29 October 2019

We miss you Sir Paul Callaghan, we really do!

Image Credit: Sir Paul Callaghan – Callaghan Innovation 

This blog is going to be short and sweet, as it’s a reminder of this fabulous physicist who died of cancer and left a huge void in Aotearoa.  Sir Paul Callaghan was a great communicator, and his messages are needed today more than ever! 

I never met Sir Paul, but I wish I had. He was not flash, however, he had a talent for sparking off people and their ideas. He also had that rare talent of taking complex issues and making them understandable and accessible.  Since his death, Callaghan Innovation

has been set up in his honour to support new enterprises, and it is doing a great job. However so far it lacks the mana that the man himself carried – that single voice that inspired us to lift our game.

If you do just one thing this week, listen to this clip of Sir Paul to experience the man.

Recently I have been super-frustrated that we are not matching capital with entrepreneurial smarts, and we will lose talent rather than attract it, which was a dream of Callaghan’s. He was often heard saying ‘Aotearoa needs to be a place where talent wants to live’. 

We understand social inequality but it happens in business too, and we suffer as a nation as a result. Coupled with our obsession of investing in bricks and mortar as a culture, this has stifled the creativity of enterprises. 

Yes, we have angel investors and start-up spaces which are all good, but the sheer energy needed to raise this capital (and often the stifling terms as a result) are hindering the talent pool we have in New Zealand.  This is my single biggest concern, which we come across in our work at Collective Intelligence every week – how to nurture the talent pool. 

It’s a precious thing to have entrepreneurs risk everything and bring an idea to life. Many fail and all struggle like hell. The human cost is huge but due to their stoic nature, as they are invariably optimists, we don’t hear much about it.  I would like us to change that reality by recognising just how important these silent few are. 

Banks could play an enormous role with this, but will need to change their mindset from safe and secure profit-only, to a strategic and enterprise focus. It would only mean a small risk for them to do this. I see a glimmer now from a few banks and applaud their vision and fortitude.

Government are aware of the need, with NZTE and Callaghan Innovation on to it.  A capital gains tax one day would also help, but it seems we are still a way off from being mature enough to cope with this.

Companies like Pledgeme are brilliant at raising capital for smart, and often young, visionaries like Sam Jones of Little Yellow Bird

The sleeping giant in this issue is the general public, who are asleep at the wheel.  We invest heavily in ‘assets’ to our heart’s content. Overpriced houses and farms gobble up most of the capital in New Zealand. This is not wealth creation – this is just lazy and dumb investing. 

We can create and compete on the world stage at the highest level, like the America’s Cup, Allbirds and Rocket Lab, but these are outliers. We still have a way to go to get this firmly embedded into our DNA. 

Ian Taylor is doing a stunning job by inspiring Māori to strive in the creative space, like bringing the stories of Kupe to life. These all make a difference, one small step at a time. 

What would happen if we got serious about innovation and invested seriously in this space? We would smash it, because we are good at this stuff. Let’s take off the shackles and get behind our entrepreneurs.

Ian Harvey (Harv)


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