An Australian Government initiative provides examples of idea leadership, but reveals aspects which remind LWD author Glenn Rothberg of the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes
A report of The Australian Government’s innovation policy agenda to 2020 was entitled Powering Ideas: An Innovation Agenda for the 21st century.
The initiative resulted from the change of Government in December 2007. Unfortunately, I believe that the claims are a little like the story of the Emperor’s new clothes. I list the various aspects of the report which have led me to that conclusion.
 Assessing Innovation Track Record
It is not at all clear that policy makers have accurately examined those gaps responsible for poor innovation performance in the past, in seeking to address performance in the future.
Powering Ideas says that Australia has a relatively weak innovation performance record, based on poor competitiveness, and spending on science and innovation. The policy statement does not articulate the source of these particular shortcomings, – just the result.
 Innovation Resource: Finite?
Secondly, I think there is a problem in defining the nature of the innovation resource. The Minister’s innovation statement says: “ Australia’s resources are finite…”, (p.4) . I argue that the ideas resource is not finite. For example, ideas accumulate, to become our store of knowledge, also making knowledge an innovation resource that is both renewable and expansive.
Of course, knowledge can also be depleted or rendered inaccessible, should ideas disappear. If the Government is assuming that our ideas resource is finite it may be limiting its views about innovation.
 Innovation: General or Selective?
Is innovation better understood as a national culture, or is it project-specific? Sometimes the report favours the one perspective while elsewhere it favours the other.
 Private, Public, Science and Non-Science Sectors
Typically, sectors and industries tend to be defined by their inputs, techniques of production, and value adding. This does not need to be the case. Ideas, knowledge, and innovation, like language, can cross all sectors. Innovation as a way of life should be reflected in activities spanning organizations, communities, regions. It should be evident in the private and public sectors, and other sectors, in which ever way they are defined, although the report seems to be confining the process to the business sector.
 Market Failure: How Do We Know?
The report references a lack of innovation arising because of market failure, but it is unclear that there is market failure. Ideas might also be lost because of the way in which organizations are managed. Perhaps their practices reflect flaws in management theory. In this case, the gap to be plugged is in understanding and re-framing what happens to ideas in organizations, and therefore throughout the economy.
 Innovation Framework
It is unclear whether the prevailing “capture” approach to innovation is adequately balanced by encouragement of the creative and implementation resources of stakeholders. It isn’t enough to state “we are all part of the innovation system …Genius is wasted if you can’t capture it and apply it to the real world. That’s what the national innovation system does”
 Measurement of Innovation
Little attention is paid in the report to what actually happens to ideas in organizations, and measuring this activity. It is not at all clear that prevailing measures of innovation are adequate, or that they are explaining relative growth performance in our nations. I have been looking at ways of framing and measuring idea activity and found, in a recent study, that one well-credentialed innovation index explains a negligible proportion of economic growth across 17 OECD countries over a 20 year period.
 Innovation Early Warning
A framework that acknowledges idea activity, frames it, and measures it, provides valuable information on what is happening while innovation is underway, or is being stalled. This is like an early warning system, preferable to the performance monitoring that tells you what has happened at the end of the innovation cycle. Perhaps there is still opportunity for a more advanced, early warning approach for the future.
 National Innovation: Priorities and Collaboration
In the process of encouraging innovation, the report is ambiguous in its support for being more productive and competitive, while also being collaborative. What is the basis of the suitability and superiority of the collaborative model of innovation? Why is it superior to the competitive model?
The Leaders We Deserve
I have outlined nine reasons why I believe that Australia’s new innovation policy has characteristics of the Emperor’s new clothes. Are we getting the policy leaders we deserve?
To Go More Deeply
An extended version of this analysis can be found on the Idea Activity website