How can Australia become more innovative?

Innovation in the context of the fourth industrial revolution has become about more than ideation and invention – it’s really to do with adding unique value quicker and more frequently than the competition.

Stocking machines in a warehouse

With some of the major contributors to our past productivity growth on the wane, and the local tech start-up sector boasting potential to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of jobs to our economy in the next two decades, we need to become a much more innovative nation. In doing so, we will be able to further our high standard of living, whilst making sure we continue to enjoy meaningful work.

Beyond Government acting as a champion of forward thinking, we must stimulate and support ideas and invention with ambition and a culture which combines education, R&D and industry. Only then will our economy and society thrive in the global innovation race, but what are some of the skills and strategies most likely to breed valuable outcomes in these areas?

Education

Education is crucial to equipping Australians with skills relevant to changing ways of working and living. However, although progressive skillsets aligned with real-time industry trends are a hot commodity, even they require ongoing maintenance to remain future-proof. Our commitment to learning therefore needs to become lifelong and increasingly interdisciplinary to support our innovation efforts, which is where investment in consistent, relevant upskilling or reskilling has a major role to play.

For example, with digital transformation and technological innovation the new normal in business, all workers need to accrue skills which will see them remain relevant in their roles and competitive in their careers. Robust technical capabilities such as software engineering, data science and analytics will serve professionals across our increasingly digitised industries well, but understanding how to integrate technology into our operations and teams is now equally as important. With automation and AI permeating sectors of all sorts, UX design, process management and information security are just a few of these sought-after skills.

Broadening the pool of people who can contribute to innovative value-adds also hinges upon bringing together harder, technical skills and adaptable, transferable ‘power’ skills within our professionals and their workplace cultures. Leading collaboration and coordination with others, communicating and persuading effectively across diverse groups and hierarchies, thinking critically and analytically, solving problems creatively and originally; our capacity to innovate can be improved substantially if we understand how to bring open-mindedness to insights and techniques as well as technologies.

Girl shaking a green robot hand

Research & development

Finding ways to secure and share R&D commercially and cross-border will improve its effectiveness, and Australia’s status as a hub for fresh thinking and inspired application. Talent, collaboration and investment all encourage ground-breaking progress, but new ways of framing problems themselves have also emerged as fundamental to quality solutions.

In a world of constant disruption, organisations not inviting some degree of new and innovative thinking when seeking to design better, swifter solutions, will be less likely to cope with change and more likely to lag competitively. Adopting design thinking approaches which ask ‘How?’ in response to challenges can counter this, by working to explore the issues before extracting maximum benefit from minimum time and resource investment.

Design-led thinking is being embraced by businesses as an adaptable and responsive alternative to slower and higher-investment ‘predictive’ development of product ideas. Its ‘fail fast and often’ market testing mantra drives faster, cheaper and more responsive development, perfect for fast-moving and economically uncertain times such as this one.

Industry

Stimulating high-growth firms and raising productivity within organisations will enhance our ability to reimagine what we do and be smarter in how we do it. If we can balance both, ensuring Australia’s ongoing prosperity will be one step closer. Government provides some infrastructure and incentives for innovation projects, but the private sector must continue to spearhead the competitive creation of wealth from doing new things or existing things better.

Investing in a focused way sits at the forefront of this. With complex products, services and business models commonplace, few companies possess the right resource mix to adopt a wholly ‘in-house’ approach to innovation. Hence, many of today’s industry leaders and household names are those who systematically invest in a focused way and manage a portfolio of 'new-stream' projects alongside their mainstream assets. They strategically measure innovation performance, recognise and reward contributions to it, and refine their project set in the pursuit of greater overall returns, regardless of whether working on them hands-on or hands-off.

All industries have the potential to innovate their way towards improvement and efficiency, but it’s the ability to identify, explore and lead new opportunities at the right time, whilst tapping into favourable factors such as local policy, investment climate and community expertise, which can determine where the next bursts of innovation will occur.

With food systems, for example, Australia is well placed to combine cutting-edge expertise with common localised goals across energy efficient technologies, transparent quality standards, strong biosecurity and private investment to generate results, best practice and IP which can then be exported. From developing new, productive soil types for challenging environments to integrating instantaneous information sharing and analysis aided by machine learning, areas for advance are plentiful.

Next-gen analytics, real-time reporting and process automation, underpinned by cooperation between providers, institutions and Government, could see our national healthcare spend slashed and care quality boosted over time. But new entrants are already pushing the agenda for positive change by competing on technologies such as AI and connected sensors which constantly monitor patient conditions and model their trajectories.

And in the financial, legal and insurance industries, a repositioning of offerings and user experiences as more accessible, inclusive and transparent has the potential to better serve more diverse groups. See how younger consumers and their historical lack of targeted information around money management and investments, have become the focus of recent innovations such as post-pay and micro-trading, which simplify benefits and streamline processes digitally.

The final piece of the puzzle in how we successfully imagine and invest in improvement of technological, human and integration capabilities, will be the curation of new cultures which actively incentivise challenges to the status quo. Our companies need to accept that their people, practices and project portfolios all require reinvention on some level to achieve this, and be brave, honest and tenacious in how they address it. And at the same time, our leaders need to work hard on strengthening jobs, networks and industries by balancing nurture of today’s top performing organisations with facilitation of tomorrow’s new guard.

To help equip your workforce with a skillset for the future and your organisation with a mindset for innovation, consider Melbourne MicroCerts from The University of Melbourne. These flexible, industry-aligned short courses are designed to pair leading insights with quality instruction across a range of highly relevant subjects, including:

Start or continue your skilling journey with us today.


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