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Innovate, or learn Mandarin. It's your choice

Innovate, or learn Mandarin. It's your choice
Innovation is pretty much the only thing that can prevent New Zealand from becoming a second-class plantation nation.

Innovation is pretty much the only thing that can prevent New Zealand from becoming a second-class plantation nation eking out a living as tenant farmers for Chinese corporations. So it’s quite important.

“Because distance and shipping costs can be a problem for New Zealand companies,” says Gavin Mitchell, commercial manager for Industrial Research Ltd, “we, as a nation, are good at coming up with solutions in an economic way. We won’t grow the economy by building low-value, high-volume equipment. But we can grow the economy by developing and manufacturing the smart components that add value to those pieces of equipment. It is our ingenuity that will enable us to compete.”

So it’s high time we got on with it, and hopefully this guide will have pointed you in the right direction. But Grenville Main, owner and managing director of research, digital and branding agency DNA, says don’t rely on it too much. “Too many people think they can read all about somebody else’s success and then simply apply that approach and be successful themselves. I'm not so sure. I met a guy the other day who was basically trying to apply the thinking behind 42 Below vodka to the tech industry, and he thought that was the ‘killer app’. That doesn’t work; you can’t apply the same thinking to any and every sector, nor can you throw a dose of Kiwi attitude at everything and expect that’s all it will take to succeed.”

Those that make it—42 Below, Hyperfactory, Orion Health—show you it can be done, but they don’t necessarily show you how you should do it. It’s about taking up the same basic tools and doing something different with them.

The bad news is that somebody who learns how to play all of Jimi Hendrix’s riffs will not become Jimi Hendrix or sell loads of records. The good news is you don’t have to be Jimi Hendrix to be innovative with a guitar and sell loads of records. And there is a hell of a lot of great innovation happening all the time in all sorts of industries.

“Maybe humans have some inherent insecurity about this,” says Main, “but we tend to hear about and champion the ideas that do very well or those that fail spectacularly, when in reality most businesses out there are about some very decent ideas that take many years and a lot of hard work to build that you just don’t hear about.”

Mitchell agrees. “There is a lot of innovation going on in the primary sector,” he says. “But we are also seeing development in the high-value high-technology manufacturing and services sector. There is room for significant growth in these areas.” Increasingly, this means a movement away from raw materials and ‘dumb iron’ into small, smart technology that can be shipped cheaply, sent down a phone line or made somewhere else.

“It can be harder hard now to find the money to do the innovation,” says Mitchell. “What with earthquakes, floods and a world economic slowdown, a lot of companies have gone into ‘possum in the headlights’ mode, which is understandable. But, actually, this now is a great time to get out there and do it, and to use innovation to help future-proof a business. It just requires a little bit of intestinal fortitude.”

So, you’ve got the Guide, but have you got the guts?