Small Business

What Stops Innovation Dead In Its Tracks?

The CSIRO’s Digital Productivity Flagship is essentially a thinktank for innovating new ideas — but what are the barriers to innovation? At yesterday’s launch, a panel of experts discussed the problems facing anyone who wants to innovate.

Following on from his keynote address, Sir Tim Berners-Lee was joined on stage by (from left to right) Professor Mary O’Kane, Dr Terry Cutler, Dr Nicholas Gruen and Dr Ian Opperman to discuss the challenges faced when innovating. Here’s what they had to say about blocks to innovation:

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Director of the World Wide Web Consortium W3C

Innovation has to do with sharing. But it’s really hard to measure the return on sharing. You get anecdotes about it, saying that it’s “really, really cool”. Really really cool means that ‘I have a sense that it works, but we can’t measure it.” But supposing we did flip it? If all academic journals were online for free; if we bought out the existing stakeholders, then how would it work? What would it cost to go to school if someone lives in a village in Africa. That switch from a mode of operation is very difficult to visualise, then it’s really difficult to justify it — what is going to be the return on investment?

Professor Mary O’Kane, NSW Chief Scientist & Scientific Engineer

I think the biggest problem is fear. People don’t want to get out of their comfort zone. It’s often about posing problems, and being willing to think what if. The wider you can think about it, the better, but you’ve got to start, and think — what are the first set of steps we want to take?

Dr Nicholas Gruen, CEO of Lateral Economics

We spend a lot of time talking about the NBN. We kind of have an NBN in all sorts of places, we have enough bandwidth to do a whole host of things, but we are not doing them. We’re not doing them because large organisations don’t do this stuff well. Things are going to start moving faster in education, but where things are heavily institutionalised and regulated — and that doesn’t have to be a government regulation; it can be the regulations of a profession, or the regulations of a large organisation then it takes a long time to find new ways of doing things. Finally there is the law of innovation and incumbence. Innovation is invisible and fragile, because it doesn’t exist yet. Incumbents are very good at saying something this innovator has in mind will inconvenience them, and how that would be terrible.

Dr Terry Cutler, Industry Consultant and Strategy Advisor, Cutler & Company

Within health systems there are two main blockers; one that we have silos of activity that aren’t connected. The other is that we have perverse incentive systems; payment systems that inhibit behavioural change. Then you get our awful human nature tendencies for monopoly and exploitation. You get narrow professional interests in play.

These problems were then presented to the CSIRO’s Dr Ian Opperman for comment, relating to how the flagship might operate to meet those challenges.

Dr Ian Opperman, Director, Digital Productivity & Services Flagship

With the flagship we’re looking for a larger outcome; we’re prepared to put a lot of disciplines on the table and look at it for a number of years. Ultimately it’s not just about the technology; it’s about how the technology interacts with people. There’s a productivity focus immediately. Our medium term goal is doing old things in new ways, then the really exciting thing is looking at doing new things new ways — and we get to have that conversation after we’ve passed the other two stages. It’s an iterative process, it’s a multi-phase process going forward to get to that desired outcome.


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