In Silicon Block’s latest Virtual Firesides series, founder and CEO Rhys Hayes connects with experts who are leading the way in tackling the business and work-related challenges we’re facing due to COVID-19.
As we start assessing the immediate impacts of COVID-19, we find ourselves asking, ‘where to from here?’ In their latest chat, Silicon Block spoke with former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, and PwC Chief Creative Officer Russel Howcroft, who shared their thoughts on how Australia can view the pandemic as an opportunity for positive change. Here’s a recap of some of the insights they shared with us.
There is no question that COVID-19 has caused great upheaval across many aspects of our lives and to the economy. However, it is technology that has allowed so much activity to continue in the face of so much change. We need only think of the tools we use for work every day as a sign of where future growth lies.
Quite simply, “the march of technology will only be accelerated,” says Turnbull, with particular reference to the connectivity and collaboration tools that many of us use every day.
At the best of times, many people worry that technology might take away jobs. During a global health pandemic, when thousands of people are out of work, this fear is undoubtedly intensified.
However, according to Turnbull, now is the time for economies to be more innovative than ever to create new jobs.
The challenge is whether economies and businesses will take advantage of innovation at a time like this, or fall victim to it.
“If you give up on innovation, you give up on productivity. And if you give up on productivity, you give up on prosperity. It’s that simple”, says Turnbull.
For Howcroft, a leading brand and marketing expert, telling the stories about business success can help drive future innovation and growth.
He argues that currently, we’re not very good at telling the stories behind some of our most successful homegrown companies.
“Look at Seek for example. If they were born in California, there would have already been three books and two movies. We’re not good enough at telling our stories of successful businesses,” he argues.
What’s more, Howcroft says, businesses need to invest more in amplifying their messages.
“Businesses need to get [themselves] out in the world and spend the money they need to, to make sure the market is aware of their innovation.”
For Turnbull, it’s also important to feel comfortable talking more openly about our own achievements.
“People don’t want to admit that if they’re afraid to blow their own trumpet, no one else will. [Australians] are great knockers of ourselves and each other. This negativity is a brake on growth,” he says.
And while it’s important to share the success stories, Turnbull argues that we also need to recognise it’s not possible to get everything right, all the time.
He explains that during his time as prime minister, he faced criticism for having imperfect solutions. But his answer would always be, ‘It’s the best approach I have at the moment. If it doesn’t work, I’ll dump it. If something better comes along, we’ll try it.’
Ultimately, he says, growth and innovation require businesses to just have a go and fail fast, while moving away from a blame-based culture.
In Howcroft’s experience, businesses are getting to ‘yes’ a lot faster, as they learn that they don’t need to have all the answers straight away to innovate.
Right now, he says, some sectors of business are highly energised and accepting of the fact that they can’t possibly know all the details up front, and they’re discovering that they can take advantage of more opportunities by saying yes sooner.
We’ll see positive results sooner, he argues, if we can get to the ‘ideas conversations’ earlier, and be more iterative and collaborative.
It’s been Howcroft’s mission as PwC’s Chief Creative Officer to help spread the word that creativity is important for business.
“The issue is it’s seen as a ‘sandpit’ word, not a ‘spreadsheet’ word,” he says.
To change this mindset, businesses need to create a culture that embraces creativity, where divergent thinking and ideas are celebrated.
“You need the creative people. They can’t be left outside the boardroom and then brought in … before leaving again. We need to have them in the room all the time and be seen as equal”, Howcroft says.
For both Turnbull and Howcroft, there are reasons to remain positive about a post-COVID-19 world.
Howcroft is eager to see how the new ways of working will make businesses more productive and energised. What’s more, he believes that COVID-19 is an opportunity to refocus our collective energies on creating a new economy - one that focuses more on the role of technology and digital innovation.
For Turnbull, he’s optimistic that technology and innovation can provide the answers to some of the most pressing issues. “Our biggest challenge is global warming. We have the technology to deal with it ...technology and innovation has provided the answers,” he concluded.
IE is Silicon Block’s founding partner. It was born in 2015 at the IE headquarters in Richmond. Over the last five years, Silicon Block has grown into a leading creative event start-up that offers corporate innovation events, hackathons and unique experiential activations.