How we can maintain our charm AND dominate the world?
In a nutshell
- Emphasis in New Zealand is shifting away from our traditional primary industries of agriculture and tourism towards high tech innovation.
- The challenge is how to do this in a Kiwi way while still pushing our country forward as global citizens.
- Kiwis have gone beyond the traditional No. 8 wire mentality when it comes to innovation. We're now much more planned and goal-oriented when seeking creative solutions using leading-edge technology.
- There are a number of things New Zealand already does well in the innovation space: sport; counter culture; simplicity; and smart thinking.
‘World famous in New Zealand’ took on an interesting twist in a recent article in The Guardian, which referred to a worldwide search for a government post of chief technology officer, with responsibility for ‘emerging and disruptive technologies’. The twist was that the job listing specified someone with international mana. Now bearing in mind that most overseas candidates won’t understand the concept of mana, it was further qualified as ‘international power’.
The word that raised a few New Zealand readers’ eyebrows, however, was ‘international’. Don’t we have someone in New Zealand who could fill the role? Yes, undoubtedly we do, but equally true is that as a small nation, we have always welcomed ideas from around the world as it fuels our creative and collaborative nature. But, there is more to it than that. This government has set an agenda that is highly ambitious and aims to elevate the information and technology industry to the top of the podium ahead of the current incumbents: tourism and agriculture.
Economically, it’s a no-brainer of a policy. If AI is going to take away traditional jobs, we need a new and growing industry to occupy otherwise idle hands and maintain a thriving economy. Culturally, too, we see Kiwis’ enthusiasm for tourism peaking as our infrastructure strains under the load and talk turns to controlling numbers, increasing yield and adopting strategies that create priority access for domestic tourism. Of course, home-grown emerging technologies can themselves become tourist attractions – try getting a booking to visit Weta Studios in high summer months.
Agriculture is also having a bumpy ride with Kiwis, with a focus on the environmental effects and not much conversation about how agriculture is employing leading-edge technology: drones, remotely controlled field vehicles, high-tech milking sheds and all of the innovative work done at Fonterra’s innovation labs around quality monitoring and how to use milk solids in medicine and many more applications.
New Zealand was never in the global race to be a manufacturing country, but as people have moved from wanting more things to wanting more experiences and meaning in their life, our time has come. Just as we shifted from growing sheep to creating high value merino designer clothing, and from the bucolic image of a country intent on growing cows to a high-tech dairy industry delivering high-value, exportable milk solids, we are poised to be the country that punches above its weight in emerging technologies.
Just as we shifted from growing sheep to creating high value merino designer clothing, and from the bucolic image of a country intent on growing cows to a high-tech dairy industry delivering high-value, exportable milk solids, we are poised to be the country that punches above its weight in emerging technologies.
Can we still do it in our way?
Probably, yes, but only if we understand what our way is and stay true to it. And, do we need outside investment? Yes, but we need investors who get us, who recognise that we have our own brand and a uniquely Kiwi way of doing things.
Plus, we also need education, mentoring, role models, networks and global connections. We can’t be isolationist, nor do we want to be. Our work with True on the Kiwi Codes showed us that Kiwis see themselves as global citizens. We no longer feel stuck in the corner of the world, 10 years behind everyone else. We’ve proven that we’re a global player, even if we do still use ‘per capita’ to our advantage every now and then.
As one of the people we talked with so succinctly put it: “Our measure of success is different to the rest of the world, but it's changing – we used to live in a community, now we live in an economy.”
So what is our way?
It’s a mash-up of what used to be invention by necessity and today’s more planned and goal-oriented approach to finding creative solutions using leading-edge technology. Historically, No. 8 wire was a metaphor for a bit of creative cobbling together, but today’s version of Kiwi ingenuity is much smarter, though no less ambitious.
Looking at what is unique about Kiwi ingenuity is a good guide to what international talent and investors will need to understand and leverage. And that’s not about falling into line or curtailing their contribution. Instead, it’s about making magic happen by leveraging global assets to supercharge our already creative approach to emerging technologies.