The Innovators is an exhibition which celebrates not only achievements, but the entire process of innovation, from conceptualisation to creation. Innovators sharing their stories include Peter Beck from Rocket Lab, Xero’s Rod Drury, Ian Taylor from Animation Research Limited, Frances Valintine from The Mind Lab by Unitec, and Dr Keith Alexander from Springfree Trampoline. The exhibition explores the personalities and contributions of these innovators, as well as colleagues who work behind the scenes. The exhibition features a broad range of things to do, including digital interactives, a virtual reality simulator, and a Springfree Trampoline.
“These five innovators are all game changers in their industries or sectors and are shaking things up on a global scale. They are all bold, tenacious and collaborative,” explains Rebecca Britt, MOTAT interpretation manager. “They have all succeded from New Zealand, and they are still innovating, still developing, still improving. What better group to show a new generation of Kiwis that there are no limits to their own futures?”
The time is right for an exhibition like this because the pace of innovation is constantly increasing, Britt explains. “There are so many great things happening in this country right now – the five innovation stories featured in this exhibition are just a tiny fraction,” she says. “New Zealanders should know how their fellow Kiwis are changing the world. An exhibition is a great mechanism for illustrating how powerful innovative thinking can be. We wanted to bring some of these success stories together, to help people understand that it is not just one person, or one company that has embraced innovation and is doing well, it’s actually a culture that is developing right here. This is not limited to any one industry and it’s something they can be part of.”
Art of Fact director David Hebblethwaite – who moderated a panel discussion at the opening of the exhibition on Thursday night (February 9) – says something similar. “The rate of global change is ever increasing,” he says. “Frances Valintine (of the Mind Lab by Unitec) explains it very well; until very recently we knew all our competitors, they were next door, or along the road, or perhaps in Australia. Now our competitors are almost impossible to see before they come. Our comfortable way of life, peace and stability can be very easily disrupted. The status quo is not really an option for coping with the rate of global change. The only way is to change even faster; in other words, to innovate ahead of the curve, not in response to it.”
Britt also says there’s a hope that the exhibition can spark discussions about innovation – and perhaps even inspire innovation. “Building innovative thinking into our way of life is the best way for New Zealand to thrive,” she says. “It’s crucial that we discuss the different elements of innovation, from ideation to teamwork and resilience. Global successes such as the ones we feature here, like Xero or the Springfree Trampoline, didn’t occur in a vacuum – they are the result of their environments, coupled with inspiration and years of hard work and visionary leadership. For MOTAT, this is a really important exhibition. The museum is well known as a place to celebrate our heritage, but it also has a role to play as a centre of new thinking. By sharing stories like The Innovators, holding workshops, talks, and events that explore science, innovation and technology alongside history, MOTAT is becoming a place to understand who we are right now while exploring what we can become in the future.”
Hebblethwaite says there are three things he hopes visitors take away from visiting the exhibition: that anyone can be an innovator, that innovation takes resilience, and that Aotearoa is blessed by “good remoteness” which can encourage innovation. “Put frankly, New Zealand is small and a long way from anywhere,” he says. “On the surface, this is a disadvantage, however each of these innovators have turned that remoteness, both culturally and physically, to their own benefit. We want visitors to embrace the many advantages of being in this country and so we asked each innovator to speak about how New Zealand makes it possible for them to do what they do.”
A few things tie innovators together, Britt says. “I think the meaning is different for everyone, but all the stories featured in our exhibition have curiosity and tenacity at their heart and the drive to do things better. For me personally, and one of the messages I take from these stories, is that innovation means the wholehearted pursuit of the possible instead of the merely probable. It is a way of thinking that can be applied across industries and sectors.”
Hebblethwaite agrees. “We debated this a great deal and concluded that it means different things for different innovators. The most compelling version that stands out is ‘changing the status quo, with intent, and for the better.’ Some of our innovators change things physically (e.g. Rocket Lab) while others change systems, processes or abstract ideas (e.g. Xero and The Mind Lab by Unitec). All of them change the world for the better.”
And the exhibition is really more than an exhibition, Hebblethwaite adds. “The story of The Innovators is not the exhibition itself,” he says. “The stories we have here are about global change, disruption, risk taking, overcoming failure, tackling legislation, no. 8 wire, Māori entrepreneurship, New Zealand as a global corporate power, and of course – and probably most importantly of all – the next generation of innovators.”
The Innovators is open every day from 10am to 5pm at MOTAT, 805 Great North Road, Western Springs, Auckland. Entry to the exhibition is included in the museum’s general admission fees.
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