Minister Joyce has the opportunity to redefine ‘failure’

By Peter Kerr 09/02/2012

Apparently, new super minister Steven Joyce (Minister of Science & Innovation, Economic Development and Tertiary Education, Skills & Employment), likes to dive deep into details of a new role or portfolio, before surfacing with a strategic direction.

So, as he tries to figure out the government’s lines of science and innovation attack for the coming three years; let him consider failure.

And, specifically in New Zealand’s case, with consideration of the Kiwi psyche, the opportunity he has to redefine so-called failure, and promote innovation.

Considering that Joyce is on the (hopefully) revenue creating side of the equation, how he ramps up the return on investment from his three portfolios is crucial, and pivotal for New Zealand.

Kiwis’ attitude to failure is often regarded as the first cousin of our tall poppy syndrome. The attitude may be, probably is, changing.

However, if Steven Joyce is looking for an easy win he could do much worse than further tweak our notion of failure.

As he cranks up the ‘innovation’ part of MSI, part of the message to Kiwis should be to have a go and more especially ‘have another go’.

‘Failure’ under such a scenario, can be defined as non-success due to a combination of factors…….assuming someone’s not an absolute idiot.

Alternatively, it could be as our American friends refer to it as ‘experience’. It was such experience that enabled Tait Electronics to re-emerge, phoenix-like when it went to the wall twice.

Joyce is sure to have experienced setbacks from when he set up Energy FM in 1984 and expanded it to become RadioWorks with 22 stations and 650 staff under its wing when it was sold in 2001.

He’ll appreciate that success isn’t an overnight thing, and that sometimes, in fact more than half the time, new businesses fail.

Particularly in the clever technology, smart use of natural resources, food and IT areas — sectors with potential for New Zealand to globally scale — a heck of a lot of businesses are going to fall over.

So what?

More important is that we learn the lessons, and apply them to the next venture.

Joyce has the opportunity to spout a new mantra on behalf of all New Zealanders.

It’s not necessarily something that bureaucrats lower down the science & innovation foodchain can do — since no government worker wants to be associated with ‘failure’.

Therefore Joyce, in throwing out a national challenge that success and its close cousin failure is to be celebrated and promoted, has a much better chance of cranking up the revenue side of the equation by giving ourselves permission to ‘have a go’.

Sure, there will be some failures.

But the ‘risk’ also is, there will be some outrageous successes.

The areas likely to take off are as Sir Paul Callaghan describes as niche/niche. That is, tightly defined segments of a larger business/science area, in which a Kiwi company is particularly strong and makes good margins.

So, redefine failure as a revenue-enhancing philosophy.

The ball’s in your court Steve.

0 Responses to “Minister Joyce has the opportunity to redefine ‘failure’”

  • a heck of a lot of businesses are going to fall over. So what?

    There is a significant human cost to such failures, would be one answer to the ‘so what’ question…

  • I think you have to further consider who suffers in the case of a failure, and what impact it might have on their future decisions.
    It’s not acceptable to embrace failure only if some other poor sucker foots the bill.
    Politicians don’t like failures because the taxpayer (egged on by eg Winston Peters) gets stroppy.
    How many times would an angel investor tolerate failure?
    It has been suggested that the super fund should invest part of its portfolio in high-risk NZ ventures. That would be the acid test of whether our culture is changing. But the bottom line is the balance between risk and reward, always assuming the risks and rewards are properly understood.