Posts tagged ‘creative clusters’


In Wellington, the players need to change

23.05.2013

The below was written on April 22, 2013, in response to an article in The Dominion Post. It was offered to the newspaper as an op–ed, then to The Wellingtonian, but it was eventually declined.

The Dominion Post’s headline on April 22 confirmed what many of us knew after numerous friends and colleagues left Wellington over the last several years.
   Our population growth is below the national average, as are our employment and economic growth. In fact, the regional Wellington economy is stagnant.
   In 2010, I stated that we needed to look at our creative sector, and encourage creative clusters, to get Wellington’s economy back on track. Even then it was evident that the early 2010s were not going to get off to a healthy start. If we were to get central government’s support for any projects—even the Mayor’s light-rail programme—then surely the wisest thing would be to increase the industry in our city first?
   The free wifi I campaigned on was never meant to be seen in isolation. It was a signal to international businesses in that sector that Wellington was open to investment and collaboration. That inward investment and sharing of knowledge could, in turn, help local firms expand and export.
   We had reached the limits of our natural resources, so we needed to start using intellectual property, and increase R&D in our city. While ICT is healthy in Wellington, the priority must be to identify companies, in this and other high-value sectors, that can become nationally or internationally competitive with the right nudge. We should not be, as the late Sir Paul Callaghan stated in a 2011 address, locked into a single sector—and that was what the clusters were all about.
   With my 2013 candidacy, not much has changed about these ideas. The real difference is that they have become far more pressing.
   The next mayor needs to work with one’s counterparts in the region and agree on identifying, using rigorous criteria, which are our next champions. Which firms, for instance, are those that are sitting on $1 million revenues today that can be at $10 million shortly, if they were given the right exposure, contacts or opportunities?
   And since nationally, high-tech exports are growing at 11 per cent per annum, according to the World Bank, it’s not a bad sector to start with. It just shouldn’t be the only one.
   Wellington businesses are not asking for hand-outs, but the right connections. These firms also need to be encouraged to look beyond just being content with a small patch, when Wellington business-people often hold great ideals and more socially responsible ways of doing things. These can, in fact, inform the way business is conducted in other cities, and contribute to how New Zealand is marketed and seen abroad.
   I do not advocate a policy of “growth for growth’s sake”. But I do argue that the innovative way successful Wellington businesses have approached their sectors can take a larger share of the global pie.
   In my case, it’s putting 26 years’ experience on the line, the majority of that in exporting frictionless products and services.
   We can opt for politics as usual, or identify and nurture the right players in our business sector.
   When it comes to business, it must be international in scope, inspiring politicians at the national level about what Wellington is made of.
   We can consider electing people who have spent time bridging cultures and creating those international links, which we need right now if two other cities are getting the government’s focus. Wellington’s businesses have gone under the radar for too long, and they need an ally who can balance their needs while ensuring citizens’ rights are protected.
   I see our city having spent too much time breaking its own rules, and being forced to answer through formal proceedings brought by Waterfront Watch and other groups.
   The system and its rules are healthy, but the players need to change, and a cultural change, internally and externally, is needed for Wellington in its local body elections.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, marketing, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Small is beautiful, whether it’s a company or a country

07.04.2012

My friend Summer Rayne Oakes at Source4Style put me on to an article in The Guardian by Ilaria Pasquinelli, on how small firms drive innovation. If the fashion industry is to survive, she says, it must team up with the small players where innovation takes place, thanks to the visionaries who drive those firms.
   She’s right, of course:

The small scale allows companies to be flexible, this is crucial in order to adapt to very diverse market conditions and economic turbulence.
   In addition, small companies have no other option than to take risk in order to leave their mark, notably if they are start-ups. Small companies habitually lack financial resources though, and it is precisely here where larger organisations can decide to take on a calculated risk and allocate some of their funds, in order to outsource processes, products or development.

