Euan Murdoch

We owe it to future generations of Australians to embrace the learnings from Ben’s book.

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This is the first book I have read that confronts the issues around Australia’s underperformance in the areas of innovation and commercialisation. Ben Kehoe earns the right to draw his worrying conclusion after more than 40 years working in the trenches as a “social technology” pioneer with over 250 CEOs in Australian business. In those 40 years there have been dramatic changes in the Australian business environment – he has worked with and guided CEOs as they have managed those changes. He has made a substantial difference in the businesses he has worked with and to the lives of the people in those businesses.

The environment now is even more challenging. Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous is how it is described. Accelerating technology progress, artificial intelligence, the globalisation of markets, the emergence of sustainability, the green revolution and the rise of the Asian economic powerhouse led by China are just some of the challenges.

Australia has a well-deserved proud record for its many and varied inventions. However, our commercialisation record is poor. Many government reports attest to that fact. Looking to the future, we face some significant challenges.

More than 70% of our R&D expenditure occurs in university environments where there is a distinct lack of a commercial imperative, compared to 70+% invested by companies in R&D in other western nations. Australia’s universities claim they have the competence to commercialise the Intellectual Property (IP) they generate, but by any measure, much of their IP either sits on the shelf or is spun out with sub-optimal outcomes.

In many of Australia’s research institutions, there is a lack of trust between the scientific community and their commercialisation centres. In many cases, this is due to a poor understanding of where value is created along the commercialisation pathway. Most of the value creation from innovation occurs post the invention. Many of our scientists have an unrealistic view of what their share of the pie should be, and business has in many cases failed to argue their case, resulting in this lack of trust.

Innovation in Australia: Creating Prosperity for Future Generations

The reality is that we have a history of great Australian inventions BUT we are poor at commercialisation. The evidence is clear!

It is crucial for Australia to develop an entrepreneurial paradigm which measures R&D performance in terms of the number of ‘for profit’ businesses created. We need to have the frameworks and a language system in place to address prosperity and wealth creation, plus the associated financial systems and resources to allow our innovations to move from the lab to the consumer. When looking for our innovation commercialisation dollars (particularly for early stage IP), they are currently much more accessible offshore than domestically. Inevitably, in many cases this results in our IP ownership moving offshore.

Australia has a choice between contributing to (and being) a strong and vibrant part of Asia or being a second-class citizen. Ben asks the question: are we a ‘settler’ nation that is drifting to obscurity or are we up for the challenge of securing our future? It is a legitimate question.

With globalisation and the ever-increasing disruptive potential from inventions, the reality is that any new invention can have immediate global appeal. Australia’s appetite for risk relative to other developed economies is low and many of our latest (and future) innovations are (or will be) snapped up by global players. Ben highlights the Gardasil story in this book as an example.

Ben consistently asks business leaders the tough business questions:

  • what’s your reason for existence?
  • where are we going?
  • what do we stand for (our values)?
  • What is our highest aspiration?
  • what difference are we making?
  • what is our unique contribution?

These questions need to be asked in all businesses (and nations) today. He highlights the lack of vision and subsequent lack of dialogue about answering these fundamental questions in many of Australia’s businesses and in government. At a national level, both our business and government leaders need to nurture these questions and the subsequent conversations.

By comparing Australia’s fixation on our sporting success with our ambivalence when it comes to nation-building goals or moon shots, Ben highlights our lack of aspiration and dreams for building a greater Australia. Mediocrity is our standard!

For businesses to grow, prosper and contribute to Australia, they must work at reinventing themselves. It takes a level of competence not currently obvious in our national conversation. The key ingredients are imagination, foresight, courage, resilience, and as Ben says “some mongrel” to make the necessary hard decisions over a very long period of time. Individuals, companies and Australia have a choice to create their own futures, or have their futures determined by their competitors. (another company or another country.)

People (and countries) do not change their behaviour unless there is a crisis perceived or actual. Is there a crisis?

We owe it to future generations of Australians to embrace the learnings from Ben’s book.

I wholeheartedly recommend Innovation in Australia: Creating Prosperity for Future Generations. This book should be compulsory reading for anyone interested (and concerned) about what the future holds for our children and grandchildren.

Euan Murdoch
Founder and Managing Director, Herron Pharmaceuticals

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Creating Prosperity for future Generations