I had the pleasure of attending The Innovation Game last night as part of Australia's Spark Festival, which hosts a series of events throughout the month to bring together startups, innovators and entrepreneurs. The event ran a competition between a team of startups against a team of corporates, whereby the audience voted on which team presented the best answers to questions like 'What is innovation?' and 'How do legacy brands avoid getting disrupted by new competitors?'

While the startup group clearly had the support and love of the crowd at the start, it was interesting to see everyone slowly but surely won over by the corporate team for their down-to-earth and practical answers to addressing the innovation opportunities and challenges ahead.  

It became clear that innovation truly is a buzzword the industry is simultaneously excited about and sick of. It was mentioned early on in the discussion that science was the original 'innovation' and we've essentially evolved what innovation means from there. At first I thought that was a misleading and sweeping statement, but as the conversation evolved it made sense because: 

  • Innovation, like science, isn't necessarily about making something new, but rather solving a problem that either still exists or doesn't yet have an ideal solution
  • Innovation, like science, is about consistent experimenting before getting to a MVP that can be used to test 'out in the wild'
  • Innovation, like science, doesn't have a clear beginning, middle and end, but is a concept / framework / mindset to lean on when solving a set problem

In the last couple of weeks, I've also had various discussions with tech journalists and business leaders about Australia's position on the global innovation map. The overall sentiment has been that while we are a nation of ideas, we're not necessarily a nation of innovation successes. We have a few success stories, but there's a lot more we could be accomplishing with a more risk-embracing mindset, future-looking approach to closing the skills gap, and less tokenism to drive diversity of thought. 

The opportunities are there for Australia to lead, but how we view and treat 'innovation' will be critical.