Posts tagged ‘internationalization’


Cities are, or at least should be, driving globalization

06.06.2013

My friend and colleague William Shepherd directed me to a piece at Quartz by Michele Acuto and Parag Khanna, on how cities are driving globalization more than nations—a theme I touched upon on this blog in March 2010. As he said, I had called it three years ago, though admittedly Acuto and Khanna have fleshed things out far better.
   It’s not just the fact that cities elicit less pluralistic feelings among the population—Wellingtonians felt pretty strongly when PM John Key made his comment that our city was ‘dying’—but there are practical reasons for cities to lead the way.
   First, we can’t afford to wait for central government to take the lead on a lot of policies. When it comes to economic development, cities should be able to mobilize a lot more quickly. The idea is that cities are leaner, flatter and more responsive to change. The reality is that some are mired in bureaucracy, and if voters agree that that has to change, then I would love to see that reflected in this year’s local body elections. Based on what I’ve seen, you won’t find the agent for change within politics, however—they have had more than enough opportunity to voice this very view. This has to come from outside politics, from people who understand what cities are truly capable of, especially when they engage and realize their potential.
   Acuto and Khanna cite several examples where cities have had to go above and beyond what their national governments have provided, in the areas of security, climate change and academia. Even stock exchanges are merging between cities:

Stock exchange mergers testify to this changing geography of influence: the popularized link between New York and Frankfurt via the 2011 talks on the NYSE Euronext and Deutsche Boerse merger only hinted at a wider trend that, in the past two years alone, has seen negotiations between London’s and Toronto’s stock exchanges, and similar discussions between Sydney and Singapore, Chicago and Sao Paulo, Dubai and Mumbai or the Shenzhen–Hong Kong–Shanghai triangle, all of which indicate how global finance networks are being redrawn through emerging global cities.

   In my discussions with MBIE, the New Zealand Government has been aware of this trend, but other than the discussions about regional reform, very little of it has surfaced in Wellington. Yet the government has a focus on Auckland, and Christchurch will be state of the art once its rebuilding is completed. We have a perfect opportunity to use our inherent agility, if only we had our eyes on the prize, and moved forward rather than played politics, stuck with “think local, act local” thinking.
   Secondly, cities should find the task of marketing themselves less confusing. A nation-branding exercise, for example, hits a snag early on. When I quizzed Wally Olins about this many years ago, he identified a very obvious problem: which government department pays for it? Is this the province of tourism, internal affairs, foreign affairs, trade, or something else? A city should be able to establish sufficient channels of communications between its organizations and trust in one—in Wellington’s case, tourism—to handle it. If these channels are broken, again, it’s going to take some new blood and real change to fix them and inspire a spirit of cooperation. There’s a pressing enough need to do so, with a vision that can be readily shared. We need to think differently in the 2010s.
   Thirdly, cities can foster offshore relationships more effectively. New Zealand, as a country, has not done as well as it should in promoting itself in various Asian cities, for instance. In one major city, I have had feedback that New Zealand stands out for the wrong reasons, in not having its chief diplomat join other countries in celebrating a particular national holiday. We seem to be on auto-pilot, not being as active as we should. Yet, as Acuto and Khanna point out, almost all global economic activity is being driven by 400 cities. Wellington, especially, should be able to take the initiative and head to the world’s major cities, promoting ourselves and ensuring that the innovators and enterprises here can hook up with others. We can establish trade and cultural links more quickly if we go to the source. Many cities and provinces even have their own economic offices, so they expect such approaches: they want to work at the city level.
   And if we head offshore to promote our own, then we should expect that foreign direct investment can flow more effectively inward, too, having established that relationship.
   This all makes sense if you consider how democratization has changed the world we live in. On so many things already, we cut out the middle man: in printing, we no longer need to go to typesetters or plate-makers; online publishing has meant our words can go to the public on blogs; social media have allowed us greater access to companies and politicians. Air travel is more affordable than it was 30 years ago. Cities have the resources to engage with citizens and learn about their needs. Offshore relationships can be maintained between trips using Skype and other digital resources. The nation-state will remain relevant for some time, but cities can deliver more relevant, more specialized and more customized programmes in a more timely fashion. Now, do we have the courage to declare that we no longer want “politics as usual” this year?

