Recently I had a long conversation with a Sydney-based, high tech manufacturer who loves going to trade shows – as long as they have nothing to do with his business. He tracks beverage companies for their marketing nous, wangled an invitation to the Nissan GT-R production line when he was in Japan and is helping a couple of university students with a great idea for a new medical device. His name is Peter Freedman, he runs and owns RØDE Microphones and he purposefully puts himself in the way of innovators in the expectation magic will happen.
And quite frequently it does. Connect bright people and great ideas can shoot out like sparks off a flint. Australia has many, many pockets of innovation but not enough of them are connected with each other. This is what a recent roundtable convened by Microsoft Australia zeroed in on: the need for joined-up innovation that brings together all players including businesses, government, researchers, academics and investors.
The experts at our roundtable also highlighted several cultural obstacles that prevent our innovation ecosystem from working as well as it might.
Self-reliance and individualism have served this country well. But they are modes of working that tend to encourage linear, step by step innovation that is simply too slow in a globalized economy where many of our international competitors have embraced collaborative work.
A love of logic and problem solving developed through STEM (science, technology engineering and maths) subjects prepares young Australians to become the creators and innovators of the future. Whilst a culture that supports and rewards developing new ideas and even failure allows employees and entrepreneurs to continue to learn and evolve their ideas.
Rather than just looking up to the next chain in the corporate hierarchy for approval, we want our risk takers to be looking around and to tap into the broader networks of creative people. All of these behaviours need to be encouraged if we are to focus, as we must, not just on new-to-the world technologies but on ways that existing business can re-invent themselves.
Microsoft is an enthusiastic champion of early stage ventures (after all, we were one ourselves at one point) but companies of all shapes and sizes need to develop new ideas and make them pay. There are more than two million businesses in this country, many of them small and started by people with a passion to create. We need to keep them creating. The country’s future prosperity depends on it.
Peter Freedman has spent 22 years building RØDE from scratch to a world leader that he describes as being “in a constant state of improvement”. Right now he’s excited about expanding export markets, such as Korea where churches want microphones for choirs, music and the spoken word, and proud of his factory’s success in developing a brand new process of applying military-grade protective paint.
Microphones are big but not as big as mobile phones so why go to audio industry trade shows when you can draw inspiration from much bigger markets? Peter has applied advances in finishes and materials made in the rapidly evolving art of mobile phone casings and draws on that market among many others for aesthetic and design ideas as he plans his next move in microphones, the jewellery of the audio world.
As Peter says: “You don’t know what you don’t know. And that’s why you have to keep looking”. It’s that ethos we believe should be more wide spread. Innovation in business should not be the preserve of those just starting out. It should be part of the way we work, hardwired into every ambitious company’s DNA. Strengthening the links in our innovation chain will help us learn from each other, foster collaborative work and encourage us all to stride more confidently into the world of new ideas.