Mike Hutcheson: Why we shouldn't celebrate our top 3 world creativity ranking

Being creative is all well and good – if you are turning your creativity into innovation and then wealth. We aren't.

This week New Zealand jumped three slots to third place in the Global Creativity Index. We are, according to the Martin Prosperity Institute, the third most creative country in the world, measured by our talent, our technology and our tolerance.

That's nice. But nothing to celebrate.

We invent stuff, but too often we don't implement our ideas and turn them into successful global businesses. 

We may rank third in terms of creativity, but we rank 19th in terms of filing international patent applications. We rank 27th in terms of patents filed in at least three countries. We rank 63rd in the Global Innovation Index for high-tech and medium high tech output as a percentage of total manufacturing.

We convert only 22% of our local patents to international ones, as opposed to Singapore, which converts 81%, Finland, which converts 58%, and Denmark and Iceland which convert 42%.

Instead of turning knowledge into prosperity, New Zealanders appear to be more intent in simply sharing that knowledge – we are the sixth most prolific nation in the authoring of work in technical publications. 

The Government’s innovation policy is mainly centred around STEM activities –  science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But STEM isn't enough to convert knowledge to prosperity.

As Geoff Perry, dean of the Faculty of Business and Law at AUT University says, we can't simply look at STEM as "the magic potion, with the idea that simply brewing more of this will create productivity and economic growth".

Over 90% of new businesses in New Zealand fail within their first year, Perry says. "Increasing the success rates of new businesses will have a major impact on productivity and growth, and this can be achieved by increasing business research, building a customer-oriented focus and increasing collaboration between science, R & D and business research." 

Callaghan Innovation CEO Mary Quinn said a similar thing when she talked about the world of innovation crying out for marketing and sales experts as well as coders and designers.

I agree. Far too often in New Zealand we invent great products and then nothing happens. We have to close the gap between invention and innovation. And marketing is a key part of that process. 

Long ago, Peter Drucker, the father of business consulting, made a profound observation:

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

We have to stop patting ourselves on the back for getting to the Olympics, when we should be asking the question 'Why aren't we winning some medals?'

Mike Hutcheson is a director of Image Centre Group, the company which owns Idealog. The paradox of Kiwi creativity is the subject of his recently-completed masters thesis, which also produced this 30-minute video documentary .