As a recent addition to business and design in New Zealand I am continually surprised by how often I hear people talk about what is going on overseas. Living and working in a small Pacific nation it is no wonder that there is a greater global consciousness and it is something that I have come to enjoy. But what I do find a bit amiss is how often I hear people in business and government talk about wanting to be more like country X (the UK, USA, Scandinavia, or wherever.) Sometimes I want to just shake people and tell them to do it their way and not just copy what is going on somewhere else.
Of course I come from a country proud of its innovative ways and, like many a younger sibling, refuses to take advice from anyone who claims to have been there before. Especially living and studying in California I have felt a sense of: “We will just do it our way. You’ll see…” And often it has worked out which is probably why that sentiment is so wide spread. Are Americans more optimistic? Possibly. And does that lead to success in design and business? You tell me.
Maybe it is that US residents are more insular, and less likely to look overseas. Early in my design studies I remember a professor reminding (American) students to do their research and look around at what has been done before, ‘don’t reinvent the wheel’ or more aptly don’t reinvent Facebook, it already exists with all its benefits and flaws. Is it a cultural trend to think that you are the first person to come up with your great idea or just typical of students?
Clearly there is value in knowing what your competitors are up to and I am not suggesting that we stop looking overseas to see what is out there. This can often spark new ideas and we can build on what others are doing. Or at the very least we can be honest with ourselves that our great idea has been done before. Once we know what is happening in the world I think we need to take a good long look at our context and not just follow global trends. We need to do what is best for us in our context.
One way for Kiwis to become leaders in business and design is to use our uniqueness to inform the products, services, and organisations we create. In design we talk about extreme users, that is looking to the edges of society and context instead of the norm or status quo. Often times the extremes can highlight the latent needs of the rest of the audience. Maybe being a group of small islands in the Pacific Ocean can actually be an advantage that we as designers can use to innovate.
Many times have I heard Kiwis proudly tell me that EFTPOS was piloted in New Zealand before it was released to a broader global market. No matter what the history of EFTPOS truly is the sentiment behind what people are saying is spot on: New Zealand is unique, and this uniqueness is valuable. So as I look toward starting the new year in this new country I hope to be a part of innovation in New Zealand in a way that doesn’t emulate what is going on overseas but instead builds on the history and individuality we have. What great ideas do we have that we need to share with the world?