Why being an innovator shouldn't be all that innovative

Posted by Julia Chuah McNamara

Focus on the skills and less on the phrase: why being an innovator shouldn’t be all that innovative.


Reading the party promises at my local council election, I couldn’t help but smile as yet another vowed to turn our suburb into Sydney’s Newest Innovation Hub. It seemed tacked on and out of place; an attempt to buy into the furore surrounding innovative thought.


Innovation seems to have replaced synergy as the latest go-to buzzword. Often used as an empty promise for prosperity without mentioning what this “innovation” or “innovative thought leadership” will actually entail. Granted, innovation is a necessity if Australia wants to progress at an international level. A study by the Fletcher School at Tufts University, using the Digital Evolution Index, found that Australia is currently “stalling out”. Only through drastically increasing a focus on “innovation” can we can regain momentum and ensure future success. Part of ensuring our future, is changing the mindset of our upcoming leaders. Australian education is attempting to tackle this challenge by introducing new models of educating the next generation. While stereotypical ideas of app entrepreneurship spring to mind when attempting to define “innovation”, it’s actually much simpler than that. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary “innovation” is purely the introduction of something new. So if only what is known can be taught, how can you teach innovation?


When I tell people I study Creative Intelligence and Innovation (BCII), there’s a common theme of reactions:

“You study innovation? How relevant!”

“What does ‘creative intelligence’ mean?”

“So… what do you actually study?”


When I try and tell people about what goes on in my degree, the term “innovation” doesn’t really come up. Instead, my go to line is that BCII tries to supply students with the skills to think differently. Digital innovations have dramatically changed the Australian workplace. In their report The New Work Mindset, the Federation for Young Australians outline how an increased emphasis on skills is needed. Importantly, skills must be able to traverse emerging job clusters to ensure future employability and relevance. From my understanding of BCII, it doesn’t tell you what to think. By emphasising the accrual of new skills, and encouraging new applications of these skills within a transdisciplinary setting, BCII attempts to spur innovation. BCII teaches me how to think.  


Like any 20-year-old, I don’t know how my life will eventuate. Nor can anyone tell me if or when I’ll be “innovative”. By the time this article concludes, I will have used a derivative of “innovation” 25 times. To you, the phrase probably started to lose its oomph around repeat number 5. Buzzwords are supposed to sound important, but have little meaning. Which is ironic as innovation holds incredible power in deciding the success of Australia’s future. Unlike a fair few of my peers, I’m not looking to start an Innovation Consulting Company; I’m not looking to be part of the next tech start-up; I’m not looking to be the next ‘innovative thought leader’. However, regardless of where I end up, the skills I have learnt to encourage innovative thought will be a necessary part of my professional outlook.


Becoming the next innovation hub shouldn’t be the goal. If we want to ensure the future success of Australia, transdisciplinary ideation methods should be normal. Challenging what is known should become an everyday occurrence. Innovation needs to become just another word.

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