: stop hating on Auckland. And Auckland: look outward, share your ideas, think big, and bring everyone along.

These were the messages delivered by seasoned innovators at a panel discussion this week on how to make Auckland more innovative. The event was the second of three in the Ballot Box series, organised by the University of Auckland Business School to inform debate in the lead-up to the local body elections.

On the panel were Professor Shaun Hendy, Nick Shewring and Dr Mary Quin. Professor Hendy is a leading scientist who heads up Te Pūnaha Matatini, a Centre of Research Excellence that uses methods from complex systems to solve problems for business, and develop better economic and environmental policies. Shewring is co-founder and chief entrepreneur at BizDojo, the co-working and collaboration network. Dr Quin was the inaugural CEO of Callaghan Innovation, a crown agency charged with turbo-charging innovation in New Zealand.

Speakers agreed that Auckland has the potential to become a global hub of innovation, but shifts are needed in attitudes and practices in the region and across the country.

Auckland is already the country’s most productive and diversified economy, partly due to its scale, Professor Hendy said.

“Almost all industries that aren’t resource-based, if you moved them to Auckland they’d be more productive,” he said. “Size matters. What’s going on in big diverse cities is that ideas are meeting and going on to create useful innovations.

“Auckland is not a brake on the New Zealand economy. It’s not a bottleneck. Auckland’s our innovation engine. New Zealand will not succeed if Auckland doesn’t succeed.”

But to compete with much bigger, more diversified cities, Aucklanders – and all New Zealanders – need to talk more.

“New Zealanders often keep their ideas really close to their chest,” says Professor Hendy.
“’I’ve got this great idea, but I can’t really tell you about it.’ We don’t exchange ideas and communicate enough.”

We also need to help each other out more when ventures get into strife, and celebrate risk-taking, said Nick Shewring.

“We talk about our number eight wire culture, but we do have a tendency to beat up on each other if you have a failure. It’s not just about accepting failure, but intervening to help before someone hits a wall.”

All speakers said the country is too small to afford parochialism. Shewring: “One of the big opportunities for Auckland is to try and kill this regional rhetoric that goes around. New Zealand has to rally as a unit and go for it on the world stage.”

It’s not a “zero sum game”, said Dr Quin. “New Zealand could develop five or six innovation hubs. The fact that Auckland is doing well doesn’t mean that other regions can’t do well.”

She underlined the importance of research and development, and of nurturing relationships with people and organisations with complementary skills and resources in bigger, more innovative economies.

“We need to promote Auckland internationally, make it visible - run with the big dogs until you get to be a big dog.”

She also urged New Zealanders to “amp up” our business ambitions. “We are a country of small and micro enterprises because we’re a country of small and micro business goals.”

Nick Shewring said the mingling that naturally happens at Bizdojo’s shared workspaces fosters the cross-pollination of ideas that fuels innovation.

“Diversity builds resilience, it builds sustainability. Often we hear ‘tech’s going to lead the way’, but actually technology is only as good as the creatives that challenge tech people’s thinking. So much of the innovation we’ve seen over the decades has come out of sci-fi.”

Social responsibility emerged as another strong theme.

“We need to start thinking a little further than 90 days, 12 months,” said Shewring. “What is our responsibility to the region? How do we create a healthier, more vibrant city?”

And a socially divided Auckland won’t be able to fulfil its potential.

Professor Hendy: “If we leave behind a large chunk of Auckland we’re not going to be able to compete. The only way we’re going to compete is by having everyone in the game.”

The speakers’ prescriptions in brief:
Rally as a city and a nation – we’re too small to be able to afford infighting or social exclusion
Foster cross-pollination of ideas between industries and sectors; share ideas instead of jealously guarding them
Think like a global player: be outward-looking, network nationally and globally, in person and via technology, to pull together the expertise needed to launch and grow a business or social enterprise; use remote education to expose our students to the world’s best teachers and practitioners in their fields
Far greater ambition, especially in small to medium businesses
Greater social responsibility – ask what will your business do for the region and for future generations
The final event in the Ballot Box series will be Auckland: The Sustainable City, on Thursday 22 September.

ENDS

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