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As a nation becomes poorer (relative or perceived), it becomes more risk averse according to Tony Smale.

This has important implications for New Zealand as efforts to innovate and become more prosperous seemingly flounder in spite of best practice economic and science policies.

Speaking at a Ministry of Research, Science and Technology chatshop, the Forte Management director said the nation’s culture, and its implications for developing successful high-growth export businesses is the missing factor in understanding how to increase our wealth.

Smale bases his conclusions on an MBA study, which turned into a study in cultural anthropology, in bringing together some in-depth studies of the kiwi character.

‘Culture is deeply, deeply embedded,’ Smale says. ‘For example, some parts of British culture can be traced back to Roman times. We will interpret what appears to be objective data depending on our culture.

He made some of the following points; many of which are a summary of resources available here:

• NZ’s tall poppy syndrome may be our egalitarianism moderating the effects of our individualism (compared to Israeli’s for example who ‘tell it like it is’)
• Kiwis take a great deal of effort not to offend
• NZr’s provide respect on certain types of achievement — whereas others also include age, family connections, wealth
• NZr’s have a considerable separation between work and outside work (to the extent that sometimes we engage in behaviours that a mystery to other people)
• We have a high ‘affective autonomy’ — we love doing things ourselves, with an individual pursuit of excitement, adventure and discovery
• We are probably the most culturally oriented nation favouring initiation (of an idea/project) compared to its implementation
• Work places in NZ are not really considered a place to have fun

Knowing some of our character challenges, Smale says it should be possible to develop a line of thinking around the impact of policies on our sub-maximising cognition and behaviour.

‘New Zealand is the youngest developed nation in the world,’ he says. ‘We still have the pioneering spirit; and much of our thinking is still driven by the annual farming cycle.’

Kiwis often leave a lot of value on the table when selling into overseas markets; but by understanding our own nature, we can develop strategies to overcome our weaknesses Smale says.