Australian innovators

May 28, 2010

My brother, a stamp dealer in Australia (www.acestampauctions.com), recently showed me the Australian stamp issue of 2009 recognising great Australian contributions to the essentials of life, such as the rotary lawn mower, the garage rollerdoor and the ‘ute’.

Australian Innovators

The rotary blade mower arose from an entrepreneur (Mervyn Richardson) recognising the potential in a crude prototype (the “Mowhall” developed by Lawrence Hall) and going on to develop the product.  More than 7 million Victa mowers were sold around the world.  The ‘ute’ was developed by a Ford car body engineer (Lewis Bandt) responding to a user request for a vehicle that could be used for church on Sunday and work on Monday – a nice example of early consumer insight (www.fastlane.com.au/Features/First_ute.htm).  And the B&D Roll-A-Door was the result of partners combining the roles of inventor, developer, entrepreneur and manufacturer identifying and responding to an unarticulated need.  The other featured innovations, all vital contributions, are the Hill’s hoist, Speedos, wine casks and zinc cream – with a story behind each.

Nice to see innovators recognised this way – especially for such everyday items.


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NESTA have just published the final report from our project on interdisciplinary innovation – www.nesta.org.uk/publications/reports/assets/features/creating_value_across_boundaries.  I am biased, but I think there are some useful insights in there.  For those interested in the fine detail there’s a more extensive description of the work and findings at www.cl.cam.ac.uk/techreports/UCAM-CL-TR-760.html and I also mentioned it in December (https://innovationcoaching.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/interdisciplinary-innovation-new-research/)

These documents arose from a fascinating project for which we pulled together a truly interdisciplinary team; an academic specialising in interdisciplinary design, an anthropologist / social scientist, an expert in policy and me.  We ran a series of workshops to which we invited people who have achieved real success in interdisciplinary innovation.  So we had input from people like David Cleevely who described his experiences with ventures such as Abcam (www.abcam.com), Tom Inns with his Theatres of Thinking (http://web.mac.com/tominns/theatresofthinking/Welcome.html) and Tom Rodden who pushed the boundaries of radical research into physical and digital interaction (www.equator.ac.uk).  Others described the worlds of policy, consultancy, academia and the interfaces that make innovation happen.  From these discussions we distilled insights for management, for practitioners and for policymakers.

For me the key messages are to manage for serendipity, beware measurement systems that block exploratory behaviour, and adopt ‘pole-star’ leadership which pursues a course but allows for exploration of unexpected sidelines.

Have a look, see what you think, and I’d be happy to discuss it further.