Thursday, February 25, 2016

Diversity underpins the innovation we desperately need

A major issue for arts and culture is cultural diversity. It underpins a rich and vibrant culture. It also has ramifications far beyond the area of arts and culture, creating a fertile ground for innovation, in areas as diverse as private sector economic activity and government policy.

I keep writing that cultural diversity is crucial to innovation because where cultures intersect, innovation happens. An article by Peter Martin, economics editor for 'The Age' newspaper, highlights that sharply. It makes complete sense in so many ways.

Martin writes that ‘Australia is going to have to use every resource it has if it's to make the most of the decades ahead.’ He then proceeds to emphasise how tapping the power of diversity is a critical part of rising to the challenge. He points out that ‘McKinsey and Co reported this year that the 25 per cent of companies most likely to employ female executives did far better financially than the other 75 per cent. Those that were also racially diverse did better still.’

Within some areas of the Australian government's public service the importance of diversity is well-understood. Elsewhere - in the public service and outside there's a world of change waiting. 

Social and cultural diversity pay off
This has been recognised by influential figures in the current public service, such as Martin Parkinson. Parkinson is the senior public servant who survived a near death experience at the hands of Tony Abbott, only to be resurrected by the incoming Malcolm Turnbull to become his new head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

When Parkinson ran Treasury he recognised that to increase policy flexibility and innovation, he needed to expand the range of mindsets around him. Accordingly, as Peter Martin points out in his article, ‘Parkinson not only set targets for the proportion of women in the treasury senior executive, he set about changing what Treasury valued to bring this about. When picking candidates for promotion or special projects, more weight was to be given to co-ordination and people skills and less to conceptual and analytic skills.’

We've got both kinds
Martin notes that this was because every enterprise needs both sets of attributes. Martin comments further, ‘Diversity matters because the more mindsets you can bring to creating something or solving a problem, the less likely it is you'll miss something out.’

In a world where change is fast and widespread can anyone afford not to mobilise all they have going for them – to survive, let alone to succeed? Diversity, including cultural diversity is a big part of that picture. Is Australia up to a challenge that Canada, after too many years of mediocrity, is clearly ready to take on? The almost forgotten Abbott Government appointed just one woman to its first cabinet and she embarrassed the Government by showing up how many of the others chosen were just dead wood. Thankfully the subsequent Coalition Government under Malcolm Turnbull realised that this medieval state of affairs couldn't continue.

This article was originally published elsewhere in my blogosphere and has been revised for this blog.

See also

The power of good policy – historical tax distortions waiting for a fix
‘The heated response to the tax debate around negative gearing debate and capital gains tax shows that if political parties adopt a clear policy, in line with their core values and aligned with popular concerns, then get behind it and explain it, people will respond. For decades negative gearing has been distorting the shape of our cities, our suburbs and our communities. It is an inefficient way to achieve the desired result. These are historical tax distortions waiting for a fix’, The power of good policy – historical tax distortions waiting for a fix.

Look after pedestrians and the economy will look after itself
‘Public transport is such a central element in a modern city. It has fundamental implications for how productive a city is, how culturally active and just how personally pleasant it is to live and work in’, Look after pedestrians and the economy will look after itself.

Travelling together through the city
‘Public transport is such a central element in a modern city. It has fundamental implications for how productive a city is, how culturally active and just how personally pleasant it is to live and work in’, Travelling together through the city.

The central importance of cities to the modern economy
‘It is becoming increasingly clear how important cities are in the contemporary economy. Underpinning this is the absolutely central importance of the growth of the knowledge economy and the innovation, collaboration and interaction it depends on. This is a reality that politicians have to grasp if we are going to see good policies that benefit Australia over the next decades. Unfortunately I think that many are still operating with a view of the economy which was out of date at least a decade ago’, The central importance of cities to the modern economy.

Creating cities by reinventing them – ‘Creating Cities’ reviewed
‘At first glance Marcus Westbury’s ‘Creating Cities’ book looks small, but it’s far bigger than it looks. The book is about re-energising cities by reinventing them but it’s starting point is a deep appreciation of the particular regional city of Newcastle. The revival of Newcastle is a reflection of the more general trend towards the revival of regional centres in Australia. Cities are crucial to the innovation and creativity that interaction and partnerships based on physical proximity can produce – whether major capital cities or regional cities. The efforts at revival all reflected the critical importance of cities. Each in its own way draws upon creativity and innovation and the cultural diversity which underpins it to create places which are pleasant and interesting to live in and to drive economic prosperity’, Creating cities by reinventing them – ‘Creating Cities’ reviewed.

The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future
‘The swan song of the Creative Industries Innovation Centre, ‘Creative Business in Australia’, outlines the experience of five years supporting Australia’s creative industries. Case studies and wide-ranging analysis explain the critical importance of these industries to Australia’s future. The knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape is both clever and clean. Where the creative industries differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture’, The clever business of creativity: the experience of supporting Australia's industries of the future.

My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world
‘My nephew just got a job in Wellington New Zealand with Weta Digital, which makes the digital effects for Peter Jackson’s epics. Expertise, specialist skills and industry pockets can occur just about anywhere, as long as you have connectivity, talent and a framework of support that makes it possible. This is part of the new knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape. Increasingly the industries of the future are both clever and clean. At their heart are the developing creative industries which are based on the power of creativity and are a critical part of Australia’s future – innovative, in most cases centred on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally. This is transforming the political landscape of Australia, challenging old political franchises and upping the stakes in the offerings department’, My nephew just got a job with Weta – the long road of the interconnected world.

Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture
‘The developing creative industries are a critical part of Australia’s future – clean, innovative, at their core based on small business and closely linked to the profile of Australia as a clever country, both domestically and internationally.’ Creative industries critical to vitality of Australian culture.

Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?
‘With a Coalition Government which now stands a far better chance of being re-elected for a second term, the transfer of the Commonwealth’s Arts Ministry to Communications helps get arts and culture back onto larger and more contemporary agendas. This move reflects that fact that the new industries in the knowledge economy of the future, with its core of creative industries and its links to our cultural landscape, are both clever and clean. Where they differ completely from other knowledge economy sectors is that, because they are based on content, they draw on, intersect with and contribute to Australia’s national and local culture and are a central part of projecting Australia’s story to ourselves and to the world. In that sense they have a strategic importance that other sectors do not’, Full circle – where next for Australian national arts and culture support in the 21st Century?

Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture
‘A far more important issue than arts funding is how can the broad arts and cultural sector become a better organised, effective voice for arts and culture and its wider importance for Australia? Changes like this happen because they are able to happen – because decision-makers think they can get away with it. The arts and culture sector and its supporters have to be influential enough that decision-makers think carefully about the importance and the standing of Australia’s arts and culture and weigh any decisions they make carefully in terms of the strategic needs of the sector. These current dire circumstances may provide the opportunity we have needed to look seriously at this question’, Time for the big picture and long view for arts and culture.

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