Home' Know How : KnowHow Issue 2 Contents 30 KnowHow magazine
tHe next big tHing
something like this. A research
scientist has a brilliant idea.
It’s developed into a product and
commercialised. The general public love
it and buy lots. The developers become
wealthy. Many lives are greatly improved.
Sorry, let ’s try again.
A research scientist has a brilliant idea.
An arduous process follows to develop
a product. Once it’s finally on the market,
the public are afraid/suspicious of the
underlying technology. Commercialisation
fails. Few lives are improved.
Reality lies somewhere in between.
Why? Let ’s begin with a simple definition:
innovation is doing clever stuff in a
smarter way for a good outcome. It can
be about a product, process or service.
The impact can be grand or incremental.
To some, innovation means certain
economic growth and social betterment.
Examples of brilliant science leading
to great products with huge consumer
demand are smartphones, WiFi, organic
light emitting diode televisions, robotics.
Planet-wide changes, such as
population and climate, create unique
challenges needing new solutions.
Science, coupled with innovation, has
the potential to create such solutions...
if we get the innovation side right.
Unfortunately for Australia,
21st century innovation isn’t based on the
good fortunes of geography, geology and
climate. We’ve long relied on digging up
resources and selling them overseas, or
on fattening sheep and exporting them.
Now as Professor Ian Chubb,
Australia’s Chief Scientist, articulates:
“ There’s no question that at some point
our economy is going to have to shift and
become substantially different from what
it is now and be based on innovation.”
There is a clear and growing chasm
between where we are and need to be.
Australia’s challenge is to bridge that gap
and move towards a sustainable economy
less vulnerable than the one to which we
are sentimentally attached that ’s previously
yielded the nation’s prosperity.
Australia does good science and is,
sometimes, creative. But we have a poor
record of commercialising good science
and understanding innovation. The 2012
Innovation System Report points to a
shortage of management education and
innovative culture and highlights an
imbalance between government versus
private R&D spending. There’s a lack of:
R&D growth in key areas; business access
to publicly funded research expertise;
mobility of researchers between academia
and business; and a concerted national
science, technology and innovation strategy.
Increasingly, research highlights the
importance of incorporating consumer
needs into successful innovation strategies
to ensure acceptance of new products or
services. There are examples – such as
genetically modified (GM) crops as an
agricultural productivity solution – in
which developers provide answers where
few people saw a problem. Alternatively,
members of the public may believe
research wrongly crosses an ethical divide
embryonic stem cell research is an
example. Public rejection also occurs with
solutions such as nanotechnologies, where
misinformation about risks dominates
information flow about the science.
It’s not just about selling products
harder or better explaining the science.
I’ve spent years in discussions with people
opposed to GM, nanotechnology and
vaccinations and their issues are rarely
with the science. It’s more about personal
values: from concerns about messing
with nature and ethical fears over genetic
information misuse; to opposition against
monopolising agri-conglomerates. Align
a product with public values and it has a
better chance of a dream run. Clash with
those values and there could be trouble.
It makes sense to ask end-users what
they want. If the public had been consulted
about GM science back in the mid-1990s,
for example, we may not have seen
agricultural firms using the technology to
develop herbicide- or pesticide-resistant
broadacre crops, but perhaps non-food
crops that produce pharmaceuticals or
healthier foods, with more public support.
More contentious and innovative
research is currently underway in Australia.
The potential benefits are enormous.
But their applications will need strong
institutional support and community
endorsement, skilled developers and
sufficient funds for commercialisation.
A lot of very clever people will need
to cooperate in new ways to share old
wisdom and new ways of thinking.
CRAIG CORMICK is
Manager of National
*This is an edited version
of an article from
The Curious Country,
ANU Press, 2013.
“Australia has a poor record of commercialising
good science and understanding innovation.”
It’s a tough journey from the lab bench to the real world but it’s one worth taking.
Craig Cormick explains why we need to work harder to reap the rewards of innovation.
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