Are Australian Businesses Bereft of Imagination?

Over the last couple of weeks I have watched the growth and spread of the #occupy movement – from the financial district of New York City to the streets of Sydney and Melbourne. This dishevelled and ramshackle mob seem to have touched a nerve. There’s a deep insecurity that is triggering a disproportionate response from Australian businesses, business people, politicians of all shapes and sizes and everyday individuals. Clearly we like our round pegs round.

And in almost the same timeframe I have been amazed at the way an Australian icon brand like Qantas has chosen to wilfully trash over 90 years of brand equity, focusing on the square peg problems of its unions, leaving thousands of its customers stranded across the world without a word of warning.

In a way, these problems have the same root cause – a chronic lack of imagination – something that has plagued our business sector for decades. Just look at the product launches of new “innovations” which are pale imitations of things that have been available overseas for years. Look at the way our industry leaders doggedly defend their oligopolies and market share, taking competitors to court and lobbying government for subsidies, tax reductions and bailout guarantees – and then complain when customers fed up with poor service, take their brand loyalty (and their wallets) and shop elsewhere.

When you have a square peg, a round hole and a hammer – well, you know it’s going to be used.

And I think – think – being the operative word – that this is the real promise of the #occupy movement. #Occupy is a challenge that is being thrown down to the big problems of our time – and it seems that we have no capacity to creatively respond to it. It’s disappointing.

By comparison – take a look at what Starbucks is doing in the US with its Create Jobs for USA campaign. They are teaming up with community lending institutions to provide financing to community businesses – and throwing in the first $5 million. Individuals can donate too – and receive a wristband with the poetic inscription indivisible.

And then take a look how this word has spurned a movement – a Twitter hashtag backed up by individual stories, crowdsourced support and community impact. David Armano talks a little about it here. A problem (and it is a shared problem) is identified, a business engages creatively – and as a business ecosystem – and the community steps in and supports it.

Now imagine if someone – anyone – over at Qantas had considered its communities of loyal travellers. Imagine if an idea had been sparked around these big problems – and that some action had been taken – not to amplify the problem, but to generate a solution.

You see, David Armano is right. Whether we like it or not, we are indivisible. We are linked irrevocably to the problems and challenges of others. So rather than ignoring them, it’s about time we #occupied our imagination and got to work on the challenges ahead of us all.

2 thoughts on “Are Australian Businesses Bereft of Imagination?

  1. Gavin, I’m agreeing with you on so many levels.
    Australian business seems bereft of the will and imagination to get remarkably clever. Perhaps it’s related to the fact that here we’re measurably better off than business and society is in the US; the needed catalyst for real and enduring change isn’t yet upon us.
    So far, it’s only the very motivated who are activated here.

  2. I think you’ve hit the nail upon the head! It seems that we only act when forced. Surely innovation isn’t about waiting until we have to. We should have the imagination to at least see and know that much.

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