For over a decade, multiple public and private sector reports have consistently identified the need for Australia’s graduates to acquire commercial savvy and innovative thinking in order to compete in a global marketplace for ideas. This is particularly so in the innovative industries which are widely accepted as the key to increasing productivity across economies, both directly and indirectly. However, as the Australian Research Council (ARC) noted in 2000, “Participation is unlikely by simply demanding that financiers take more risks or academics get involved for the good of society. It is important that action is taken to ensure that participation is based on mutual self-interest.” (Australian Research Council, 2000, p. 33)
Fundamentally, there are four reasons for innovators and creators to build and maintain a basic understanding of commerce, all of which can be seen as being entirely self-interested:
- enhanced employability.
- enhanced research outcomes.
- enhanced funding opportunities.
- enhanced self-knowledge, and with it the potential for riches beyond if not belief, certainly tenure.
Workforce capability and development outside technical aptitude has been a recurring challenge for the innovation industries. Employers report finding research degree graduates relatively lacking in communication, teamwork, and planning skills as well as knowledge of financial management, commercialization and intellectual property (Office of the Chief Scientist, 2012). A third of the respondents to Allen Consulting Group’s 2010 survey of Australian employers of researchers were only able to say that newly employed PhDs and postdoctoral researchers had the necessary skills to be productive in their organisation sometimes or less frequently.
The study went on to ask respondents to identify up to five skill areas where their existing researchers needed improvement i.e. skill deficits in current employees. Business management, commercial acumen, commercialization and IP management were consistently nominated responses. Respondents were also asked to rank these skills by priority i.e. to order their multiple choices – interestingly, while commercialization and IP management were nominated as second choices, business management and commercial acumen were ranked as a first choice in a significant number of responses.
Enhanced Research Outcomes
If one accepts that at its simplest, innovators wish to have their insights accepted and where relevant implemented and that those who create want their creations to be accepted, understood and experienced, then there has to be some interaction with the world outside the innovation space, some translation from the mind of an individual to that of a broader audience. Even pure science is seldom for the researcher’s personal interests, but to extend the knowledge base no matter how niche or specialized the sector. By being mindful of the broader interest as a variable throughout the innovation or creation process, one greatly improves the likelihood of identifying and resolving issues that might otherwise impede uptake, and enhances the prospects for successful translation of the outcome
Enhanced Funding Opportunities
OECD studies show that the most advanced countries show a strong correlation between a solid base of innovative entrepreneurs, greater leverage of the scientific and technological base, and productivity growth (Development Centre Studies, 2013). This is at the core of the recent policy focus on uptake – in pursuing its economic goals, the public sector will seek to incentivize certain behaviour and outcomes its sees as desirable, frequently incorporating a level of proof that these outcomes have been, are being or will be achieved into its incentive programs whether they provide direct funding such as grants or some concessional benefit arrangement.
But while increasing productivity increases the availability of funding in the overall economy and with it, the availability of funds for science and innovation, there is a more direct competitive advantage available to individuals. If one is able to discern the objectives being incentivized – industry uptake, environmental benefit, reduction in hospital waiting times, increased independence – there is definite merit in being able to acknowledge if not demonstrate the relevance to those objectives in one’s funding application, and distinguish one’s application from the competition
It is entirely possible and not at all uncommon that, in visiting the world of commerce, one may find one has a flair for or, if nothing else, sparked a new interest in that world and the paths it opens up. Many new careers have begun with “playing” with a new interest that sparks a passion in an otherwise dormant part of one’s personality. This is particularly likely given the intense focus and dedication with which most science knowledge professionals have had to pursue their career goals to date in increasingly specialized and structured fields of intellectual endeavour. Even those not seeking to embrace entrepreneurship at its fullest, awareness of commercial issues can only inform one’s ability to interact with those commercial specialists and stakeholders with which one works