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Opinion: Inclusive leadership, diverse voices and entrepreneurship key to innovation

Australia has traditionally been a highly successful and prosperous nation. However, we have ridden on our luck for too long, especially in relying on our natural resources to get us through. In this uncertain, disrupted and highly complex environment being lucky isn’t enough. We are lagging well behind many other nations on innovation and have to work on nurturing our entrepreneurs and inventiveness. To compete on a global stage we will need to include and empower the many diverse voices of our citizens, migrants and the refugees who are seeking a haven here.

On almost every important business index, we are accelerating. The stakes – the financial, social, environmental and political consequences – are rising in a similar exponential way. We have to innovate faster in order keep up with the pace of growth. Spending on innovation is imperative right now.

The jobs of yesterday no longer exist and the jobs of tomorrow haven’t been invented yet. Over the next 5 to 10 years it is estimated that up to 40 per cent of companies on the S and P will be disrupted by rapidly advancing technologies and the entrepreneurs adapting quickly to this new environment. According to research coming out of the USA and UK, 47 per cent of middle class jobs will become redundant due to robotics and new technologies. And some jobs will continue to exist but will be performed by those in cheaper labour markets overseas.

Inevitably there is a real risk that more and more people in our society become socially isolated because they can’t get work or they can’t keep up with the pace of change. And social exclusion comes at a massive cost to our economy and society. With an ever-increasing influx of diverse people seeking a home here, we have a real opportunity to foster a new wave of entrepreneurship and innovation. Inclusive leadership will be paramount.

In the wake of anti-Muslim and other racist sentiments, there is an opportunity for all of us to choose to create a happy, healthy, inclusive and innovative Australia. This is about removing the ‘us and them’ mentality and acknowledging our common humanity. Ultimately we are more similar than different. It’s our perceived separation from others that creates a lot of our problems. We need to remove the boxes and walls between us and build bridges of understanding.

As a community we need to empower all voices, no matter what their faith, background, disadvantage, disability or age. People need to feel like they have a place here, a true home, a sense of belonging, a sense of self and respect from others. Then they will truly be able to contribute to our future.

Australia has double the research outputs of the USA but has half the patent outputs per capita. We generate plenty of ideas and research but we don’t commercialise this. We urgently need to train our young people to be entrepreneurs: makers and creators of the jobs of the future. We need to build a culture of innovation to sufficiently develop our capabilities to turn ideas into enterprises. A culture where ‘failing fast’ and experimentation lead to implementing the disruptive ideas that creates opportunities and prosperity. We need to let go of our fear of failure and remember that FAIL equals first attempt in learning.

To turn our ideas into enterprises, we require diversity. Steve Jobs famously said that “creativity is just connecting things”. One of the most effective devices to build our innovation toolkit is the concept of “positive human collisions”. Literally engaging and connecting with people who are very different to us on a regular basis…connecting the dots.

We surround ourselves with people who make us feel safe, who come from similar backgrounds and educations, who think, feel and dress like we do and who agree with us and endorse us. Yet our biggest gains as humans come from “creative abrasion”, where we rub up against people we do not agree with and who make us feel a bit uncomfortable or even very uncomfortable who challenge our notions of ourselves and the world we live in. This is where creativity and innovation truly spark.

Israel is a nation of diverse refugees with a risk-tolerant culture and massive innovation. It is home to over 5000 tech start-ups and commonly lists more companies on the NASDAQ than all of Europe combined. Israel proves that small countries can be engines of entrepreneurship and innovation.

When refugees and migrants come to a new country they want to restart their lives. They work incredibly hard and bring a diverse and rich cultural background that contributes economically, politically and socially. They just need to be given a voice. Instead, they are often marginalised.

Tania de Jong AM is a soprano and serial entrepreneur who founded Creative Universe, Creativity Australia’s With One Voice social inclusion program, The Song Room and the Creative Innovation Global conferences.

Watch Tania de Jong give a Ted X talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_HOBr8H9EM .

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