Updated: Nov 1, 2019
My keynote address to the students at the University of Canberra's Smart Ideas Awards and Accolades event.
"I am here to talk to you today on a topic that has become incredibly personal for me, one that today shapes almost everything I do. It is the idea.
When an idea suddenly appears in our mind, it is never the result of chance or a random spark. It is exactly the opposite, it is the result of a set of experiences we have had, of things we have learned and interactions with the people we have met on our journey through life.
Ideas are the foundations of creativity, they are at the heart of what makes us human, they’re the basis of hope and they are at the core of what fills us with the passion we need to achieve the things that were once considered impossible.
Ideas are the foundations of creativity, they are at the heart of what makes us human
Ideas contain an extraordinary power; including the power to change perceptions, the power to mobilise nations, the power to enhance the lives of those closest to us and of course the lives of billions of people around the globe.
We all have ideas, many of which have contributed to us making decisions that have led us to where we are right now. Some are large and some are small, and we all have an endless supply of them. Ideas exist in abundance and they are a renewable resource that sustains us as individuals and as societies.
We all have ideas that we are yet to do things with, some may be evolving, and some are on hold while we wait for the right time to do something with them, or the right people to come into our lives to make them happen.
But of course, ideas on their own are worthless, they have no existence, nothing tangible and can have no impact on the world while they are simply a thought. The true value that lies in ideas can only be extracted through action, action that starts with us as an individual.
But of course, ideas on their own are worthless, they have no existence, nothing tangible and can have no impact on the world while they are simply a thought.
It was understanding the true power of ideas that inspired me to create the World Idea Day movement. A movement designed not to highlight the power I have talked about, but to support the necessary action to turn our great ideas into something real and take them to the world. This movement is now my full-time job.
We have been brought up to believe that we can do anything we want in life and that anything is possible. We have been brought up to believe that hard work will get us everywhere and that if we follow the rules our institutions have created we will navigate a path to success.
It simply isn’t true, the world is an incredibly unfair place, the game is dominated by a few and all of us in this room today will face and incredibly difficult challenge should we choose to do something with our big ideas.
Consider the results of one analysis out of the US;
82% of the venture capital industry is male,
Almost 60% of the venture capital industry is white male,
40% of those working in the industry come from just two academic institutions.
80% of all venture capital goes to only three states.Fewer than
1% of venture capital-backed founders are black andOnly
3% are women.
Or these figures from Australia;
77% of all start-up founders are male
80% of all start-up founders are university educated
Only 31% of all start-ups have their founders involved full time
49% are currently looking for funding to continue and
64% of start-ups are less than 12 months away from running out of money
All this information tells us that bringing our ideas to life is fraught with danger; but more importantly that the ideas which are making the biggest impact in the world are coming from only a small number of people. People who typically come from the same background and who have access to the same resources.
The reality is that we live in a world where the ideas of people who have money and connectivity stand a far great chance of becoming real than those who don’t.We live in a world where your skin colour, age, gender and educational background determine whose ideas are the most important and whose ideas we are likely to be influenced by.
But I don’t believe we have to accept this
I don’t believe that because you studied at one of a handful of universities you are more capable and more passionate the rest of the world. I don’t believe that where you were born means your ideas are less important than those in other countries and I certainly don’t believe that if you have access to money your ideas should make a bigger impact in the world.
But the game is not lost, we still have our ideas and we can still make a choice.
We can choose to ignore our ideas and our passion and we can choose to let the ideas of others shape our lives. Or we can decide to do something with them. But I believe that if we choose to do something with them we must also choose take action to level the playing field; and in doing this make it easier for all of us.
So how do we level the playing field?
People who choose to do something with their ideas are the innovators that will shape our future and while our innovation ecosystems are growing we have a long way to go to make it much easier for all of us to bring our great ideas to life.
There are some powerful forces at play that are working against this change but
I believe it starts with continuing to build cultures of innovation, both in workplaces and in our society in general.
I believe the best way to build cultures of innovation is to develop a deep appreciation for four things. That’s it, four things, four very simple things that when we all begin to truly value and demonstrate in all our thought processes, will lead to a world where we value innovation and can unlock the power of our great ideas no matter whose ideas they are.
So what are these values?
To help shape our ideas and ensure they meet the evolving needs of our society we need diversity of thought and perspective. Of course, we must be careful not to confuse diversity as simply being a mix of age, race, gender or religious background. These things are no more than leading indicators that diversity of thought and perspective may be present. We must not fall into the trap of continuing to look for people who share our perspectives, this is limiting at best and will derail our attempts to have our ideas adopted by the masses.
We need to make our ideas and thoughts accessible to all and in turn we need to have access to the ideas and thoughts of all. Inclusion means engaging people, it means sharing with people, it means listening to people and above all it means demonstrating empathy for people. When we are truly fostering inclusion both in our workplaces and in society, our ideas will flourish and our goals will be met, even if the end result doesn’t look exactly how we imagined it.
No single person has the entire skill set to take their idea from their mind to a successful start-up or indeed, global movement. All businesses and people are reliant on the skills of others to meet their long terms goals. But this means more than just hiring in the skills we need.
The most effective way to fast track our ideas in a world of constrained resources is to share resources for our collective benefit. We must look for opportunities to share your unique skills in exchange for the ones we don’t have. Importantly, as we look to do this, we must remember one thing. It doesn’t have to be an equal trade, the goal is to get your puzzle completed as quick as possible, not to ensure you are doing less or more work than anyone else.
Above all we must remain curious, we must always ask why, and we must keep asking it. Our lives are defined by following rules and norms that we assume are good for us, and while many are in fact good for us there is no guarantee that will always be good for us. Most of us realise at some point that our parents don’t actually have all the answers and that in many ways we have become more capable than the people who guided our lives for so long.
But we tend to realise this in our careers and society much later. Right now, you should be always looking to uncover what is really going on and what opportunities are out there. This thought process will lead us to experiences and success that right now we cannot even comprehend.
My hope today is not to help you come up with more ideas, you already have them and you will have more. My hope is to help you turn them into something real and unlock the incredible power in them.
You are the innovators who will use your ideas to change the world in the coming decades. The road is long, unclear and difficult, and of course, it is incredibly unfair; but when you truly come to value diversity, inclusion, collaboration and curiosity you will not only begin to even the playing field but you will well on your way to doing some amazing things with your ideas.