Is the Kiwi aversion to all things military stifling innovation?

New Zealand’s proposed membership of the trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States (AUKUS) is the subject of hot debate at the moment, but few are talking about how such a military and defence focus could serve as a pathway to tangible innovation outcomes–an imperative in this time of change.

The aversion most Kiwis feel towards all things military and subsequent resistance by many towards defence spending is one reason why New Zealand doesn’t even feature in the top 50 most innovative countries, but joining AUKUS could help change that.

As a specialist innovation leadership consultancy, IMS Projects works with some of New Zealand’s top organisations, including defence, can’t help but think the country’s lack of direct military threat means we have little incentive to push the limits of innovation, unlike many of those countries that prioritise military spending.

Investing in defence can stimulate local innovation and economic activity instead of constantly draining funds. For example, agriculture’s reliance on diesel could learn from the New Zealand Navy’s approach to autonomous vehicles, which offers many benefits, not least environmental.

New Zealand has one of the highest inputs into innovation in the world but one of the lowest outputs (results). We talk a lot about innovation but don’t produce the results.

New Zealand’s opportunity to join AUKUS has faced some stern resistance locally. However, collaboration with these partners could help us develop strategic innovation pathways quicker. AUKUS membership could also help get New Zealand science and technology into the broader market faster.

An incomplete innovation ecosystem constrains our innovation output. Joining AUKUS would serve as a pathfinder initiative. By collaborating closely with alliances like AUKUS and the Five Eyes, we not only bolster our defence but also energise our domestic innovation with rapid learning and adaptive processes.

An innovative ecosystem is a network that fosters rapid commercialisation and application of technologies through strategic partnerships, adaptable systems, and a culture of continuous learning and testing.

To start seeing innovation outputs that at least match our inputs, I suggest the following steps to elevate New Zealand’s innovation landscape:

  1. Collaboration with Strategic Alliances: Foster international partnerships to access global innovation networks. Alliances such as AUKUS can leverage shared knowledge and speed up the commercialisation of innovations.
  2. Systemic Adaptability: Addressing legislative and procedural obstacles is crucial. New Zealand must streamline procurement processes, adjust legislation, and modernise decision-making frameworks to facilitate quicker adoption of innovative technologies, such as those seen in defence sectors.
  3. Creating a Culture of Rapid Learning: Encourage industries to adopt a culture of testing and learning, where evidence-based decision-making can drive the innovation process. This approach will aid in identifying gaps and refining innovation pathways with agility.

While New Zealand possesses a fertile ground for innovation, marked by its low corruption levels and significant investment, it is essential to nurture a supportive ecosystem that aligns with global innovation standards and practices.

By reevaluating our innovation strategies through the lens of our defence capabilities, we not only protect but also propel our country towards a flourishing future in the innovation sector.

For more information, download the IMS Projects ‘Leadership of Innovation’ white paper here.