22 Sep 2015

Shining a light on innovation

By Angela Mentis, NAB Group Executive, Business Banking

More than ever, Australians are focused on the future of our economy. Volatility in global markets, the transition from a resources-led to a services-led economy and the increasing digitisation of our world means that, from the nation’s boardrooms to the kitchen table, everyone is talking about where Australia’s next phase of growth will come from and how we can secure our future economic prosperity.

Read the Innovation Report here

We’re a confident country, but not as confident as we should be. Our economic fundamentals are solid, business and household balance sheets are sound and to our north is the fastest growing region in the world. Yet growth remains hard to come by. The question we need to be asking is how do we translate these economic fundamentals into real and lasting business activity?

Australia’s next phase of growth must be defined by ideas, creativity and execution. By people and businesses that are adaptive, agile, thought leaders and doers. Our future lies in our ability to foster a culture of innovation.

I’ve spoken to and visited hundreds of Australian businesses over the past year and am inspired by the drive and energy to succeed and thrive – of businesses that are backing themselves to be better. To understand this more deeply, NAB Group Economics surveyed 2000 businesses to assess the culture of innovation in Australia and give businesses a chance to look at how they’re innovating and how they can do more, or do things differently.

It’s no surprise that necessity is truly the mother of invention: industries that are under the most pressure – manufacturing and retail – are innovating more than other sectors in the economy.

There are pockets of highly innovative companies across the country – telcos and mining are very innovative, while wholesale and transport lag. Overall businesses believe Australia needs to do a lot more as a nation in terms of innovation. Just one in 17 very large firms rate Australia as “highly innovative”.

Innovation is more important at the macro-economic level than most of us realise. Our survey shows a real link between business confidence, business performance and innovation – highly innovative firms are typically more successful and more confident about Australia’s short-to medium-term outlook. It’s this kind of sentiment that tends to encourage investment and expansion, which then has a flow on effect across the economy. Confidence builds confidence.

So how do we elevate this discussion and become more innovative as a country? My view is that Australian businesses need to collaborate more internally and externally and to move away from rigid thinking.

It can be challenging to change things up – especially for bigger or long-established companies – but we have to. At NAB we launched NAB Labs to draw in ideas from right across the bank, rather than making innovation the domain of the few. We engage deeply with our customers via customer-led design to ensure we deliver what they want and need from their bank. In our quest to turn ideas into reality we also reached outwards, connecting with hubs including FinTech in Sydney and similar programs in Melbourne such as the York Butter Factory.

We all need to shine the spotlight on the companies who are innovating, creating jobs and entering new markets. Sharing information about innovations, trials, mistakes made and lessons learned helps the business community accelerate this culture we all want to create.

It’s pleasing to hear Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull share his vision for a prosperous, competitive and productive economy driven by innovation and agility.

This is an ambition we share at NAB.

Leading businesses of the future will be those who are confident, optimistic and innovative. Working together, we have a unique opportunity as a business community to help build a better Australia.

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