1. Executive Summary
Australian-founded tech start-up Ideapod welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the development of Australia’s 2030 Innovation Strategy (Strategy). We envisage the Strategy will guide government’s investment in the System, and help Australia transition from an economy heavily reliant on resources, domestic business and primary industries to an economy fuelled by ideas, the search for purpose, creativity and a global mindset.
“New ideas, not money or machinery, are the source of success today, and the greatest source of personal satisfaction.” – John Howkins (2001) The Creative Economy
Some might consider that Australia (along with the rest of the world) is experiencing a new renaissance. We are increasingly connected and witnessing the development of new technologies that are giving rise to what Professor Ian Goldin of the Oxford Martin School, Oxford University describes as “an explosion of genius and creativity because we have moved from a world of over half a billion people connected to well over 5 billion today”. Technology has the tremendous capacity to amplify positive change and it can also amplify negative change.
British journalist and co-author of the Thinking the Unthinkable, Nik Gowing said at the Australian Leadership Retreat in May 2017 that “the rate of change we are going through at the moment is like we are at wartime – and yet we think we’re at peace. The global pace of change is overcoming the capacity of national and international institutions to adapt.” If this is true, Australia will only be encountering ever more novel environments, which means it needs to develop resilience and adaptability in novel ways – not in the conventional ways of the past.
Ideapod’s values underscore our comments in this Response Paper (Response) and our recommendations are made in the context of our values which are: Ideas from the Margins, Collaboration, Tolerance, Radical Openness, Change & Growth, a “Question Everything” mindset, following one’s Internal Authority, Honesty, Diversity of Thought and the Exchange of Ideas Through Conversation.
We have drafted this Response to start a conversation on how equip Australia with the tools and mindset to make this transition. Our key observations are:
- The vision should set the direction for innovation, not just the measure of success;
- Key trends around millennials and the rise of the purpose economy ought not be ignored in any strategic planning;
- Creatives, start-ups and humans need to be included in any conversation around innovation;
- Government’s role is to inspire a nation and galvanise our commitment around a shared national vision and values;
- Adaptability is the skill of the future and we need to teach our people to learn how to teach themselves; and
- To turn ideas into action we need to accept that we have an institutionalised fear of failure and take steps to raise awareness about it and destigmatise it.
2. What is Ideapod?
Technology is advancing at an exponential rate. If we continue on our current path, we risk becoming its slaves. The way forward is to empower humans to share their ideas – our key differentiator from machines. We believe that technology can enhance our humanity and place humans at the centre of our use and development of technology.
Ideapod is the modern day university for ideas. Instead of teaching people what to think, we empower them to teach themselves how to think. We eschew groupthink and believe that no lone genius has the all the answers. We believe that game changing concepts and solutions emerge when we combine the collective intelligence and cognitive diversity of humanity. Our mission is to usher in the Age of Ideas so that, instead of succumbing to the Dark Age of Technology, we instead flourish in the Age of Humanity.
Ideapod is a technology start-up founded by two Australian entrepreneurs and run by Australians. Incorporated in Delaware, Ideapod is currently based out of Sydney and Melbourne. As at writing this Response, Ideapod has 50,000 registered users on Ideapod.com and over 1.5 million monthly unique visitors on our media properties. To date we have raised $2M+ in seed capital and are starting to generate revenue via two streams: our media arm and our thought leadership programs.
Our media properties surface and spread the ideas that will usher in the age of humanity. Our thought leadership programs connect governments, corporates and influencers with their audience, by exploring their broader purpose and impact on society. We facilitate, curate and produce conversations, salons, symposiums and workshops that illuminate how our client’s technology can enhance humanity.
From March to May 2017, we sought feedback from the Ideapod community issuing a call for ideas on our platform, Ideapod.com. On 21 April 2017, we hosted an ideas salon with to discuss the matters raised in the Issues Paper. Overall we surfaced 88 ideas, some of which are incorporated in this Response.
The innovation vision, as currently drafted, fails to set a direction – it describes a success measure. It focusses on positioning Australia as a leading innovation nation by 2030. The question always has to be: “Innovation-to what end”? If the outcome is simply for Australia to improve its innovation ranking as against other nations, the focus steers away from Australia innovating to solve long-standing problems or innovating to become more resilient to unexpected changes; and towards focussing on the less inspiring goal of improving Australia’s league table rankings. This type of vision risks Australia investing in policies that give rise to innovation theatre, instead of policies that support problem-solving efforts.
An alternative vision is:
“We want a highly resilient and adaptable Australia that thrives in changing environments, measured by its strong ranking within the top tier of innovation nations and exemplified by multiple generations of Australians having meaningful work, and a great quality of life in a fair and inclusive society.”
Ensuring we have the right vision and direction means that we will choose strategic initiatives that will bring us closer, not further, from our goal.
