In 2 weeks I’ll be getting started with the Orange Blog Bus tour of Silicon Valley along with Glenn Le Santo, Dr Sue Black, Julien Fourgeaud and many others. I’m delighted to be part of the crew, not just because I’ll be in the company of some of the world’s finest people, but because I’m fascinated by the questions we’ll be addressing. Our focus is innovation and investment, and we’ll be asking whether Silicon Valley is a declining empire of technology, or whether there is a new wave of innovation forthcoming. We’ll be visiting a range of organisations and investigating what constitutes innovation, what supports it and what makes Silicon Valley such a creative community.
Of course, I have my own theories about this. For me, it’s not just a matter of having great ideas – great ideas are everywhere. And, while its crucial to have investment and confidence in innovation expressed by investors, it’s not just investment that fosters an innovation culture either. I believe it is the platform to perform that has made Silicon Valley such a fabulous place for tech businesses. Innovators of all ages and skill sets land in Silicon Valley and they are given an audience to perform. They are taken seriously, and their ideas are considered in terms of how they can be adapted, how audiences can be inspired to adopt their products.
This platform is what I believe to be that ineffable something that makes Silicon Valley so exciting.
To me, this is crucial to supporting an innovation culture. It’s not enough to build these so-called ‘incubators’ of ideas. Yes, they might work on a small scale, but no-one else is listening to the creative ideas cultivated inside the incubator. So while ideas may be rich, they are not blossoming in the manner they ought to do. Cut off from the rest of the world, from investors, from governments and from the public eye, these ideas can only progress so far. When they emerge from such incubators, innovators often face a skeptical, even hostile audience of doubting investors, officials who invent 1000 different reasons why the innovation won’t work, and even a glib and often patronising media that will regard an innovator as a kook.
But with a platform like Silicon Valley to present innovative thinking and with audiences that will share ideas, consider opportunities for adaptation and assist development, innovators have the chance to grow their ideas beyond the stunted seedlings that emerge from incubators, and allow them to flourish. They are celebrated for their thinking, they are supported and admired for their energy and they are discussed at length in tech and mainstream press.
And the balance of that platform is correct too. It’s not about government funding and numerous applications for bursaries. Support from officials is offered in terms of trials of products, turning up to events and talking about these companies. And for investors, it’s not about cost of production and endless financial reports, it’s a matter of spreading investment widely and ensuring that money is spent on the right things – trials, events and image often the focus here.
For me, this is the secret ingredient to true innovation – a platform where ideas are lauded rather than stifled. That platform, sadly, does not exist in Australia. But perhaps with this Blog Bus tour I may be able to accrue enough evidence to convince a few Aussie innovators that we can build on the great ideas that are here. And maybe, just maybe, investors, policy makers and business will start to celebrate rather than choke innovation in this country.