   Therefore, it’s important not just to foster the growth of small creative businesses, but entire networks where they can come into contact with the larger ones. And the successful cities of the 21st century are those that can do that through clusters, clever place branding, and a real understanding of what it takes to compete at a global level.
   We’re still largely hampered by politicians who cannot see past their own national boundaries or, at best, look at competing solely with a neighbouring nation, when that has not been the reality for at least 20 years.
   There are exceptions where companies themselves have done the environmental scanning and found organizations to collaborate with—such as the ones Ilaria mentions in her article. But there’s no practical reason other than a lack of vision that they are the exception rather than the rule.
   She gives three examples: Tesco collaborated with upcycle fashion brand, From Somewhere, to use textile waste, which has seen three collections produced; Levi’s is refitting vintage 501s with Reformation, so customers know their old jeans aren’t going to a landfill; and Worn Again, partnering with Virgin, Royal Mail and Eurostar, is making bags out of the likes of postal workers’ decommissioned storm jackets.
   The innovations, of course, need not be in fashion or even sustainability. Look back through the last generation of innovations and many have come from smaller companies that needed the right leg up. Google, too, was started in someone’s home.
   I’ve been pushing the “think global” aspect of my own businesses, as well as encouraging others, for a lot of the 25 years Jack Yan & Associates has existed. It’s why most of our ventures have looked outside our own borders for sales. When we went on to bulletin boards for the first time at the turn of the 1990s, it was like a godsend for a kid who marvelled at the telex machine at my Dad’s work. It’s second-nature for anyone my age and younger to see this planet as one that exists independently of national borders, whether for trade or for personal friendships.
   As this generation makes its mark, I am getting more excited—though I remain cautious of institutions that keep our thinking so locally focused because that is simply what the establishment is used to. Yet it’s having the courage to take the leap forward that will make this country great: small nations, like small companies, should be, and can be, hotbeds of innovation.
   Create those clusters, and create some wonderful champions—and the sort of independent thinking Kiwis are known for can go far beyond our borders.

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Posted in branding, business, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Getting Wellington out of debt—by growing the right businesses

01.07.2010

Back Jack Yan for Mayor In plain English, when a city is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt—depending on who you believe, the figure is between $200 million and $400 million—how do you get out of the hole?
   1. You can sell the family jewels, and there’s water left. We tried this in the 1980s, and now so many foreigners own New Zealand companies that the profits go offshore and we lose a source of tax revenue. Not good, doesn’t work.
   2. You can put up the rates for residents to the tune of 5·58 per cent and hope they cover some of this. (The figure was 5·5, then 5·75—so much for transparency.)
   3. You can keep praying that the Rugby World Cup will give a temporary boost and hope no one notices that the other years aren’t as prosperous.
   4. You can look at what the city has in terms of creativity and intellectual capital, and build on that, especially if the world values the innovative thinking of New Zealanders.
   Of the four, I prefer (4). This present mayor and council favour (2) and locked in that rise for us a wee while ago.
   I know in some circles my name has become associated with the free wifi for the central city promise, but it goes a bit deeper than that.
   Free wifi is like having roads in a city in the 21st century, and right now, what we have is like paying tolls on every single road we drive on.
   Compare this to Finland, who enshrined in law the right to broadband, which became effective yesterday (July 1). This means every citizen in Finland has a legal right to having broadband at a minimum speed of 1 Mbit/sec. With netbooks and cloud computing on the rise, this seems to be the logical thing to do. The old ways of having programs on your computer are disappearing.
   Get the infrastructure right—after all, Singapore and numerous US cities have done it, and Wellington has to play catch-up with Dunedin and Whanganui—and we can get other things right.
   The sectors that have the greatest potential in the 2010s, and in my mind are the biggest earners for New Zealand companies, are the tech and creative sectors. Both rely on the ’net and a more visionary direction for Wellington in a huge way.
   Clustering, mentoring and financing are the things we need to do, and they have to be driven from the top. Some are done through lobbying by a business-minded, pro-Kiwi mayor and council (rather than a pro-foreigner one). Others can be driven through council itself. But we need a shake-up in order to do this.
   They are all possible solutions, and some are happening now at an ad hoc level.
   I’d want to help those companies that are Kiwi-owned or will remain majority Kiwi-owned—this helps with job creation, with the city’s rates and with the country’s tax take. And if Wellington becomes a centre for this activity in the 2010s and demonstrates that we are an advanced economy, who knows what else we can inspire around the nation?
   It’s not an overnight solution. But I know we have businesses out there that can generate millions for the New Zealand economy. Thanks to our social consciousness, many are sustainable. We already have examples in businesses I’ve cited many times before: the Sidhes, Wetas, Silverstripes, Catalysts of this world are creating jobs for Wellington. We just need to expand on that and stimulate innovation.
   Equally important are the need for transparency and changing the culture within the Wellington City Council, topics for other posts.

