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NZ's innovation snagged on 'number 8 wire' - report

03 Feb 2020

New Zealand is ‘sliding’ down the global innovation index, in part due to Kiwis’ number 8 wire approach to fixing existing things, rather than exploring new and imaginative ideas.

That’s according to a recent report from Redvespa, called Imagination in Business, which analyses the place of innovation and imagination in New Zealand organisations and identifies the limitations of our number 8 wire culture if we hope to regain ground on our innovation reputation.

The report is based on the view that innovation isn’t something that ‘just happens’ – rather, it’s about systematised value creation that must be nurtured through a number of different stages, as well as curiosity, imagination, and creativity. Innovation is the result of this process – otherwise known as the ‘innovation pathway’.

“Kiwi innovation in often closely linked with our number 8 wire culture,” says Redvespa’s head of evolution Keith Shering.

“That creates a problem, as then innovation is aligned with finding ways to fix existing things. Yes, it’s often ingenious, but it’s also an iterative and incremental approach rather than a transformational one. If the world is taking big transformational steps, incrementalism can’t keep up. We need to make more imaginative leaps.”

The report found that significant gaps exist in the pursuit of innovation and how it is supported through investment in the Innovation Pathway.

Organisations want the results of innovation but they don’t want to invest in the raw ingredients. For example, just 19% of respondents said their organisation placed a high value on rewarding creativity. This dropped to 13% when considering rewards for curiosity and imagination.

Despite this, there is hope as respondents felt that all elements of the Innovation Pathway should be valued more highly by their organisations.

Organisations with 20-49 people are seen as more imaginative than organisations with 100 or more people, which are seen as more ‘predictable’.  According to the report, organisations with the greatest resources to leverage creativity are the least likely, or able to do so. Bigger organisations make smaller decisions when it comes to innovation.

People working in startups perceive themselves to be imaginative, with 75% of respondents self-rating as a4 or 5 on a 5-point scale. This backs up the idea of innovation in mature organisations being incremental and safe rather than bold and imaginative.

Additionally, organisations operating solely in New Zealand are one third more likely to be perceived as imaginative than organisations with any sort of overseas presence.

“This research is timely, relevant, and useful,” notes Shering. 

“Innovation is what separates successful organisations from the pack. It sits at the heart of the knowledge economy. It’s the goal of investment in Research and Development and a cornerstone of economic development. Yet, New Zealand is slipping down the global innovation index, and, in spite of additional investment in the 2019 budget, there is plenty of work to be done to reclaim lost ground. Imagination in Business provides a framework for examining the problem and understanding where it has come from. Further, it outlines a pathway for addressing the issue.”

The Imagination in Business research was undertaken for Redvespa by Phoenix Research, who surveyed more than 500 people managers from throughout New Zealand, over the period 16th April to 20th May 2019 through an online survey. 

Respondents were asked about the way New Zealand businesses value, reward, recognise, recruit, and retain people to support imagination curiosity, creativity, and innovation.