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Perhaps all the money we pour into science in the hope it will deliver new products is a waste of time in the New Zealand context. Sure, we might invent something, but our pioneer-like attitude means we lose at the next steps, the implementation, roll out, long term value-adding bits.

According to Forte Management director Tony Smale, our national character and culture, while providing strength in some areas, foot-trips us when moving beyond the initiation stages.

He says that in spite of appearing to be so innovative, we produce only mediocre economic performance. Now, looking at different national character studies done over the years, our collective psyche can be measured in different dimensions.

Examples are individualism versus communitarianism, harmony seeking, power distance, or the extent to which inequality is accepted; the opposite of egalitarianism.

Smale calls this “software of the mind”. “It influences everything, including how we manage our businesses and turn inventiveness into profit,” he says.

An example around organisational factors; in a recent study we are shown to be amongst the worst at managing people and at addressing poor performance. We are almost as reluctant to recognise and reward good performance.

“There is a statistically significant correlation between these cultural dimensions and the early part of the innovation process where things are invented and the latter part where value is created and harvested,” Smale says. “Kiwi culture is possibly uniquely aligned with the early invention stage. That means that we do the hard yards, we get started, we turn out new ideas, invent new things, in many ways we do the smart part, then we let a surprising amount of value slip through our fingers.”

Smale outlines other parts of our “software of the mind” or cultural characteristics that result in a collective underachievement. He suggests that by being aware of our weaknesses we can educate ourselves to be better in certain areas.

A starting place for companies should be to carry out an initial intellectual assets examination.

Company know-how, trade secrets and other intangible assets may, according to Standard and Poors, and Intellectual Assets magazine, make up as much as 80% of a company’s value.

“Value that never appears on balance sheets, rarely in management plans and hardly ever in the bank account,” Smale says.

Kiwi character actually makes us hopeless at innovation

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