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Posted in business, culture, internet, leadership, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | 5 Comments »


What we need from leaders in the new decade: creativity leads the list

22.06.2010

My friend and colleague at the Medinge Group, Ava Hakim, passed on a few papers from her day job at IBM. The first is the latest edition of a biennial global CEO survey, while the second asks the next generation of leaders—Generation Y. The aim: to find out what these groups think about the challenges and goals for CEOs.
   Unsurprisingly, both studies (involving thousands of respondents) had commonalities, though Generation Y placed global awareness and sustainability more highly on their list.
   Creativity, however, is ranked as the most valuable leadership trait. What society doesn’t need, they tell us, is the same-again thinking if we are to make progress in the 2010s. The old top values of ‘operational excellence’ or ‘engineering big deals’ no longer come up top in this new decade.
   Or, as I heard from one gentleman yesterday, we can’t afford to have the sort of ‘experience’ certain people tout, for they do not have 25 years’ experience—they just have one year’s experience, over and over again, 25 times.
   You know I’m going to say it, so I might as well: this sounds like the sort of ‘experience’ some of my political opponents have had, day in, day out. Groundhog Day comes to mind.
   Indeed, the studies indicate that we have a far more complex world, and same-again thinking isn’t going to cut it.
   In the first study (emphasis in original):

Creativity is the most important leadership quality, according to CEOs. Standouts practice and encourage experimentation and innovation throughout their organizations. Creative leaders expect to make deeper business model changes to realize their strategies. To succeed, they take more calculated risks, find new ideas, and keep innovating in how they lead and communicate.

The most successful organizations co-create products and services with customers, and integrate customers into core processes. They are adopting new channels to engage and stay in tune with customers. By drawing more insight from the available data, successful CEOs make customer intimacy their number-one priority.

Later:

Facing a world becoming dramatically more complex, it is interesting that CEOs selected creativity as the most important leadership attribute. Creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are open-minded and inventive in expanding their management and communication styles, particularly to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers.

And:

Creative leaders consider previously unheard-of ways to drastically change the enterprise for the better, setting the stage for innovation that helps them engage more effectively with today’s customers, partners and employees.

The study also highlights an increase in globalization, especially in developing markets, leading to greater complexity. It also says the most successful leaders are prepared to change the business models under which they operate.
   In fact, the world we now live in demands that our leaders are globally aware, and see the need to compete in a global market-place.
   The implications for this city are that Wellington can no longer afford to see itself as merely the capital of New Zealand or the geographic centre. It is one of many cities that must compete for attention and resources at a global level—which means creating world-class centres of excellence for our industries. Creating such clusters can even help them stay domestically owned.
   The study indicates that the style of leadership is going to be, necessarily, internationalist—which means we can’t afford to have leaders who are monocultural, and fake multiculturalism. This, like any aspect of a brand, must be embodied for real. It doesn’t mean giving up what ‘being a New Zealander’ is; it does, however, mean that we have to be able to communicate with other nations and cultures, seeking advantages for ourselves.
   Innovation is a driver both in terms of internal processes and as a core competence—so leaders had better be prepared to do this. And being closer and more transparent with customers—or in the case of a city, citizens—is something practised by the most successful leaders, says the study. It reminds me of the topics in the first book I contributed to, Beyond Branding—where integrity and transparency were at the core.
   When it comes to the Generation Y study, the results were similar. This table summarizes the two quite well, and notes how the two groups differ:

   I don’t want to be giving the impression that the second study is less important, but realize that some of you are sorely tempted to see me wrap up this post.
   I will say, quickly, that the lessons are clear: the next generation expects leaders to be globally minded and sustainable.
   Chinese respondents in the second study, in fact, valued global thinking ahead of creativity. This perhaps highlights where the People’s Republic, above the other Chinese territories, is heading: looking outwardly first and delivering what customers in export markets want.
   As creativity is naturally a trait among Wellington businesses, it’s nice to know that many are already prepared for the challenges of the 2010s. And some of our most successful names would not have got to where they are without global thinking, even if some have been acquired by overseas companies: 42 Below, Weta, and Silverstripe come to mind.
   However, I can’t see these traits being reflected in politics—and that’s something I hope we can change in the local body elections, for starters.

