Boosting NZ innovation: Bringing our A-game and celebrating tall poppies

Tall poppy syndrome exists merely because we keep paying lip service to it. Let's celebrate NZ innovation

Tall poppy syndrome exists merely because we keep paying lip service to it.

annette kendall mba idealogWe Godzonians are a simple lot: we pride ourselves on seeing through bulldust and yes, the minute you start to even show a sign of poking your head up above the masses, someone notices.

When we perceive ourselves to be more than successful than others, we gladly explain away any sort of criticism or challenge as ‘tall poppy syndrome’, a phenomenon some suggest was invented by us Kiwis. 

But to dismiss criticism as some form of resentment or jealousy of a person’s success or ability is a cop-out.  We just want to know you are what you say you are.  If you’re Valerie Adams and you say you’re the best (and subsequently prove it), we’ll back you all the way.  If you say you’re the best, then fail, and blame everyone and everything else for your failings, then yes, you’re fair game for the naysayers and dis-believers.

If you’re going to keep growing, be prepared to bring your A-game. People will question your ability, your skill, your dress sense and even your oversized dangly earrings.  Deal with it.  If you’re going to be good at what you do then defending your position comes with the territory. 

And so it should.  Everyone has a right to lay down a challenge and if you’re as good as you perceive yourself to be, you’ll prove yourself.  You won’t go crying to anyone who will listen about this so-called tall poppy syndrome and here’s why: we Kiwis need to a) toughen up and b) raise our game, because even our very best isn’t good enough anymore.

For so long we have prided ourselves on our clean, green image; the quality of our beef and lamb; our No.8 wire innovation.  We’re not fooling anyone except ourselves.  The rest of the world hardly takes notice of us these days.  On a recent Massey University MBA tour through Europe, a group of executives held meetings with some multi-national businesses and in each and every case apart from one, when they showed us the world map of locations and future developments, New Zealand didn’t even feature.  Literally.  As in our little country wasn’t even on the map.  Next to Australia there was nothing but water.

There is a social media page that calls for support to bring Ikea to New Zealand.  I can see why.  Ikea offers an amazing experience for its visitors.  Here’s a dose of reality though: Ikea doesn’t care about us.  They’re not coming any time soon and why should they?  They’re conquering the world.  A tiny country such as ours hasn’t even shown up on their radar in terms of potential market size.

As for our clean, green image, there are organisations in the Netherlands who laugh at us in a kind of “Oh, you call yourself green?  Oh, that’s so cute” way.  There are other countries who are far better at this than we are and if we don’t pull our socks up very soon, there will be other countries who will be far better at producing prime beef and lamb and growing grass far better than us as well.

We need to toughen up.  We need our bright, successful, innovative people to get moving and get better at what they do and we need to be challenging them all the way.  If you think you’re any good and you can’t prove it to the Kiwis there’s not much chance you’re going to be able to prove it to the world. 

The tall poppy excuse exists only because it’s trotted out as a defence.  Next time you’re challenged or put down, resist the urge to whine.  Suck it up, smile, prove yourself and get our country back on the world map.

Annette Kendall  lives on a sheep and beef farm in the Tararua District and is currently undertaking research into the development of innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration within rural communities