The Lucky Country Collaborates, Mr Horne

It is May 2014.  I just sat down to have my first coffee and check the news of the day. I am keen to see what the 2014/15 Federal Government budget announcement will reveal. I find that an Office for Collaboration has been established and that it will be the responsibility of a new generation minister who will be provided with billions of budget dollars to improve the government’s own collaboration skills and improve the collaboration culture in Australia through training, education and rewards.

You never know, that might be a scenario that I and many of my colleagues may yet get to see. While it is plausible, it is highly unlikely; a speculative fiction of sorts that has limited readership. Regardless, I remain convinced that one way or another, collaboration will become far more prized than it is now. It will be a discipline characterised by more sophisticated yet no less engaging conversation.

‘I see collaboration as a special form of culture

we can embrace in the way we solve our longstanding problems’

During 2013 I covered a broad range of collaboration development ideas across the globe in a weekly selection of recommended articles. Many of these were about major, large scale collaborations that have emerged in various parts of the world. A pattern is emerging. Competition and collaboration are now individually better off, precisely because smart leaders and managers know that collaboration enhances competition. Despite this, we in Australia pay hardly any attention to the globally emerging trend. That brings me to the key point in my first blog of the year.

the lucky country

The Christmas 2013 edition of the AFR (Australian Financial Review) dedicated an extra eight pages to an analysis of Australia’s past fifty years, beginning with 1964, the year that The Lucky Country by Donald Horne was published. The newspaper asked, “What would Mr Horne say now?” and the range of views expressed was diverse and I recommend you look at it. My attention was caught by the number of views that seem to share one common sentiment; we were once a lucky country in many regards, but in the global village luck doesn’t count for much. Smart working is going to be the order of the day for the next 50 years. The opening essay by Tony Walker (AFR, International Editor) makes a very clear point by reminding readers that “Horne, of course was making an ironic point that only the serendipity of Australia’s geographic location, small population and resource potential saved the country from the consequences of mediocre political and business culture”. Walker then cites Horne who at one point, years after publishing The Lucky Country, remarked that Australia lacked in areas of innovation and showed less enterprise “than almost any other prosperous industrial society”.

Many would easily argue that figures speak for themselves. We are indeed a prosperous nation and have managed to maintain this for the past half century. However this has not created a sense of confidence that, together with material prosperity, we have also acquired the cultural, social and intellectual prosperity we will need in decades to come in order to avoid what some have dubbed “the great Australian complacency”.

The special edition’s examining of the past half century, and testing the idea of luck as a major factor in Australia’s economic and social station, struck a chord with me as I feel that we have a good base to commence innovation and entrepreneurialism with a renewed sense of confidence – if we so choose.

We have created a country that many admire and look at with benign envy. In part this is because we come off as if we know where we are going and that our future is secure. To some extent this may be the case, but past successes have limited capacity to make us resilient to a fast changing world.

Somewhere in that mix of ingredients we can make the fortune that will sustain us for the next 50 years.

Somewhere in that mix I see collaboration as a special form of culture we can embrace in the way we solve our longstanding problems (think about Aboriginal people’s life expectancy for a start) and do one better; maintain our competitive edge in the global world.

Somewhere in that mix I recognise that future generations will wonder why we did not make the most of our best asset; a wonderful diversity of people who can be creative, innovative and enterprising.

In the age of information, at a time when intellectual property products offer new possibilities, in an era of increased need for services, we need to innovate our narrative to weave in the dormant resources of people’s capacity to collaborate and jointly compete on the world stage.

What would Mr Horne say today?  I hope he would say, “The Lucky Country collaborates”.

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