Is NZ’s innovation culture snagged on number 8 wire?

Is NZ’s innovation culture snagged on number 8 wire?

Blog post by Redvespa

Research points to lack of imagination in New Zealand innovation.

New research undertaken by Redvespa may help us understand the reasons behind New Zealand’s slide down the Global Innovation Index – from 9th in 2009 to 25th in 2019.

Redvespa’s Imagination in Business research looked into the place of innovation and imagination in New Zealand organisations and identifies the limitations of our number 8 wire culture if we hope to regain ground on our innovation reputation.

The research took, as its starting point, the view that innovation doesn’t “just happen”. Instead, innovation is about systematised value creation. It has to be nurtured through a number of stages, of which innovation is the end point. Other waypoints include curiosity, imagination, and creativity. Together with innovation, they comprise the Innovation Pathway:

  • Curiosity: a strong desire or eager wish to know or learn something;
  • Imagination: forming new ideas, images or concepts of things, objects or processes that don’t exist;
  • Creativity: the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness;
  • Innovation: the introduction of a new idea, method or device.

The aim of the research was to unpack how New Zealand business understands, uses, and values imagination in relation to other facets of the Innovation Pathway. The hope is that this research will enable New Zealand businesses to explore what they can do to be more imaginative and innovative.

“Kiwi innovation in often closely linked with our number 8 wire culture,” says Keith Shering, Head of Evolution at Redvespa. “That creates a problem, as then innovation is aligned with finding ways to fix existing things. Yes, it’s often ingenious, but it’s also an iterative and incremental approach rather than a transformational one. If the world is taking big transformational steps, incrementalism can’t keep up. We need to make more imaginative leaps.”

500 people managers within New Zealand businesses were asked about the ways their businesses incorporate, recognise, attract, recruit for, value, and reward imagination. The results are worth sharing as we seek to reclaim the best parts of our Number 8 wire culture.

“This research is timely, relevant, and useful,” Keith says. “Innovation is what separates successful organisations from the pack. It sits at the heart of the knowledge economy. It’s the goal of investment in Research and Development and a cornerstone of economic development. Yet, New Zealand is slipping down the global innovation index, and, in spite of additional investment in the 2019 budget, there is plenty of work to be done to reclaim lost ground. Imagination in Business provides a framework for examining the problem and understanding where it has come from. Further, it outlines a pathway for addressing the issue.”

Key findings.

Significant gaps exist in the pursuit of innovation and how it is supported through investment in the Innovation Pathway.

Redvespa found disconcertingly large gaps between the way organisations value innovation and the way they support it by recognising, rewarding, recruiting for, and retaining the other Innovation Pathway elements; curiosity, imagination, and creativity. Organisations want the results of innovation but they don’t want to invest in the raw ingredients. For example, just 19% of respondents said their organisation placed a high value on rewarding creativity. This dropped to 13% when considering rewards for curiosity and imagination. Despite this, there is hope as respondents felt that all elements of the Innovation Pathway should be valued more highly by their organisations.

Large organisations are predictable.

Around a quarter of organisations with 20-49 people are regarded as imaginative, scoring between 8 and 10 on a 10-point scale. However, with growth comes predictability: 42% of respondents viewed businesses with 100+ people as predictable. The organisations with the greatest resources to leverage creativity are the least likely, or able to do so. Bigger organisations make smaller decisions when it comes to innovation.

Perception of imagination peaks in the young … and the old.

Almost a fifth of people managers aged 25-34 rated their organisation as imaginative (scoring 8-10 on the assessment scale). This peak is followed by a generational trough with just one-in-seven 35-44 year-olds and one-in-eight 45-54 year-olds providing the same rating. Experience, however, outperformed youth with the oldest age-group, 55-64 year-olds, the most likely to perceive their organisation as being more imaginative.

Imaginative people thrive in start-ups.

People managers working within start-ups (organisations inside their first five years of operation) were the most likely group to perceive themselves as imaginative, with 75% of respondents self-rating as a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale. This backs up the idea of innovation in mature organisations being incremental and safe rather than bold and imaginative.

The locus of control matters.

Organisations operating solely in New Zealand are one third more likely to be perceived as imaginative than organisations with any sort of overseas presence.

The Imagination in Business research was undertaken for Redvespa by Phoenix Research, who surveyed more than 500 people managers from throughout New Zealand, over the period 16th April to 20th May 2019 through an online survey. Respondents were asked about the way New Zealand businesses value, reward, recognise, recruit, and retain people to support imagination curiosity, creativity, and innovation.