No.8 wire rules ok

Maria Slade
Maria Slade

I’m about to disagree with Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister. Lightning may well strike me down.

In his foreword to the new book No.8 Re-wired, about New Zealand inventions and the future of innovation in this country, Gluckman agrees with authors David Downs and Jon Bridges that the Kiwi ‘‘No.8 wire’’ mentality has become an handbrake.

Downs and Bridges argue that while our DIY mindset served us well for many years, we are no longer world leaders in solving intractable problems with smart ideas.

This is because our culturally entrenched self reliance has led to an unwillingness to take on advice, and we need to adapt to the modern world.

Kiwi atom-splitter Lord Sir Ernest Rutherford’s famous line, ‘‘We haven’t the money, so we’ve got to think’’, has become an excuse rather than a solution, Gluckman says. Simply being clever Kiwis isn’t enough now - we need a complete innovation ecosystem including investment in R&D, collaboration, and commercialisation expertise.

New Zealanders need to ‘‘divest ourselves of the national myths that hold us back’’, Gluckman asserts.

There is no doubt that there are many drivers of invention other than necessity these days, and New Zealand needs to build on its DIY heritage. But this is structural, not cultural, change and I would argue we’re already well down the path.

For example - we’re getting much better at turning the technologies in our research institutes into commercial propositions. I give you HaloIPT, the wireless electric vehicle charging technology developed by Auckland University and sold to Nasdaq-listed Qualcomm in a multi-million dollar deal in 2011.

This has been followed by wireless venture PowerbyProxi, which Downs and Bridges themselves say demonstrated that Kiwis can collaborate and commercialise IP when they leveraged the inductive power technology from the same team at Auckland University.

There are numerous other instances - such as the diagnostic imaging startup Mars Bioimaging, which sprang out of a collaboration between Canterbury University and the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, and Limbic, the partnership between baggage handling and logistics company BCS Group and Auckland University’s Animate Technologies laboratory to produce airport check-in avatars.

Callaghan Innovation is doing a pretty good job at developing that infrastructure Gluckman refers to. It is establishing industry initiatives such as the Titanium Technologies Group, aimed at developing new forms of the material and creating a new high-value export industry.

Our firms need to see themselves as global companies based in New Zealand, rather than New Zealand companies going global, the authors argue. Hello? Xero, anyone?

There is no cultural rewiring required. That’s little more than a good line to sell a book.

Kiwis are not so naive that they think holding together a broken part with a bit of fencing wire constitutes invention. We understand that it’s a mindset - a can-do attitude, a state of it never occurring to us that we can’t.

That is a priceless jewel that now just needs making into jewellery.

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