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Posted in branding, business, China, culture, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, Wellington | 1 Comment »


A spoof ‘Wellywood’ sign seems out of touch to me

09.03.2010

I was interested to see a Tweet today (via Daniel Spector) asking if I would object to the erection of a ‘Wellywood’ sign in Miramar that would parody the ‘Hollywood’ one in the Hollywood Hills, Calif. The answer is: yes, I would.
   For numerous reasons. First, it’s naff and tacky.
   Secondly, why do we need to rip off someone else’s idea as a joke (and a second-rate one at that)? Sorry, whomever raised this is, to me, not used to the idea that New Zealanders are original, innovative people, and we lead. We don’t copy. Judging by my own Facebook page, this issue is running 12 to 1 against the sign, with the one conceding that she would prefer to see something ‘more Kiwiana’.
   Thirdly, that money could be better spent elsewhere. City deficit much? How about Wellington Airport just gives the city that money if it has this much to spare on trivial projects?
   Fourthly, we don’t need any damned sign for us to know we are the best. Didn’t the proponents of this sign watch the Academy Awards last night? Winning those Oscars was proof enough Wellington doesn’t need a sign to be the world’s best.

PS.: There is now a Facebook group objecting to the sign.—JY

P.PS.: The Wellingtonista has covered this, too.—JY

Photograph by Scott Beale/Laughing Squid and licensed under Creative Commons

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Posted in business, culture, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | No Comments »


I do not stand for John Key’s defeatist talk

09.02.2010

I’ve heard it all before. In the 1980s, the New Zealand Government promised that, with the introduction of Goods and Services’ Tax (GST), people would be better off, because it would mean more money in our pockets.
   With the proposal to hike GST to 15 per cent under the current government, Prime Minister John Key is singing a similar tune: that somehow, this will be better for us, offset by a reduction in income tax.
   It’s the same tune that was sung 25 years ago by another technocratic government, clueless on actually how to grow the economy without stealing from the general public.
   Economies are grown through innovation and creating circumstances that allow that to happen, which was what the National Party promised with its broadband strategy. We’ve since heard less about that and more about putting some cycle tracks through the country for tourists—all short-term projects from people who have never had to start a long-term business in their lives.
   Unemployment is now up to 7·3 per cent. Before you say it’s not that bad compared with overseas, it’s still pretty terrible. It’s why this has been the core of a lot of my mayoral campaign messages: we need to get unemployment down. How? By creating the environment through which innovation can be fostered.
   In Wellington, that means building on the creative and technological clusters people have been creating. What this city should have in the next three years is a mayor and council that support this—because it is in the national interest.
   When Dr Alan Bollard, Governor of the Reserve Bank, said we should not bother trying to match Australia’s standard of living by 2025 because we lacked the natural resources, I was shocked at what I would call a defeatist attitude—one that the PM seems to share with trying to take from everyday New Zealanders.
   I hope that Dr Bollard can inform me of the context, as I was out of the country when he made his statement on television.
   But I will say that we already are among the most innovative people in the world, both out of our natural creativity and out of necessity.
   We also know that economies are built on industry clusters—something that already exists in Wellington and needs just enough encouragement from a supportive mayor and council.
   We also know that in the 21st century, trying to grow an economy based around primary products and natural resources is an outmoded idea. They are important, of course, and New Zealand will always need a vibrant primary sector, but the real growth is in intellectual capital—something which people in national politics seem to lack.
   What we don’t have are enough people seeking public office who can see this. People who want to grow the economy. People who believe enough in the intelligence and innovation of New Zealanders.
   Well, I believe in us, and I believe in our potential. I also don’t believe in robbing everyday New Zealanders of their hard-earned cash.
   While some rates’ increases are already planned by this current administration, let us try to minimize future increases by creating real businesses for Wellington, and for this city.
   Let’s also show the defeatists that they are yesterday’s men. We know better, and we can do better.

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Posted in business, internet, leadership, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | 6 Comments »