What are we prepared to think?

Technology and business acumen will save us, if we really think about it and embrace it.

Australia is the Great Southern Land, (as Icehouse famously sang). And I love it — the country and the song.

I know the title of this blog may even make some amazing founders, (off making their mark in the USA and the world), a little homesick. But readers should be warned that what follows might cause you some pain, disagreement or plain old dissent. Good. As long as you think, mission accomplished. I might have blasted Great Southern Land a few times on Australia day for inspiration on this blog. What else is this cool?

From the birth of our country, Aboriginals have innovated and survived in some of the toughest and most treacherous conditions in the world. Fast forward 40,000 years to when European settlers came to Australia. They too found the conditions extreme. Everyday life was extremely challenging and fertile ground for founders, hustlers and hackers to make their mark.

During the last 70 years, post WWII, we have enjoyed great living conditions. With comfort, the pace of innovation has slowed. Our position in living standards (globally) has slipped. But we have the right conditions to do what we are famous for — innovate our way out of problems.

Nature over Nurture

While it takes an antibody to produce a pearl, the lack of irritation (ie need or necessity) is not the sole reason why we have fallen behind.

Australia has enjoyed a reputation of being an outcast and with ingenuity has forged an amazing country.

In my opinion, it is the lack of curiosity, a “she’ll be right mate” attitude (apathy dressed up as nonchalance) and lack of borders that has created a false comfort and allowed the erosion of drive, entrepreneurism and risk taking. Who cares why, but simply stated we are falling behind.

Putting the blame on a reliance on mining profits and legacy education systems is either the ‘chicken or egg’ argument for what has been a lacklustre 3 decades. I hear you ask “what about the GDP numbers? Our ASX is among the top 6 markets in the world, and the biggest. Well, my property portfolio is doing well”. In these 3 decades entire industries in Australia have disappeared. What has or will take their places? You tell me, I’m still thinking about this.

In terms of long term government policy, is this an oxymoron? Is Australia moving fast enough towards reinventing itself as the smart country? What should we be thinking about? I believe we have been impeded by 3 types of flawed thinking, all of which is short term focussed and government policy and generally important stakeholders has (somewhat) manifested in this type of thinking.

a) as long as it’s not me

b) only if it benefits me

c) How will I look? How does this help my (must have, these days) brand?

Some issues I care about. e.g taxing non-residents on coming to Australia in new and imaginative ways. We took so long to introduce marriage equality and crowd funding but overnight we managed to ban live exports and introduce lock out laws. Luckily we have the movies to go to, but how much of that spend is shipped straight to the USA?

I’m not trying to polarise you for kindly reading my blog, but I insist you consider (only for a moment, I promise J) the quality, or more specifically the value of integrity in decision making.

What are the first, let alone second and fifth order impacts of each of these decisions?

More on this in another blog.

Some would say comfort and external circumstances are sufficient excuses for failure. So much is written about failure. “Failing to try” is often said to be the ‘a-ha moment’ that launches a founder. But what is success? Is starting considered success? Or is it the actual progress and the achievements / milestones (good/bad) on a journey or is it the destination?

Not convinced, I lay out more excuses that have encouraged the pool of superficial thinking.

a) over regulation by government,

b) lack of a deep enough talent pool

c) lack of capital or

d) the classics, ‘dog ate my homework’, ‘I had that idea, and someone else did it’ or ‘I will start tomorrow’ and my favourite ‘I just need’.

Enough is Enough!

10 short years ago there were no venture capital firms investing in early stage companies in Australia. The entire ecosystem in technology and growth resources has spawned new jobs including co-working space community managers, partners at VC firms, Angel Investors and a flood of new government grant preparers. It seems we are catching up with other countries. We have organisations like Tech Sydney, trying to regain our position in the global rankings.

Michelle Yvonne Simmons winning Australian of the year was a highlight of Australia Day for me.

A world class scientist, in a class of other leaders in different fields, recognition of her work was magnificent. In her thank you speech she told us “it was tough” being a woman. I was thrilled that she urged girls to give it a go and refuse to be pigeon-holed. The field of Quantum Physics will continue to change the world, and she is leading the charge in building a Quantum Computer. Simply astonishing, inspirational and a glimpse of another Australian game changer.

We can do it, if we put in, think and persevere

Whilst Australia is not Silicon Valley, there is an abundance of meet-ups, co-working spaces, relatively cheap tech resources and some world class accelerators. With an enviable honeycomb of grants for this or that, Australia has shared the buzz.

Are we doing enough to take advantage of a period that promises to have more impact than the Industrial Revolution? Reshaping school syllabus (more emphasis on STEM and “real world” skill sets are required) would help. In 2018 there is no longer an excuse that we can’t compete on the world stage.

Australia’s identity as an innovative nation and our position globally can be reclaimed. With formidable companies making their mark and “Entrepreneur” no longer a dirty word THIS is the last piece of the puzzle to restore the buzz in Australia.

Is it working? Yes. Thankfully we are seeing some exceptional people emerging.

Melanie Perkins and Clive Obrecht of Canva fame, are certainly the newest of a breed of ‘Unicorns’ in Australia. They manage to share their wisdom at start up events and their energy and enthusiasm is infectious.

I have been lucky enough to have first-hand experience with many talented entrepreneurs. Sectors like health tech, media, AR and VR, Crypto, AI Fin tech and many other new markets has created a buzz that is palpable in Australia. I have been challenged by a client/friend who is one of Australia’s world class entrepreneurs to write an article on the top challenges founders face, so watch out for that one soon.

Do we have the right people, are we thinking enough?

You bet. The consistent message from founders in each cohort of Startmate or Incubate, is that the other Founders in their cohort are the best thing about Startmate/Incubate. The competition drives them and the camaraderie bonds them. Being in this environment together, with world class mentors, investors and an array of other connections, and contacts is formidable and exciting. The tribe of founders is getting bigger.

One founder said to me recently, “it’s good to stand on your shoulders” and essentially shout out the wins that Australian founders are already achieving. I’m not convinced my voice has that power, but I’m challenging every founder to think, critique and share more. The power of this is exponential.

I can’t stress enough that it’s the personal space allocated to thinking and the rigour applied to those thoughts that will create the future. There is no hiding in a good accelerator. Thinking is the winner and in turn, so are the start-ups.

Stories I love. I should I say, I love stories.

TV’s Dr Doogie Howser MD, 14-year-old prodigy, would sum up 24 minutes of television at the end of each episode. Those precious 30 second messages glued us to our seats. It’s the quality of thinking; retrospection and recalibration that makes us better humans.

One of my favourite parts of every episode of Sex in the City is when Carrie says, “I got to thinking”. The skilful art of blending a story with a lesson provides us with hope.

Communication has been the key since pre-historic man sat around the fire, sharing stories of failure to catch the prey, but also anticipating the celebrations of successes next time. Vowing to do better tomorrow got things moving. This is roaring loud and clear in the Start-up community.

The formula is not committed to a book, it never has been. The conditions are right. If you want a list of starting points, or a list of resources, drop me a note. I’m not saying that being a founder is the be-all and end-all. I have the best of both worlds. In mentoring teams, investing in start-ups and also working for successful companies, I get to share my commercial knowledge on go to market strategies and financial management.

Allocate the time to really think. Rigorously second-guess yourself. Weave your learnings into stories. Get on with it. Create (a better) Future for us all.

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David Kenney

David Kenney

We could all use a SanityCheck.com - Am I right ?

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