What’s an appropriate motivation and intention for growing the WA innovation ecosystem?
This question can more easily be asked now, because there is sufficient shared acceptance of ‘innovation ecosystem’ existence, value, and that they can be grown deliberately through different policies, investments and voluntary activity.
So now that we have one (an ecosystem) and want to grow it, why are we doing that and how would we know we are growing a good one? Those questions about motivations and what a good one looks like, can also be asked because we have reports comparing startup and innovation ecosystems across nations , states and within those reports and others comparing across sectors: construction, agriculture and social services. There are many types, scales, purposes and foci for innovation and ecosystems, so what type we want and what a good one?
When looking at the scale and scope of innovation ecosystems, some motivations and purposes could be easily assumed:
- for the benefit of the individual entrepreneurs, innovators and investors,
- or if the government (and taxpayers) are investing, then at least some the benefits should be directed towards them: the state, nation and all the other humans within that jurisdiction.
But the assumptions about intentions and benefits are worth questioning.
When ventures within the ecosystem are ‘born global’ and encouraged to trade in international markets, when it's obvious that our natural resources, social context and economic circumstances are shared on one small planet, is the motivation, intention and benefit still intended to be local?
One assumption easily questioned is the existence and purpose of states and nations that give shape to what we mean by ‘local’. Let’s say, for example, states and nations don’t exist. They don’t actually, they are just agreements amongst humans. They are boundaries for purposes such as the preservation of cultures, management of populations, for the convenience of regulation and these boundaries and names for nations change quite frequently!
What if we considered the existence of these fictional creations could be for another purpose?
With a bit of startup-inspiration and benefit of a global perspective, we could consider that every state, nation or jurisdiction is actually just a different set of conditions that enable experimentation. A bit like petri dishes in a lab or target audiences specified in a digital marketing campaign.
Seen that way, states and nations enable similar inquiries or innovations to be developed and trialed innovations under different conditions. Within each ‘local’ jurisdiction there is competition, challenges and evolutionary forces that the innovation must succeed because of or in spite of.
There are plenty of these parallel experiments and development of innovations being run already, especially where the challenges and possibilities don’t respect those arbitrary state or national boundaries e.g. climate change mitigation and adaptation policies, social media platforms that succeed in some markets and fail in others, approaches to regulating alternative currencies, sustainable technologies for resource extraction, agricultural innovations or startups that are caring for our oceans.
The benefits of seeing this way - that states and nations are different starting conditions for similar experiments - include that a global and humanity scale we could survey the globe and get some sense of which set of conditions (e.g. cultural, regulatory etc) are most conducive and which ‘version’ of innovation response succeeded in its local context, or succeed across multiple ‘local’ contexts.
So, back to the original question.
A reason for growing a local innovation ecosystem can be a different one: rather than for ourselves (defined locally), instead we are conscious that while trying to ‘win’ and compete with others, in the context of humanity’s thriving our local ecosystem is just a (one) experiment. While we can be fully invested in seeing the benefits locally, we can embrace (with little cost) the additional aspiration that the learning and other benefits of our attempts to grow are shared globally.
So the motivation and intention for growing the ecosystem becomes how it and we can be good for the world, globally, for humanity. It just takes a little adjustment in what we mean by ‘locally’ and appreciation of the possible benefits of cultural and regulatory differences spread across our planet.
If we want our startup ventures and innovations to be ‘born global’ then shouldn’t that also be the scope of our care and intention for the benefits?
Especially for us in Western Australia where many of us in the innovation ecosystem are so ridiculously fortunate, standing on such conducive social, cultural and economic foundations that reaching for the stars is our natural orientation.
Perhaps too, it’s just smart to think this way, from a risk management perspective: should our local fortunes ever change relative to the global norm, having directed our intentions and benefits more widely and made efforts to everyone benefits from our best lessons and brightest innovations, it may encourage others to do the same and see that no-one is left behind (i.e. us).
As far as I can tell, this simple shift in thinking doesn’t require a shift in regulation, policy, and can be held as supportive and aligned with almost every local initiative.
Seeing things this way it can be a powerful invitation to every startup founder, blue-sky researcher, early-stage investor, innovation incubator or government policy-maker: it cultivates a sense of appreciation of our circumstances, can encourage a wider scope of thinking, a greater sense of responsibility and opportunity, consideration of more fundamental questions in each industry or sector, that can lead to truly novel solutions, profound new possibilities.
For me, at least, this motivation and intention just works.