I am on the board of the Committee for Melbourne, an apolitical not-for-profit member based organisation with a passion for shaping Melbourne as a leading global city.

Recently I attended a Committee for Melbourne lunch featuring Geoff Culbert, President and CEO of GE Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

Geoff spoke to the group about the vital importance of innovation to drive Australia’s competitiveness.

Geoff drew an interesting parallel with sports. Australians are passionate about sports. There was an uproar after Australia finished tenth on the medals tally at the Rio Olympics! Yet, we don’t approach innovation and business leadership with the same fervour. Australia is routinely ranked below 20th in global innovation indexes and this hardly raises an eyebrow.

Geoff commented that culture is critical to driving innovation and that our culture needs to change. He says that Australia needs to regain its optimism and energy if we are to become a truly innovative country, and drive growth. This means that we need to be more willing to embrace change and remove barriers.

Geoff spoke about four factors that he considers to be especially relevant.

  1. We need to let leaders lead. At the moment there is a tendency to put barriers up and get in the way. As is often said, either lead, follow or get out of the way.
  2. We need to demonstrate skill, agility and efficiency. Australia is an expensive and slow place to do business. Global capital is liquid. If we want to attract capital and compete globally we need to be quicker and more efficient and reduce complexity and red tape.
  3. We need to support big business and stop painting big business as the bad guy. Big business drives our economy. Small and medium sized business is dependent upon big business. We should stop demonising big business.
  4. We need to think bigger. Rather than only being focused on Australia, we should look at external markets. We also should be focused on business innovation, not just consumer applications.

Geoff’s was an inspiring presentation that had the whole room thinking and talking. His points really resonated with me.

I could not help thinking of the relevance of Geoff’s comments to the business of law and professional services generally.

  • Things have been good in law for a long time. We can sense the winds of change and things are starting to move. We still need to get hungrier still, and even more prepared to drive innovation and competitiveness.
  • We need to continue to improve efficiency, by getting faster and removing bureaucracy.
  • We need to embrace and take a lead from big business and demonstrate how we can add value to all business both big and small.
  • We need to think big. When innovating, we need to think about how we can innovate to really drive change in our business or to tap new markets. We also need to think about our role in a global economy – even if we are a domestic firm.