We would make 5 observations about the trends identified in the Issues Paper:
- Changes in global economic power: Rise of China and India – this trend could be more accurately described as the Rise of Emerging Economies. The alternative view is that it is less about as the rise of emerging economies, than it is about the weakening of established economies. In either case, focussing exclusively on the rise of China and India is a narrow interpretation of this megatrend.
- The Future Workforce – this trend could be more accurately described as The Future of Work, expanding beyond just the workforce.
- Health reinvented – beyond health reinvented this trend could more accurately be described as lifestyles reinvented.
- Absence of millennials – there is a noticeable absence around the trend that millennials are entering and emerging as leaders in the workforce. Millennials’ career aspirations, attitudes about work and knowledge of new technologies will define the 21st century workplace. Millennials are increasingly pursuing development and work/life balance over financial reward and eschewing traditional corporate roles.
- Purpose Economy – One relevant trend, linked to the coming of age of millennials is the rise of the Purpose Economy. In a purpose economy the driver for growth is less about personal wealth creation and more about personal fulfilment, where work offers humans meaning. Ignoring this trend might lead to missed opportunities to support enterprises that could solve problems for many Australians, create jobs and increase a sense of national wellbeing.
5. Feedback on the challenges
Ideapod’s overarching comment is that an effective Strategic Plan will reflect values, attitudes and a culture that will promote Australia’s resilience to setbacks, adaptability to change and openness to new ideas.
Australia must embark on a nationwide (not just System-wide) mindset and cultural shift to adapt to, and thrive in, a rapidly changing external environment – one that that might give rise to “Black Swan” events. The most effective tools in our community’s view include adopting a growth mindset, embracing fear of failure, honouring the need for people to find meaning through their work, encouraging creativity and valuing diversity of thought. Before we determine how to tackle the six challenges, Australia needs to set out the shared vision, mission and values that underpin the culture we want to live in.
5.1 Challenge 1: Firms
A number of key considerations were missed in the framing of this challenge:
- The Issues Paper uses the word “success” 3 times to describe the status of Australian firms. Yet we know that Australia is ranked 19th in the world on the Global Innovation Index – in fact, we are predicted to drop ten places in world rankings by 2050, taking Australia out of the G20 and placing us behind countries like Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand. Undoubtedly Australia achieved enormous success in the old world economy by deploying old world skills and mindsets. However, Australia is still learning to adapt to the new economy and, as evidence by our rankings, we have a long way to go. It is a risk to carry over too much of the confidence instilled by past successes as we transition into an economy in which we have limited track record. We recommend Australia embraces the identity of a “learner” rather than an expert. Only by recognising our gaps can we improve them.
- The Issues Paper is silent on the role that creatives can play in building a robust the System, and muted on the role of start-ups and individuals. The emphasis was placed on firms, science and research & development and government.
- Creatives: The singular focus on science and research as the sole domain of innovation ignores the significant contribution artists, designers, poets and writers have on creating new associations, frameworks and ways of perceiving the world. Segregating industries (by ignoring the potential contribution of creatives) promotes siloes and breeds specialists, instead of developing polymaths – those who excel in many disciplines.
- Startups: According to StartupAUS The Crossroads 2016 Report: “Over the last two decades many countries have recognised that start-ups are important drivers of economic growth”. Notwithstanding how critical start-ups are to the innovation ecosystem, the Issues Paper missed the opportunity to call out the unleashing of “gazelles” as a separate Challenge 7, instead embedding it in Challenge 1. This signals a mindset that focusses on supporting established firms, rather than the nurturing emerging ones. Any Strategic Plan would benefit from separately ensuring that start-ups can flourish.
- Humans: At the centre of the Australian way of life is human beings. Individuals who collectively define our shared national mindset, aspirations and identity. Any response needs to put humans at the centre of the policy and ensure that people will be equipped with tools to survive and thrive in the new economy.
- The question “How do we ensure our current (and future) workforce has the necessary skills to support firms in their ambition and realise Australia’s vision to be a “top tier” innovation nation?” is narrowly framed. It assumes the primary reason to skill up a workforce is to support a firm, rather than to perform work well. This puts the needs of the firm before the needs of the person and is counter to the values that drive this Response. The primary reason to skill up humans, as distinct from a workforce, is to equip them to be able to adapt to new situations, solve problems, live a comfortable life and become more resilient. We can ensure our current and future workforce have the skills to thrive in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment, but we want to choose sustainable strategies that benefit the majority, not just firms or incumbents. The key skill to teach is teach-ability or adaptability. This will ensure, that even if firms in their current form do not survive the next wave of change, our people can still adapt to the changed circumstances, or even create the new systems and institutions that replace them.
- Consult with artists, creatives and startups as well as large firms and science, research & development institutions when designing the 2030 Strategy.
- Encourage people to learn to teach themselves and practice adaptability.
