John Sheridan

John is CEO of Digital Business insights!

Export. Export. Export. Full STEAM ahead.

Alan Kohler is a good bloke. Of all the journos writing for the Australian he consistently tells it as it is. In simple English. Which is what we all expect of journalists of course, but such commentary is rare and hard to find.

The “Treasurer’s debt dilemma” is a very good piece.

It highlights the problem the treasurer has in needing to cut spending to placate the ratings agencies (which Mr Kohler points out quite rightly have little real credence after rating collateralised debt obligations - CDOs - as AAA in 2006). What do they really know and why do we listen to what they say anyway?

It’s a crazy and bizarro world we live in, trying to see through the blurry spiders webs of perception, fake news, PR and hyperbole.

Alan Kohler blows a lot of that fluff away. Regularly. In the Australian and on the ABC. Malcolm should make him the Treasurer. In the US he could, but not here. I wish it were that easy.

While the government’s attention is focused on “not” spending money, we need to shift our attention to how to “make” more money in the first place.

Cutting company tax is not the solution to “jobs and growth”.

“Jobs” are being impacted by digital disruption. The nature of what a job is has changed. Company tax cuts will not fix that.

And “growth” has to come from earning more money – getting it in the door. Company tax cuts will not fix that either.

And we cannot afford to leave this to serendipity – ie do the Chinese want more iron ore and coal this month? Sometimes they will and sometimes they won’t.

We have to spread our risk and our marketing activities more extensively, right across the world – promoting our productive industries far and wide.

We need to export. We need to export more. And we need to export more things to more countries than we do at the moment.

As Barnaby Joyce said on Radio National in response to a question on the poor, last quarter GDP results  – Our economic future in Australia depends on what leaves our shores in ships and planes.

That principle is right. We just need to get a bit more 21st century about how we promote ourselves and complement the successful export of dirt, meat and wheat, with a much wider group of “value added” products and services.

Then we get the best of both worlds.

Reliable income from our existing export industries helping to grow our new productive export industries – value added agriculture, manufacturing, creative industries, education, tourism, design based professional services, METS, clean, green, medical and smart technology businesses and smart trades.

Export is a competitive business, and we are in competition with some very big players.

So how do we make Australia “more competitive" given the unequal distribution of "assets" and “competitive advantages” across the planet?

The USA has one set of competitive advantages, China another set, Germany another set, Korea another, Japan another, the EU another, NZ another and so on.

We have to reinforce our key advantages. Minerals. Clean. Green. Healthy environment. Quality control. Governance. Position. Reef. Desert. Rain forest. Indigenous culture. And “No. 8 wire” innovation.

And we have to showcase these key advantages to the world.

That is why we built the Toolboxes – Manufacturing, Agriculture and Mining & Energy. They are designed to showcase our best products and services to the world - 5,000+ leading Australian manufacturers and producers.



These businesses have been selected with the help of partners, industry networks, Linkedin groups, councils, state governments and industry associations. If we’ve left anybody out, let us know and we’ll put them in.

From the database, we are now creating a range of customised export “shop windows” so that businesses overseas can see what Australia has to offer. Each “shop window” will include the sectors of interest to the region or country.

Starting with Taiwan, we will showcase Australian suppliers to markets 24x7, 365 days a year. And the more the merrier.

As Barnaby Joyce pointed out, we rely on the goods and services that are shipped out of Australia on ships and planes, and the more export activity we generate, the better for all of us.

We have to concentrate effort on productive industry. On industries which are sustainable - fuelled by "innovation and ideas" = smart thinking.

That fuel is generated by STEAM power - Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. STEM plus the creative insights delivered by creative industries.

Investment in our productive industries has to start now – today -while we can still support that investment with extractive industry.

Productive industries will create jobs and sustain jobs.

Because jobs are evaporating day by day in Australia. And fiddling the employment figures does not change reality. There are not enough full time jobs for people.

And they are not going to appear out of thin air. We need to create fertile conditions for jobs to flourish. Productive industries will create the jobs. We need to stimulate and support the productive industries.

And we need to apply the same strategies to growing jobs as we do to growing crops. It is not a random business.

Constant disruptive change is making it really hard for businesses and vendors. It is making it hard for the media, consultants and commentators sitting on the sidelines watching the show.

But is doubly hard for government and the law-makers.

That’s why legislation lags so far behind technological change. And multinationals “milk the legislation gap” taking advantage of snail’s pace law making to avoid tax, sidestep moral and legal obligations (whatever they are declared the board) and concentrate on reinforcing the status quo.

Fix that problem and balancing the budget would happen overnight.

And government doesn’t understand digital revolution.

What seems to be a technological revolution is actually a people revolution, an organic revolution, with lots of technology tools involved – used by people who are more than willing to make things awkward by voting "with their feet" and not playing the game the way the policy advisers and consultants expected.

And government continues to build and use technology for its own benefit, not for the benefit of citizens.

That is what makes this revolution so interesting, because the possibilities are enormous, but the management of the change and transition is complex and complicated and needs a different style of management than we are used to.

