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Good ideas not enough to guarantee success

This has been the century when the development and application of science has fed an unprecedented level of technological change.

Ninety percent of all the scientists who have ever lived are alive right now and 90% of all scientific knowledge has been generated in the last thirty years.

Most experts confidently expect that the volume of scientific knowledge will double again in the next ten to fifteen years.

Rather than an isolated event, there has been a series of technological revolutions associated with information technology, biotechnology, advanced materials, optical systems, automation systems and scientific instrumentation.

In terms of fundamental impact upon the nature of work, the basis of the productive economy and our own social mores the revolution in communications has dwarfed the others.

This, of course, has been the context in which the online economy has emerged.

To survive and, in fact, thrive in this environment we need to become champions of innovation and competent managers of change.

Australian innovation has a most interesting mixed history. We are a nation of veritable inventors but we are not wildly successful with serious innovation, which demands important components of R&D and commercialisation.

I well recall being advised more than twenty years ago that “...Australians are wonderfully adept at inventing nifty products that are truly original and then finding that there is a total world market for six units”.

Australian innovation has been traditionally driven by a government funded science base rather than the marketplace. As a consequence, we are forever trying to turn inventors into international businessmen capable of commercialising R&D.

All too often we overlook the reality that the commercialisation phase requires more than eighty percent of the resources and effort.

Successful commercialisation requires adequate financing, appropriate managements skills, access to strong distribution networks and effective export marketing.

The failure of many Australian innovation ventures can be attributed to commercial inexperience rather than technological inadequacy.

The most successful innovations I have personally been associated with have all featured some highly recognisable characteristics such as, a clearly articulated vision, concept champions, access to adequate financial resources, a keen sense of timing, fundamental support infrastructure and above all the dedicated multidisciplinary team.

Whether it is a large organisation or a small one, whether it is the private sector or the public sector to conceive and follow through with a significant innovation require a modicum of courage.

Those of us who may from time to time feel tempted to retreat from that courageous initiative should bear in mind the famous ‘innovator’s reality’ which describes the routine phases or stages of the innovation process.

Stage 1 – Excitement and exuberance associated with the vision.

Stage 2 – Frustration.

Stage 3 – Doubt, leading to panic in some.

Stage 4 – Preoccupation with what happens if things go wrong:

• the project becomes an orphan

• there is a search for the guilty

• the innocent are punished.

Stage 5 – If the initiative succeeds:

• the project has many friends

• there are accolades, high praise and rewards for those NOT responsible.

Stage 6 – The next vision.

• Mal Bryce is a former WA Deputy Premier and Minister of Technology.

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