5.2 Challenge 2: Government
The role of government is to inspire the nation. Beyond the vision of an innovation nation, there is an opportunity for the government to galvanise the country around a shared national Vision and Values. There was no reference to this in the Issues Paper and would be a helpful guiding principle in any Strategic Plan.
We also need to encourage a culture of social responsibility. Government needs to realise that values are shifting away from a consumption mindset to a conservation and contribution mindset. People value the protection of our planet, the pursuit of sustainable instead of short-term initiatives and people-centred mindsets.
The Government should clarify Australia’s vision and values so that its citizens can rally around a shared goal, before making tactical investments that risk not bringing us closer to our shared goal. The Government and established corporations should reflect the values of Australian citizens in their practice by reinforcing a culture of social responsibility.
5.3 Challenge 3: Education
In the spirit of lifelong learning, we believe that traditional approaches to teaching are rapidly becoming out of date. The role of the teacher is evolving from one who transfers knowledge to one who teach people to teach themselves.
We recommend instead of focussing on “education”, a new approach to teaching is implemented in schools, firms, government and society more broadly – we need to teach people how to learn and how to teach themselves. This is the best way to cultivate the skill of adaptability that will enable current and future generations to withstand setbacks and thrive in ambiguous environments.
Encourage a culture of self-teaching, to reflect our value of lifelong learning and to ensure that future generations are able to continuously improve and adapt to change.
6. Move from Ideas to Action by facing our fear of failure
At Ideapod we strongly believe in turning ideas into reality. One thing that prevents us from turning our ideas into reality is a fear of failure. Conversations within our community and with thought leaders around the world give rise to a pattern of concern – accurately voiced by David Gonski at the Creative Innovation Conference 2016 when he called out that we have “institutionalised a fear of failure”.
In Thinking the Unthinkable the following 9 themes were consistently reinforced by over 100 world leaders, going some way toward explaining why certain “Black Swan” events were not seen by those at the highest echelons of power:
- Being overwhelmed by multiple, intense pressures
- Institutional conformity
- Wilful blindness
- Risk Aversion
- Fear of Career Limiting Moves (CLMs)
- Reactionary Mind-sets
- Cognitive Overload and Dissonance
It is these conditions that enabled “unthinkable” global events like Brexit to happen and also prevent risk taking to occur. It is this fear of failure that stifles innovation. Risk attitudes need to change.
Before change can happen, first there must be awareness. The more we talk about our fear of failure, the more we destigmatise it, the less we generate a culture of anxiety and fear around making mistakes, and the more confidence we will have to take risks that will propel our country into the future.
Australia could benefit from any of the following options:
- Mandating a “failure bonus” within organisations so that executives are incentivised to try new things, learn from them and cultivate a culture of experimentation
- Encouraging the adoption of a “Growth Mindset” in all schools. Growth mindset was pioneered by Professor Carol Dweck from Stanford and posits that intelligence and other traits can be developed with effort and practice. The adoption of this mindset is a critical enabler for any innovation nation.
- Government sponsored or supported conversations that raise awareness about, and address head on, our fear of failure – noting that in Thinking the Unthinkable, numerous senior advisers to heads of states credited a fear of failure in government ranks as a reason information about Black Swan events failed to travel to leaders. Examples of such events include Silicon Valley’s FailCon, F*ck up Nights a global event which showcases stories of failure which originated from Mexico, SheSays Sydney’s series Failing your Way to Success, and local series targeted at corporates, professionals and government advisers such as F-OFF: Fear of Failure Forum.
 Definitions used in this Reponse are identical to the definitions used in ISA2030 Issues Paper
 Ian Goldin Australian Leadership Retreat May 2017: https://www.facebook.com/ideapods/videos/1351258564968375/
 PWC Report, Millenials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace
 Hurst A (2014) The Purpose Economy
 See Gowing N and Langdon C (2016) Thinking the Unthinkable: A New Imperative For Leadership in the Digital Age (An Interim Report)
 moving more firms and government closer to the innovation frontier, delivering high quality education and skills development for Australians throughout their lives, maximising the engagement of our research system with end users, maximising knowledge, talent and capital and pursuing bold high-impact initiatives
 ISA2030 Issues Paper pp 6, 10
 StartupAUS The Crossroads 2016 Report, p9
 Galileo wasn’t the first astronomer to see mountains on the moon. He was simply the first to identify them as such. Unlike his peers, Galileo wasn’t just a scientist – he was also an artist. He had a passion for drawing – and was therefore proficient in the art of shading. This knowledge enabled him to draw the unconventional link between the seemingly unrelated domains of science and art. Galileo saw that the black spots on the moon were in fact shadows – likely caused by an increase in elevation, signalling the presence of mountains: Grant, A (2016) Originals: How Non-Conformists Moved the World
 Reeves M and Deimler M (2011) Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage, Harvard Business Review https://hbr.org/2011/07/adaptability-the-new-competitive-advantage