It requires "gardening' not "engineering" because hardly anything can be predicted and planned easily. It is not like building a house or a bridge. The KPI’s don’t work in the way they used to but nobody has told the policy officers.

In a digital revolution the proposition “failing to plan is planning to fail' is no longer the obvious reality that it was in the 20th century “safe-land” we have now left forever behind.

Today the proposition of "launch and learn' is appropriate. But that is a bridge too far for corporates and government. No innovation here.

Things change. And continue to change.

And how we manage an ever-increasing number of jobless people who want to use their time meaningfully is ultimately going to be far more important than anything else.

So working from incorrect data is delusional. Roy Morgan provides useful insights into the employment dilemma.

You can't plan a journey to a destination successfully if you don't know where you are.

And the current ABS job figures suggest far less of a problem than we actually face as a nation - which leads to wrong action, no policy and bad planning. No planning.

It is interesting to read the Roy Morgan explanation of job research methodology and why the Roy Morgan approach delivers a more accurate but politically challenging view of our condition.

"Cooking the books' doesn't produce a very digestible meal.

And talk is easy. But action delivers the goods.

And we have to deliver the goods – lots of them, and to lots of countries across the planet.

Many of our international competitors are now taking a long-term view of their economic future, whilst we in Australia jump from one old siloed concept to another, and then back again - everything old is new again.

We don't think long term. Singapore published a SME 2020 plan in 2001 and has steadily worked their way through it.

We need "joined up" thinking – a rather fundamental principle of the digital revolution that seems to have passed Canberra by.

All of our Toolboxes are connected - Manufacturing, Agriculture, Mining & Energy, Health, all joins up.

The regional Toolboxes we are developing are connected to each other and also connected to the sectoral Toolboxes - it all joins up.

There is no department of "joined up thinking" in Canberra – but we need one.

Simply saying "we have a plan for jobs and growth" when there is absolutely no evidence to support that statement is remarkable.

There is a very real disconnect between "talk" of innovation and "action" on innovation.

I have become convinced that big businesses and organisations of all kinds cannot matter what they say, now matter how many innovation programs they run, no matter what the intent of the CEO might be.

Organisations are organic. They are made of people. And the people in all organisations are nurtured, rewarded and cultivated to act in a certain way. And "this is how it has always been done".

The rewards for action are tied to "this is the way it has always been done". When you are measured every quarter by "how many xxxx you sold this quarter" there is no motivation to step out of line, to suggest a new way, or try to improve.

That is not your job. That is not what your job description says. That is not how you are measured. There is no bonus attached. Get too "off track" and you are out the door.

Innovation is a myth in large organisations - because they earn their salaries and bonuses from doing the "same old same old" every day.

Some large organisations, mainly overseas in Japan, USA, Korea and Germany have recognised this and done something REAL about it - but very few. Most just bring in the consultants.

They deliver a report. No change.

That is why federal government is unable to respond effectively to probably the biggest rearrangement in job, work, life we have ever seen.

The tide of job disruption is coming in. Fast. And building sand castles is not an effective response.

It needs heavy lifting. Concrete actions. Tidal barriers. Building the digital disruption sea walls in the right places. Not just more words and more reports. Roadmaps and Action plans.

We need action not action plans.

Disintermediation doesn't have to be a passive occupation – ie “it happens to us”.

We can (wisely) use digital connection to fight back against the impacts of globalisation and offshore driven disintermediation, and create relationships that reinforce regions and ensure their futures.

BUT and it is a very large BUT, this requires collaborative action. No council can do this alone. The cities need the regions. And the regions need the cities.

Collaboration and shared value, or fail.

We need 2 things.

Long term strategy and joined up strategy.

Other countries are now trumping us (no pun intended) with long term strategy and action. We are not good at this.

In many ways being in second or third place or even further back is a preferred position (can see what the opposition is doing) but only if one has the capacity to turn on the turbocharger when required.

We have great ideas, innovation, inventions and lots of "No 8 wire' innovators and fixers in this country.

And most of them are held back - not encouraged. They are the real heroes in this country, not the "casino" owners, CEOs of banks and property developers.

Yet who gets the front pages? How often do the stories get told of our enormous capacity to invent and innovate - not in big businesses but in countless SMEs, scaleups and startups across the country?

These are the heroes. These are the stories that should be told to inspire our kids.

It is good to have sporting heroes. But it is even better to have startup and scaleup heroes to put on pedestals and make examples.

Policy can no longer be driven ideologically, because those boxes of "left and right" no longer encompass all the options we need in society (if they ever did).

A post-industrial world asks new questions, and the answers are not sitting in the ideas folders and cabinets of any one political party.

The answers are often in the gaps between ideologies. The answers are now in the joining of left and right to create a new apolitical position - not centrist - but big picture and holistic.

Shared value. Collaborative. Accepting that answers can come from anywhere and then leveraging the hell out of them.

We have to include not exclude, and that is what government should be about - looking after the interests of all the people and the nation as a whole.

"Left and right" is so 20th century. The World has moved on.

There are far bigger issues and problems today and they require a new way.

Meanwhile. Export. Export. Export.

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Monday, 15 October 2018