Can Australian industry adapt fast enough?

| November 2, 2015

Australia has crept up a step in terms of its global competitiveness, according to the World Economic Forum, but remains outside the top 20 and is poorly armed to tackle innovation. 

Canada and New Zealand, who have comparable economies, rank 13th and 16th respectively. So it is clear that Australia has to adapt, especially since our rivals are already proving to be far more nimble and agile.

It is also clear that historically we are not afraid of change, as the economic and political tempest of the 1980’s demonstrates. But we have to adapt now and we have to adapt fast.

We can do it. Australians are battlers, renowned for our resilience and fortitude. However, the only way we can successfully compete these days is to free ourselves of our island mentality on a global level, on a business level and on a team level. The key is collaboration.


Increasing trade, in both goods and services, is pivotal to unlocking our future economic potential. The rapid and pervasive growth of emerging economies, like China, India and Indonesia, has created a hungry and cashed- up middle class. These worldly consumers are expected to grow from 2.4 billion to 4.2 billion people in 2025, and Australia is in a very good position to exploit this, with excellence in our mining, agriculture, education and tourism sectors, to name a few. New technologies are fast enabling productivity gains, and falling transportation costs ensure markets are more open. Anybody can source anything from anywhere at any time. The Apple iPods contain 451 distinct components sourced from all around the world. Linear supply chains are a thing of the past.

Australia needs to take advantage of this boundless accessibility through trade deals, like the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), improved international collaboration, innovative enterprise and a government that invests in its future.


Opportunity is there to be seized by savvy entrepreneurs who are not afraid to put themselves out there. Australian business is known to be relatively risk averse, an attitude which fuels poor innovation. This, combined with the Tall Poppy Syndrome, cramps our style when playing on the global stage.

We need to have a go; realise our limitations and seek to enrich our market share through tactical partnerships. Qantas is a very good example of this, having recently transformed itself and reporting a surprising 2015 profit, through a dogged focus on innovation and collaboration. It added 33 new partners to its Frequent Flyer Program, offering customers far more value and scope. Alan Joyce, Qantas CEO, commented that such alliances, on which Qantas is continuing to expand, contributed around 30 per cent of overall earnings growth. Qantas’ underlying Profit before Tax was $975 million for the 2015 financial year, representing a colossal turnaround of $1.6 billion compared with FY2014.

Qantas is not the only Australian business lifting its game. The rags-to-riches story of Aussie software star Atlassian hit the limelight in 2010, through a partnership with the USA-based Accel. This supplied the thrust required for them to become the world paragon they are now.

Telstra announced an exclusive deal with global Wi-Fi provider Fon in 2014, allowing people to connect at more than 12 million international hotspots.

Indeed, even just on the domestic frontier, partnerships are becoming a cost effective way to build your brand, increase revenue and add value for your clients.

Strategic alliances have to be the right fit and in for the long haul. They need to be customer centric and agile enough to allow for change. But once chosen, they allow for a smoother ride and a broader horizon.


The single biggest inhibitor to productivity and performance within organisations are silos. Even when a business is happily communicating, collaborating and creating externally, it may be hamstrung by silos internally.

Silos impede knowledge sharing, the foundation of innovation. For Australian businesses to adapt fast enough, they need to be continuously learning. Such learning falls fallow when siloed by mistrust, a lack of respect and fear of failure. Leaders need to ensure policies, processes and technology nurture learning through genuine unilateral communication, teamwork, collaborative problem solving and the opportunity to learn from your mistakes.

Australia has a proud history of innovation. CSIRO’S Wi Fi, Cochlear’s implant and our many life-saving medical discoveries are examples of this.

However we also have a culture of risk aversion; a preference to watch the game from the side before deciding to play. But by that time the rules have changed. We need to take the ball and run with it.

Or game over.