Everybody's trying to innovate. Here's how to do it with purpose...
At ThinkPlace we strive to be innovators. We never want to do things tomorrow the same way we did them yesterday.
But we do so as a company with a declared purpose. We design for a better world, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
And we do it collaboratively, as design-partners with the people who will be affected by the change we seek to bring.
Global Innovation Lead David Ireland must balance these needs. He packs a frighteningly impressive CV but, more than that, he is responsible for melding the ThinkPlace values and purpose with a world of fast-paced startups, innovators and entrepeneurs.
If our goals tell us where we want to get to, David’s job is to relentlessly push us to get there.
He’s a busy man, but we pinned him down for five minutes to talk about the challenge of innovating for social good.
Q: So you’re the Head of Innovation at ThinkPlace. What does that involve?
DI: It means helping ThinkPlace people thinking differently, to think creatively, and to make sure that as a company we are open to trying and learning new methods and approaches. It also means helping to find new services and products that we can build up into new value-creating offerings for our clients and for own use internally.
Q: How did you arrive at this position? What skills and background do you bring to it?
DI: It sounds silly, but I’ve been building solutions to problems forever.
My first attempt at starting a company was as a teenager, when I established a business for backpackers looking for work. I’ve been doing it ever since. In fields as diverse as aquaculture, digital culture, agriculture, oil and gas, medical, and finance.
I’ve also got a dual PhD in medicinal chemistry (where I was designing and building anti cancer drugs) and innovation (looking at how new tech firms grow).
I’ve been the General Manager of Innovation and International at CSIRO, the Chair of the Australian Government’s Horizon Scanning Committee, represented Australia in a few OECD committees, designed innovation policy for Australia and a couple of other countries, am an Adjunct Professor at the UQ business school in Entrepreneurship and Innovation and have designed and run lots of accelerator programs for businesses, researchers, and governments.
I was also recognised as a world top 50 social entrepeneur a couple of years ago.
That’s my experience, but in terms of skills... it is a mindset, a willingness to try and fail, and a focus on creating value for the customer.
Q: Why is innovation important to ThinkPlace? How does it sit with our growth as a global operator as well as our guiding sense of purpose and identity?
DI: Innovation is about doing something new that creates value. With our mission, our version of innovation is about doing something new that creates a better future for someone or some people.
The types and complexity of the problems we’re trying to solve require new approaches. The old Einstein quote: - We can’t solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them - is so apt in our setting.
We need innovation to find new approaches to solving old and/or big problems. And the type of innovation we do at ThinkPlace allows us to experiment in ways that are low-risk. That means we’re not betting the house on something without first running a few experiments to build our confidence that it's going to work.