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Cheap comfort

Matt Cooney photograph

There's a familiar thread running through this magazine: New Zealanders making a living creating things they love. Whether it's Alka Patel the great New Zealand sneaker brand, there's a diverse bunch of characters doing brilliant things with creative thinking, drive and ambition.

You'd expect that. It's true that good ideas can emerge directly from market research, patent analysis and other data-driven techniques, but in New Zealand we prefer to create the things we want ourselves. That's worked pretty well when we want to create an aeroplane that can land on snow, a pain-free tool for jumping off bridges, or movies set in the Tolkien universe. It also means that innovation is something of a chaotic process; we have to want it ourselves before we build it.

Unfortunately, it appears we may be feeling a bit too comfortable with what we already have. Department of Statistics figures show that the level of innovation in New Zealand is slowing and that our sources of innovation are becoming more static. New ideas are most likely to come from staff and customers, and less likely to come from alternative sources like universities.

On page 95, Jason Smith takes a look at these figures and suggests it's at least partly a result of cutting R&D budgets and that we need to look further afield for fresh ideas. "In-house innovation and cheap advice may feel good at the time but in the longer term it is seldom 'cheap' at all," he says. There lies the challenge. It's easy to presume that New Zealand is moving beyond the traditional commodity economy, but the numbers say otherwise. Thank goodness, then, for the people in these pages.

Paul Reynolds

Magazine Layout

Like many New Zealanders, we were shocked and deeply saddened by the sudden death in May of Paul Reynolds, our neighbour, a prolific Idealog contributor and well-known tech pundit. Paul had a deep knowledge and appreciation of technology and society, a restless curiosity, and the rare ability to inspire and motivate others. This issue of Idealog, and New Zealand in general, is the poorer without Paul.