Counter culture of negativity
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The seventh instalment of the annual West Tech Fest was held in Perth earlier this month, a week-long event showcasing innovation, technology, entrepreneurialism and creativity.
The speaker line-up was on par with similar-style tech conferences in North American and Europe, with the inclusion of investors, founders and thought leaders from Australia and beyond.
Speakers from local success stories such as Appbot and HealthEngine were featured, along with those from Facebook and Greylock Partners.
This year also included ‘Unblocked’, Western Australia’s first blockchain summit.
And while there are so many fascinating things that can be written about trends and technologies discussed – from blockchain to augmented reality and beyond – the key takeaway was actually something more fundamental.
It’s about the importance of the way in which Australians, and Western Australians in particular, see, think and talk about themselves.
Speaking on one of the morning panels, Atlanta Daniel, investment director of Adelaide’s Blue Sky Venture Capital, made an astute observation: “Australia’s biggest cultural problem is negativity,” she said.
This comment feels even more accurate when applied to WA. Historically, we’ve been pretty good at being down on ourselves, despite the fact we have some incredible stuff coming out of the state.
WA was the birthplace of Moodle, an open-source learning management system (LMS) used by educational institutions around the world; and Canva, a web-based graphic design tool that not only has 10 million global users, but now has the rather famous Silicon Valley venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki as its chief evangelist.
WA’s most recent wins have been: Black Lab Games, which worked with Hollywood studios to produce the award-winning Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock; and Power Ledger, a blockchain energy company that is going gangbusters (and was co-founded by Jemma Green, who also happens to be Perth’s deputy lord mayor).
As an event co-founded by American entrepreneurs, West Tech Fest is an opportunity for us to see a view of ourselves from an outside perspective.
At one of the event’s after-parties, Bill Tai, one the event’s American co-founders, made a point of standing up and reminding us what a beautiful and liveable place WA is.
During her panel, former Googler and chief technology officer of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, Stephanie Hannon, said she believed Australia was the best place in the world, adding that the Australian engineers she worked with were also the best she’d worked with anywhere.
Reading between the lines, the message is that we need to develop this opinion of ourselves if we are to achieve great things.
“We need to be better at sharing our wins and banging each other’s drum,” Curtin Planetary Science engagement lead Renae Sayers, who also spoke at West Tech Fest, said.
“It literally takes Silicon Valley expats to come here and do it for us.”
But the message is starting to sink in.
TEDxPerth, a locally created and run event (for which I coach speakers) has been showcasing the achievements of Western Australians since 2012. Scitech’s recently launched science and tech news site Particle (for which I write) does the same through the written word.
As my mother once told me, there are apples and oranges in the world. If you are an apple, you can either be an amazing apple or a mediocre orange. So, be an amazing apple.
Rather than trying to be a ‘less-good’ Silicon Valley, let’s celebrate and leverage what we’re good at and do our own thing, really well.
As Ms Sayers noted in her presentation about the work she is doing with NASA, it’s WA’s competitive edge that leads to collaboration.
To paraphrase Mr Tai again (and use yet another analogy), anyone who surfs knows catching a wave is all about timing.
It’s time, he told the room, and WA is more than ready.
We’re already doing amazing things in one of the most incredible places to live on the planet.
Now, go start telling everyone.