“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space.”
It’s May 25, 1961 and President Kennedy addressing Congress on Urgent National Needs. The President was asking for an additional $7 to $9 billion dollars over 5 years to put a man on the moon. Literally the moon shot; project that created a space industry with spill-over benefits into computing, communications, aeronautics, astronomy, defence, and many others. A project that inspired a generation to reach beyond. That made children and adults alike want to reach for the stars in literal and figurative senses.
This is why vision matters for innovation at the national level.
Recently Innovation and Science Australia (ISA) published its vision saying:
“We want an Australia counted within the top tier of innovation nations, known and respected for its excellence in science, research and commercialisation. Innovation which can underpin a diversity of internationally competitive industries, will enable todays and future generations to have meaningful work, and a great quality of life, in a fair and inclusive society.”
A broad statement that, as a nation, Australia has ambition, that we want to be able to compete and we want people to have purpose. But as a rallying cry it lacks punch. It doesn’t paint a tangible let’s put people on the moon and bring them back again picture. Part of the problem is it tries to speak to everyone and in doing so makes no real commitments to any sector, industry or future opportunity.
To make the vision tangible requires bold statements and ISA is calling for these in its 2030 Strategic Plan Issues Paper published in March of this year. Under “Challenge 6: Bold, high impact initiatives” ISA is searching for our very own ‘moon shots’. Will we leverage our capability and potential in agriculture to become a global leader in clean, sustainable produce for the world? Will we build on our strong tradition of bio-tech and health-tech (e.g. Cochlear and CSL) to create the capability to deliver the healthiest, longest lived life possible? Will we use our strength in natural resources to build a sustainable energy future for the world, or, mining tech that is safer for workers, the environment and increases productivity?
Or maybe it is something else altogether.
Whatever it is needs to have impact beyond its direct outcomes. It needs to contribute to other industries and sectors; it needs to create new skills and shape education; it needs to contribute to the quality of life we enjoy as a whole. It must capture our imagination and inspire the generation of today and generations to come.
Without this we risk an innovation approach at a national level that is forever embedded in trying to create enabling infrastructure or conditions. Because government cannot be seen to pick winners and yet we also need government to govern and provide leadership. And the very real problem with providing infrastructure without vision is we are trying to make things happen without any clarity as to what those things are.
So imagine a moon shot.