Category Archives: Innovation

Think better

Have you ever been presented with a problem and delivered an expected solution? Most likely.

This is the usual response when addressing a challenge. We employ known ideas, known methods to deliver a known solution. Those who know me, will attest that I am a conservative thinker, but I’ve been challenged recently to think a little differently. This isn’t different for the sake of being different, this is in an attempt to deliver solutions that go beyond the easily digested and expected outcome.

I do not believe we should be diverging from an established path simply ‘just because’; but if there is an opportunity to be truly innovative that could potentially deliver a shorter or more efficient route for future challenges, then I suggest it must be considered.

Case in point is the marrying of social welfare and economics. Did you know it costs over $4 billion to simply administer the social welfare system in Australia to deliver $165 billion in payments (source: Australian Government Dept of Human Services 2014-15 Annual report)? That’s a weekly outlay of $3 billion with an administration cost of $80 million.

Traditional thinking has been to tweak eligibility requirements, strengthen the compliance framework, modify or revise payments… an alternative view is to replace the system entirely with what is known as a universal basic income. At its simplest, a basic income is a common universal payment to each and every member of society, irrespective of income or employment status or health profile. This payment would be designed to meet the basic living costs and, perhaps surprisingly, is not a new concept. It can trace its origin back to the 1800’s with it afforded greater prominence in the 1960s (thanks to noted economist Milton Friedman) and has been the topic of debate periodically since. Finland is trialling this concept.

Now I’m not intending to deliver economic or social rationale for either of these approaches in this post, that’s for you to discover! I am hoping, though, to encourage all of us to innovate our thinking by exploring an alternative view to a current challenge, seeking to understand its merits or otherwise.

If we want better solutions, we need different thinking, better thinking.

LET HOPE RISE

Lessons from a lost ship

Did you know Australia has a Chief Scientist?

No? Well, we do and in early March our newly appointed Chief Scientist, Dr Finkel, addressed the National Press Club as part of an event run by Science & Technology Australia.

Dr Finkel shared a story about a small nation with middle-power ambitions. A nation in transition with a growing population and a commodity-based economy.

…But this small nation was well aware of its uncertain place in a strategic region at a volatile time. So it embarked on a bold exercise to build a flagship for its navy that would also be a statement about its place in the world.

The setting is Sweden, four hundred year ago, in 1625. Now this was no ordinary ship that the Swedes contracted the Dutch, who subcontracted the Germans, Danes and Finns, to build. This was something that no-one in Sweden had ever attempted before: a 135 foot warship with two decks, each bearing 36 cannons.

And it had to be built on the keel of the 110 foot, one-deck warship the contractors were initially instructed to build. That ship was half done when the King changed his mind – inspired by the thought of an extra deck, with extra cannons.

So the builders set to work, and they did their best to adapt the keel, while the King went off to fight his war with Poland.

By August 1628 the ship was ready. All of Stockholm gathered at the harbour for the launch of this mighty symbol of Swedish pride. And all of Stockholm was still there when, twenty minutes after the launch, tilted by the gentle nudge of a light sea breeze, it sank – less than one nautical mile from dock.

This ship – the Vasa – has sailed into business school history: as the textbook case in innovation done wrong.

The ship and 53 lives were lost as a result.

That ship sat on the bottom of the harbour for 333 years. Then it was raised in 1961 – almost perfectly preserved, ornamental mermaids and all. Raising it was a phenomenal feat of ingenuity and engineering. It was installed in a purpose-built museum, where more than a million people every year line up to see it. To Sweden, the Vasa is now a great source of national pride.

Because Sweden didn’t give up on building ships. They built two-deck gunships. They built three-deck gunships. Gunships that became the pride of the Swedish military for the next thirty years.

They helped to usher in the age the Swedes call stormaktstiden – the Great Power Period.

Failure – repurposed as a symbol of success.

But we don’t have to get there from the bottom of the harbour.

Let’s take the direct path to our own stormaktstiden, our Great Power Period.

LET HOPE RISE