Deloitte CMO: Australia’s ‘tall poppy syndrome’ holds back innovation


L:R Dominic Walsh MD of Landor Australia, Mark Collis, director of Innovation Factory, James Sykes, VP marketing director of Beam of David Redhill chief marketing officer of Deloitte Australia

David Redhill, chief marketing officer of Deloitte has told a forum that he fears “tall poppy syndrome” is holding back innovation in Australia.

Speaking at a forum this morning, hosted by branding consultancy Landor Australia, Redhill said Australia’s “cultural cringe” was limiting it.

“There is a cultural cringe or the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ where people don’t like to be seen as champions of change and stark innovators,” said Redhill.

“And they are not supported. Maybe it’s something in the Australian psyche that we don’t want to stand out.”

Redhill was joined on the panel by former head of brand and innovation at Telstra, Mark Collis, James Sykes, marketing director of premium spirits for Beam and  Dominic Walsh, managing director of Landor Australia.

Collis told the panel about his challenges with rebranding Telstra and said innovation and change only came about because of a willingness from the rest of the team to evolve.

“Leadership is crucial. I don’t think I could have gone in there and convinced David Thodey and the team to do X,Y or Z with the Telstra brand,” said Collis, who is now director of Innovation Factory.

“They had already realised that they needed a change. I was very lucky in that regard,” he said.

He also added that one of the challenges of driving innovation for business leaders was the constant ambiguity and fuzziness that comes with change.

“Leadership must embrace innovation even though it doesn’t come with a set outcome,”said Collis, “there is a lot of ambiguity and fuzziness that comes with innovation.”

Sykes said there was often a major disparity between senior management and the rest of the company adding: “There is a often a gap between senior management and their comprehension of innovation of what it is and what it should do and the folks at the folks at the bottom who have to do that shit.

“The result is an air sandwich between the big people and the little people and that comes about because people believe they need a culture that embraces co-participation. Everyone gives that lip service but they never organise themselves to make sure it happens.”

Redhill agreed and said: “There is a problem, it is this big people vs little people syndrome.”



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