Going Global from New Zealand

Rod Drury, a well known New Zealand technology entrepreneur, runs a great weblog talking all about the challenges and rewards of taking NZ technology to the world. Rod is passionate about the subject and is committed to adding value when he works with technology ventures.

Drury has also become a self-titled “digital socialist” because of his strong views on how the current digital communications network model is failing New Zealanders and why we need to open our digital trade routes. There was also a recent discussion on his blog about the role of mindset in overcoming the challenges of geographical separation.

From an organisational researcher perspective, I agreed that the discourse/mindset, within which an organisation frames its global strategy, does make a difference to how it projects itself. But I also thought that we should not downplay the challenges of small size and geographical isolation. For example, if we truly aspire to increasingly become an exporter of digital knowledge, then we need to sort out some fundamental structural issues like bandwidth and network peering – and fast. 

As a nation I think we tend to lack a collective sense of self esteem. Outside of rugby and the haka, we don’t quite seem to know what we stand for – it’s cringeful at times. On the other hand, I’m fascinated by the biographical accounts of people like Peter Jackson, Burt Munro and Bruce McLaren. All examples of hero innovators from our recent history who (in some way or another) crossed the Valley of Death and went on to build dominant positions in a global niche, based on their creative talents. We don’t give these role models nearly enough public exposure at home. 

There’s a funny TV ad for theft insurance running here at present that implicates “foreigners” who swipe all our Kiwi icons eg. Dame Kiri, Split Enz, Coutts and Butterworth etc. It sums up our current inwards looking mindset. In fact these iconic characters saw opportunities to go global with their talent and were cocky enough to do so.

[tags]globalisation, export, technology, New Zealand, innovators, organisational discourse[/tags]

5 thoughts on “Going Global from New Zealand

  1. The concept of taking NZ technology to the world is not particularly new but while the practical barriers of doing so are slowly broken down others are being errected. The reality is that our best minds have already realised that we may never change world perception about our own size and geographical isolation and understand that the best way to take NZ technology to the world is to export our best people there.

    With one in every five NZer’s out of the country it’s not rocket science to understand that the attractions and opportunities presented by the world economy to intellectual or entrepreneurial New Zealanders far outway the heavily conflicted paradox of and oversold lifestyle vs underperforming local economy. It certainly is not a case of other nations stealing our best people. More that they simply are able to provide opportunity for their talents where Aotearoa virtually rejects them.

    Plus there is the added anchor of the Draconian tax legislation in NZ. For a country with such poor fiscal performance to have its lowly paid constituents consistently overtaxed, it is untenable to imagine that this is conducive to keeping our brightest performers and young people in the South Pacific and simply encourages people to break the rules. Of course it is understandable why successive governments maintain the tax regime (it is much more difficult for NZ citizens to achieve tax non-residency than for other nationals). They are desperate to get their hands on the money of over one million Kiwis who seek opportunities out in the big wide world and earn $US, Sterling or Euros etc. They may only account for 20% in numbers but may well earn in excess of 50% of NZ’s personal tax revenue.

    At the end of the day the NZ economy is being left way behind by other larger and often theoretically poorer nations. The old chestnut of “Wouldn’t it be great if I could sit at my computer in my house in Queenstown and perform work for my client in Frankfurt” has not really come to fruition and is, I believe, largely illusory for most industries. This is because most industries operate on a client/contractor type relationship where the presence and tactility of the contractor are valued. It is that presence which harbours accountability and that is what clients pay for.

    Alas it seems to me that New Zealands isolation is as much a barrier in some quaters as it was 160 years ago. Though possibly, as others have alluded to in the past, in areas other than employment and commercial opportunities that is not necessarily be a bad thing.

    New Zealand has always been a country for Split Enz’s “Rugged Individual”. I don’t believe that we struggle anymore for a collective sense of self-esteem or identity (as we did back in the 70’s when cringe factor reached a zenith) so much as we have become comfortable with the realisation that we are a nation which breeds large numbers of individuals who box well above their weight internationally. This is important in understanding where our future strengths lie.

    Collectivism is an effective and growing mantra but individualism is so much more stylish and attractive, don’t you think?

  2. Thankyou for those perspectives Gabriel. Just curious, but are you currently based in NZ or elsewhere?

    I agree that not everyone can be a highly paid global consultant sitting in their villa in Queenstown. But we can be writers, actors, software developers or a host of other creative professions that engage on the international scene. Furthermore we have fresh air, clean beaches, adequate race relations and no car bombs. I’m prepared to forego a chunk of income for those things.

    As you can see from my article on ICT exports above, we are still primarily a commodity exporting nation. As long as that situation prevails, we are bound to remain a low income economy.

  3. Why aren’t we exporting more of our good ideas? We are – inside the heads of our good people. Think of attending a quiz night with four people you know then send the smartest one to the opposition. Its a huge loss…

    We can’t all be arty types or software developers (thank God). In fact those professions really only make up a tiny percentage of the real job market. The true future for NZ’s economy in the short to medium term is (unfortunately) tourism and this should be considered an export.

    To answer your question, I used to be based in NZ but not anymore. The chunk simply became too big to ignore. If I may be so bold as to ask exactly what percetage of your income are you prepared to forego for those things you say you covet about NZ? Where do you draw the line?

  4. To put matters in perspective, I think “the great Kiwi OE” is a bit of a cultural myth. I sometimes wonder how many ex-pats really do end up in cutting edge, high paid and long term employment offshore. You’re right, we can’t all be artists and software developers.

    If you are a 20 year old NZer with few committments, then I guess working in a pub in London with occasional trips to the continent must seem like a great adventure. But when the novelty wears off and homesickness takes hold, many of these people drift back to NZ (financially) no better off than when they left and probably still with a credit card bill and student loan to pay off.

    Other small nations like Israel and Ireland also have large ex-pat populations, so I don’t think we are unique in this respect. The trick is to turn this into an advantage. Through initiatives like ION and KEA we are trying to reach out to these people. There are at least a few of them in a position to be of assistance to NZ, if they are of a mind to do so.

    Regarding exporting tourism, I think we need to be cautious about becoming over-reliant on it given the state of the exchange rate and uncertainties in the global long-haul airline industry. I read an article recently explaining that graduates entering the tourism and hospitality industry were the lowest paid amongst their peers. It doesn’t seem like tourism is contributing much to building a high income economy. No wonder a pub job in London looks so attractive.

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