Author, comedian and Techweek advisory board member David Downs generously shares his thoughts on New Zealand innovation. You may know David through his new book with Dr Michelle Dickinson, No.8 Re-charged, or his inspiring Stuff column, 'a mild touch of the cancer'. If you'd like to help him reach a squazillion dollars so he can beat his new Klingon, there's a place to do so here. We can't thank David enough for continuing to support and champion Techweek this year, he really is the best.
What does Techweek'18's theme ‘innovation that’s good for the world’ mean to you?
I love this theme as I think it captures really well New Zealand technology’s value proposition. So many of our tech companies have a greater purpose than simply making money or selling widgets. We have the ability and desire to lead in this area, by showing that technology has a heart, and that even from a small country like New Zealand, we can influence the world in areas like sustainability, climate, good use of natural resources etc.
So many of our tech companies have a greater purpose than simply making money or selling widgets.
In what industries/sectors do you think New Zealand is innovating for a better world?
We have an 'unfair advantage' in the area of agritech: adding clever technology and innovation to the natural assets of the country and the 200 years' of smart people who have worked the land in New Zealand. In many ways, we’ve always been leaders in agritech, with innovations like the wire strainer, the rotary milking shed, the tru-test meter, the electric fence… today we are just continuing that proud history with drones, robots, smart digital tech etc.
What global challenge would you like to see New Zealand innovators at the forefront of solving?
How to feed 10 billion people, with high quality, sustainably farmed food products.
What do you think makes New Zealand innovation and/or innovators unique from a global perspective?
Kiwis often take a ‘big picture’ point of view to a problem — what’s the greater purpose for their work, how will they make a difference to the world. We’ve been bred to not see barriers and to challenge boundaries, and this attitude and approach often means we create novel solutions. Add to that our tendency to be able to turn our hand to anything and we have a recipe for innovation.
We’ve been bred to not see barriers and to challenge boundaries, and this attitude and approach often means we create novel solutions.
You and Dr Michelle Dickinson have a new book out! Were there any new themes that emerged in the second book that weren't apparent in the first?
There is an emerging set of innovators in New Zealand who are ‘born global’ — i.e. instead of thinking about setting up a product in New Zealand and then taking it offshore, they see the world as their market from the outset. It’s a different mindset, one that leverages off the challenging of authority I mentioned above. The new technology and communications we have available to us has meant there are whole new ways of working now that weren’t really available previously. We have significant tech companies in places like New Plymouth, Tauranga and Dunedin who are running truly global companies. Fantastic.
What has the process of researching the two books taught you about the qualities needed to be a successful innovator?
To paraphrase an old saying; the three rules for success in innovation are tenacity, tenacity, tenacity. It’s never an easy road, and the ability to learn from mistakes, roll with the punches and get back up for another try are the key attributes.
Do you think it's fair to say in New Zealand innovation is usually borne out of a desire to do good in the world?
For many innovators, yes it is. Often that is a desire to improve the status quo, to give consumers a better option or an improvement, and sometimes is a true desire to change the world. I love the aspiration these companies have, and today it really feels like we have all the elements to make that successful.
David Downs and Michelle Dickinson's No. 8 Recharged: 202 World-changing Innovations from New Zealand, is on sale now. It is published by Penguin and has an RRP of $45.