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Posted in branding, business, culture, globalization, internet, leadership, marketing, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »


A farewell to Sir Paul Callaghan, and the next step for our innovators

24.03.2012

When I attended Sir Paul Callaghan’s talk at the Wellington Town Hall last September, I felt vindicated. Here was a man who was much better qualified than me to talk about economic development, effectively endorsing the policies I ran on in 2010. But not being political, he was a great deal more persuasive. Since then, I’ve noticed more New Zealanders become convinced by Sir Paul’s passion—and wake us up to the potential that we have in this nation.
   This great communicator, this wonderful patriot, this sharpest of minds, passed away today after a battle with colon cancer.
   I wrote on Facebook when I heard the news that the best thing we can do to honour Sir Paul was to carry on his legacy, and to carry out the dream he had for making New Zealand a better, more innovative nation.
   Sir Paul wasn’t afraid of tall poppies. He knew Kiwis punched above their weight, and wanted to see more of that happen.
   All those tributes today saying his passing is a great loss to the nation are so very accurate—and I hope we’ll continue to see his dream realized.

Sir Paul Callaghan had a vision, but at the more micro level, it’s important to get a grasp on what the market will bear. There is a fine line, of course, between testing a market and relying too much on a rear-view mirror, and Jenny Douché’s new book, Fool Proof, addresses that, with case studies featuring some very successful New Zealand businesses, including No. 8 Ventures, Phil & Ted’s, Cultureflow and Xero. She stresses dialogue and engagement as useful tools in market validation, and she’s so passionate about the importance of her work that she’s donated copies to 200 organizations, including business incubators, economic development agencies, business schools and chambers of commerce nationally. Find out more at foolproofbook.com.

A Reuter story today talks about Sweden’s growing inequality in the last 15 years—something I’ve certainly noticed first-hand in the eight-year period between 2002 and 2010.
   We often aspire to be like Sweden, but much of that aspiration was based on a nation image of equality and social stability. Certainly since the mid-2000s, that hasn’t been true, as Sweden embarked on reforms that we had done in the 1980s, with selling state assets and cutting taxes.
   Inequality, according to the think-tank quoted in the article, has risen at a rate four times greater than that of the US.
   The other sobering statistic that came out earlier this year was that Sweden has the worst-performing economy in Scandinavia.
   None of this is particularly aspirational any more, and perhaps it brings me back to the opening of this blog entry: Sir Paul Callaghan.
   Given that we had the 1980s’ economic reforms, but we have scarcely seen the level playing-field promised us by the Labour government of that era, our best hope is to innovate in order to create high-value jobs. On that Sir Paul and I were in accord. Let’s play in those niches and beat the establishment with smart, clever New Zealand-owned businesses—and steadily achieve that that level playing field that we’re meant to have.
   It’s about cities creating environments that foster innovation and understand the climate needed for it to grow, which includes formally recognizing clusters, identifying and funding them, and having mechanisms that can ensure ideas don’t get lost beyond a mere discussion stage—including incubator and educational programmes. The best ideas need to be grown and taken to a global level.
   Ah, I hear, many of these agencies already exist—and that’s great. Now for the next step.
   It’s also about cities not letting politics get in their way and understanding that the growth of a region is healthy—which means cooperation between civic leaders and an ability to move rapidly, seizing innovation opportunities. It means a reduction in bureaucracy and the realization that much of the technology exists so that time spent on admin can be kept to a minimum (and plenty of case studies exist in states more advanced than us). Right-brained people thrive when they create, not when they are filling in forms. The streamlining of the Igovt websites by the New Zealand Government is move in the right direction.
   We know what has to be done—especially given how far down we are based on the following graph from the New Zealand Institute:

   As the Institute points out, many of the right moves are being made, and have been made, at the national level. But it is also aware that an internationalization strategy is part of the mix—the very sort of policy I have lived by in my own businesses. And this begs the question of why there have not been policies that help those who desire to go global and commercialize their ideas at a greater level. That’s the one area where we need to champion those Kiwis who have made it—Massey’s Hall of Fame dinners over the last two years celebrate such New Zealanders in a small way—and to let those who are at school now know that, when they get into the workforce, that it’s OK to think globally.
   If we’re wondering where the gap is, especially in a nation of very clever thinkers, it’s right there: we need to create a means for the best to go global, and make use of our million-strong diaspora, in very high positions, that Sir Paul pointed out in his address. Engagement with those who have made it, and having internationalization experts in our agencies who can call on their own entrepreneurial experiences, would be a perfect start.

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