Thought leader: Creativity and innovation

The cyber-punk author William Gibson famously said, “The future has already arrived – it’s just not evenly distributed yet”. Massey University is prime example. The skills we hold in distance education were long seen as somewhat peripheral, but the internet revolution has turned that idea on its head. Yet, it is not this global picture that attracts me so much as our local relevance. As internet-based global educators emerge to compete with traditional universities, local relevance will become critical source of competitive advantage.
At Massey, our vision of local relevance is simply that we are New Zealand’s defining university. This may seem grand claim, but we make it because we are uniquely relevant to the key sectors that generate much of New Zealand’s cultural distinctiveness and economic wealth.
What are the sources of New Zealand’s distinctiveness and wealth? There are many, of course, but three stand out: creativity, innovation and agri-food. Massey University has long been at the heart of all these.
For example, the College of Creative Arts helps to energise the cultural and design sectors in New Zealand. It produces creative graduates who work with industry to bring artistic and design impact into commercial products. This in turn provides value proposition that cannot be eroded by cheap labour from poor economies. These skills support not just small-scale success, such as cleverly designed new consumer products or the thriving New Zealand fashion sector, but also large-scale new industries such as Wellywood. We have long fostered and celebrated these links – for example, with the Honorary Doctorates awarded to Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh in 2001.
This creative remit extends to the innovative spirit that is hallmark of Massey University. We have been trailblazer for the sector with innovative new programmes (such as food technology and aviation) new campuses, and outreach to the communities we serve. Some recent examples of creative innovation for our communities are the Massey-trained team which won the VEX Robotics World Championship in 2009, and the development of 3-D food printer at the Massey Riddet Institute to provide fast prototyping of new food concepts. We work in more traditional ways too, with long history of industry-funded research projects in bio-technology, food science, and many other areas. This innovation is critical source of start-up companies, new products, export competitive advantage and economic wealth.
Agri-food remains the bulk of New Zealand exports, with dairy alone accounting for more than $10 billion. Our innovative work in agri-food is pre-eminent in New Zealand, and internationally recognised at the highest level. In turn, we give support to the rural and food sectors in many guises: educating scientists, technicians, managers, leaders and entrepreneurs; making scientific and technical advances that add value to these sectors; and contributing to the development and commercialisation of many new products and services.
Of course, any high-quality university is bound to have many such good news stories and points of excellence. What excites me about Massey University that rather than being collection of loosely linked silos, all these threads are shot through with common purpose. Massey Research and Massey Engagement coalesce around simple theme: support and stimulation for the sectors that generate New Zealand’s distinctiveness and wealth. Creativity. Innovation. Agri-food.
This gives us economies in infrastructure, engagement, and relevance to the wealth-creating sectors of the New Zealand economy. That in turn should provide big multiplier effect for the efforts we make on behalf of these sectors. So if we get it right, if Massey University thrives, then so too should New Zealand. That’s journey that I want to be part of. M

Malcolm Wright is professor of marketing and head of the School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing at Massey University.

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