2018 Leadership Conference: “Culture, Diversity and Innovation – How can NZ Thrive on the Global Stage”
Aotearoa has a rich history of innovators and expert navigators, many of whom have sailed waka across turbulent tides and currents of change – indeed, demi-god Māui himself was a prolific innovator and problem-solver who used his powerful hook to catch the fish that became the North Island (Te Ika-a-Māui) of New Zealand. Celebrating Māuitanga, the spirit and values of innovation, we themed our 2018 Leadership Conference “Culture, Diversity and Innovation - how can New Zealand thrive on the global stage”.
We were delighted to have the following global and NZ thought leaders share their insights: Dr. Fons Trompenaars, THT Consulting, Thinkers50 Hall of Fame 2017; Professor Bill Fischer, IMD; Fiona Smith, GM Customer Operations, TrustPower & Ainsleigh Cribb-Su’a, Chief Executive, VOYCE Whakarongo Mai on a panel; Adrian Orr, Governor, Reserve Bank of NZ; Sacha McMeeking, Head of Aotahi (School of Maori and Indigenous Studies), University of Canterbury; Rob Campbell, Professional Director; and Professor Ian Williamson, Pro-Chancellor, University of Victoria.
There is a lot going for New Zealand as a source for innovative ideas and we are often known for our “No.8 wire” mentality where most problems can be overcome by homegrown innovative solutions. This was very much reinforced by our global thought leaders, that the world is looking to us for innovative ideas. However, the reality is that many of our ideas and inventions fail to be commercially viable and do not make it to the global stage. Participants also cited low productivity, complacency, lack of education and lack of investment as the top reasons why New Zealand has dropped to 22nd place on the 2018 Global Innovation Index published by INSEAD. Indeed, we have much to learn from global best practices.
According to Dr Fons Trompenaars, one of the biggest obstacles to innovation is binary or bipolar thinking. Instead he encourages leaders to ‘crack the line’ to embrace all perspectives, i.e. to create a two-dimensional matrix in order to reach a win-win solution instead of a win-lose situation. He introduced the concept of “co-opetition” in order to drive innovation, where organisations choose to cooperate at some levels while competing on other aspects. Innovation is best served when external partners and stakeholders are involved, and at times, even competitors. Leaders should be open to ‘ex-novation’ as a potential solution, where they seek the ideas, creativity and innovation from outside the organisation.
Prof Bill Fischer emphasised that diversity is a key driver for innovation – however, while many leaders are moving past tokenism or ‘checklist diversity’ towards genuinely wanting it within their teams, they have yet to learn how to cope with the challenges or discomfort that diverse discussions bring to the table. Leaders should learn to “embrace the deviant” and the sense of discomfort when challenged. As leaders, we need to address this with braver, more courageous leadership that allows diversity and innovation to genuinely flourish. We need to learn better, not know better – to unlearn and relearn, and embrace continuous improvement in our organisations.
Professor Ian Williamson highlighted that an often-overlooked driver for innovation in organisations is societal issues. His advice is to encourage leaders to find out how solving pertinent social issues can lead to innovative products and services, whilst leveraging on the core competencies of the organisation. Great examples include Nestle starting micro-finance for farmers in Sr Lanka after the civil war in order to strengthen their supply chain, and Australia Post transitioning from the brink of being obsolete to revamping their post offices into satellite incubator hubs or office space for local economic development.
Various international case studies on innovation were presented throughout the conference, spanning from lessons of the Haier Group and Google to local organisations like Fisher & Paykel, Trustpower, VOYCE Whakarongo Mai. Sacha McMeeking also shared great examples of Māori innovation such as the Whai Rawa superannuation scheme by Ngāi Tahu, which is the precursor model to KiwiSaver.
Having spent a long day together, we were delighted that participants described their experience as energising, stimulating, challenged, and inspired: