Innovation needs a creative culture

The WA Innovation Summit held in Perth last week was a great step forward for WA - but despite the focus, collaboration, ideas and outcomes, something crucial to us becoming an innovative state was still missing.

Innovation is not just about the right business, investment or funding conditions, or new linkages between industry, institutions and government, or retaining the best and brightest talent. It needs creativity itself to be strong, actually woven through the very fabric of the system that innovates.

The Innovation Summit seemed - and looked - very much a business and government event (suits, ties and the nature of a lot of the discussion), which treated the subject within its own framework. There was very little discussion about where the ideas actually come from - a who, where or why?

Looking at innovation this way risks leaving a massive hole in the foundations - yes, innovation will work best through a 'top down' approach, whether that top is a company board/executive, or the government of the day. But it also needs an environment from which ideas can spring and "bubble up". Innovation itself rarely comes from the top. It often comes from unexpected places and in unexpected ways.

Focussing our innovation discussions within a business-only framework, without looking at where and why ideas spark and bubble, is a little like a corporate board deciding 'lets be innovative' and allocating funds, a new 'Innovation Team' and regular reporting and scorecards on progress made.

Compare that to the current global leaders in innovation- all have environments heavily focussed on creativity: the Googles and Apples. They recognise it's still the individual that starts innovation through a human creative process - and they will best do this in an open, creative environment. It doesn't simply mean beanbags or foosball tables in the breakout room. It is a cultural approach.

In the case of building a more innovative city or state, this means we need to create a culture that does the same thing - viz. the best conditions in which creativity and innovation can "bubble up" from anywhere. Once that foundation is strong, it's on it we can build structures around business, investment, collaboration and commercialisation. At present, we're ignoring the actual innovators.

How exactly do we build this creative foundation for our city? I believe it begins with the arts and creative sectors, by ensuring those sectors are strong, visible, diversely connected and vital. If we do that, we value creativity and we encourage the individuals who generate it and engage with it.

I tweeted to this effect last week live streaming the Summit. I hope the seed was at least planted.