The clever country – five years on

A lot has changed in Australia in five years. Dominic Walsh revisits his presentation from Mumbrella360 2015 to gauge where Australia sits on the world's innovation stage.

Five years ago, I spoke at Mumbrella360 on why Australia “the lucky country” needs to become “the clever country”. At the time I was frustrated at Australia’s complacency when it comes to competing on the world stage as an innovations leader. We seemed to be relying on digging raw materials out of the ground rather than adding value and selling our thinking to the world. While we have seen some improvement since that time, I thought it was the right time to revisit those ideas and share some thoughts on how we can ensure the Australian economy is ready for a post-pandemic world.

Double down on technology

Technology is the new gold, that’s why Apple, Google and Amazon are the largest companies in the world. The question is: What is our next Atlassian and how are we using intellectual capital in Australia to commercialise our thinking and applying it to technology? Since the start of Covid-19, Australia Post has facilitated an additional $2.4 billion in e-commerce related deliveries. Overall, we have seen an 80% increase year on year on e-commerce transactions and remote working becoming the new normal. So, how can Australia leverage this moment in time? Virtual working, e-commerce, business process efficiency and seamless customer experience (CX) are just a few of the sweet spots.

Make China our friend not foe

Our relationship with China is currently at an all-time low. Yet, there is no denying that the freight train is not about to stop any time soon.  By 2022, it’s predicted that more than 550 million of China’s 730 million urban population will be considered middle class. In comparison, Australia’s 25 million population has 14.5 million middle class – which certainly puts the size of market opportunity in context. We’ve all seen businesses like A2 Milk and Blackmores benefit from China’s middle class. However, the landscape is changing rapidly and there’s a need for Australian business to understand the market, cultural and structural differences in China. Ecommerce is the norm for consumer goods in China – meaning channel innovation is absolutely ripe for opportunity.

Innovative customer experiences

According to a recent CBA report, customer factors are the number one driver of innovation in the Australian market. Building a customer experience with less friction is a key driver for future growth. If you need evidence to prove the value of a seamless customer experience just look at Amazon and its ability to lock customers into its eco-system. Amazon Prime demonstrates that a better experience can be achieved online through same day delivery rather than visiting a store. It’s great to see a home-grown company like Kogan emerging in the current climate. In financial services, Afterpay is re-inventing the model with interest-free loans and less paperwork.

Using our natural assets for sustainability

It’s often been said that we are better placed than most countries in terms of natural resources. It’s why I find Oxford academic Kate Raworth’s theory on “Doughnut economics” so interesting – using the analogy of the circles in a doughnut as the boundaries from which to build a sustainable society. It’s how companies like Tesla are showing us that we need to think differently – rather than seeing themselves as a car company they see themselves as an alternative energy company. Surely, Australia could play a larger role in sustainable business: it not only makes environmental sense but is also proving to be good business sense.

Big D design

I’m a true believer in the power of innovative design to translate into business success. Apple and Dyson lead the way on product design, Google on usability design and Disney on experience design. Design is not simply about aesthetic – it’s about achieving a competitive point of difference and building shareholder value, something we refer to as Big D design. McKinsey have developed a highly insightful design index which demonstrates that companies with a top quartile design index score outperform other companies on growth, revenue and shareholder value. How can we leverage design further and take Australian companies to the world?

It’s time for the Future Country

In reality, we are a clever country. We have an education system that is the envy of the world and a history of inventing everything from antibiotics, bionic ears (Cochlear) and WiFi. As I mentioned in my speech five years ago we have the smarts as a country – we just need to commercialise that thinking and then take it to the world. A big part of this is about better collaboration between the different sectors of the Australian economy. If universities, banks, entrepreneurial businesses and government would simply join the dots we would be unstoppable. 

It’s time for the clever country to become the future country.

Dominic Walsh is managing partner of SMART.


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