Top 200 Thinking: Reg Birchfield

New Zealand’s greatest opportunities are still undiscovered. We’ll find them when we think for ourselves; when we stop worrying about what other countries are, or are not, doing. When we stop making irrelevant comparisons with others and focus instead on what we have to offer and how we can turn our unique assets to account.
By thinking differently we’ll discover the untapped riches that exist in our people, industries, environment, universities, social diversity and innovative and creative abilities. These individual, institutional and cultural differences are our unique resources.
Difference makes all the difference in today’s world. New Zealand can be different and successful. But we must think differently about what we do, how we do it and what is important. New Zealand could, by thinking differently, become its own entirely more relevant yardstick in confused and highly competitive world. We could set the measure for what it means to be economically, sustainably and socially successful.
The underpinnings of our economy are different. Different attitudes, practices, products and strategies have already turned segments of our agriculture-based industries into highly productive, premium priced exports. We can take that deeper and wider.
By thinking differently, New Zealand’s primary sector can feed more of the world’s population than it does now – and at the same time protect the environment that delivers this industry’s outstanding products.
The difference of the experience is what draws tourists from around to the world to New Zealand. By thinking differently and innovatively about how we manage our natural resources we can go on sharing that experience with others. In 20 years more people than ever will want to visit this country. We will need to think differently to cope with the numbers and simultaneously preserve our most precious asset.
Our universities turn out some of the world’s most outstanding achievers in an ever-expanding portfolio of disciplines. These individuals have already thought differently about turning their capabilities to account. Unless we think differently about the opportunities we create to attract and retain our best brains, more will move offshore than is good for us. Positive partnerships between our academic and corporate worlds can build the different kinds of businesses and career opportunities New Zealand needs to secure its intellectual assets – its people.
On the other hand, exporting some of our brightest and best can work to New Zealand’s advantage. Some enterprising business leaders have realised that already. Kea, our fast-growing network of expats, is an outstanding example of “thinking differently” and of turning what seemed like problem, into an opportunity. New Zealand needs more of that kind of thinking.
Our unique cultural history and rapidly evolving social diversity demand that we think differently about what it means to be Kiwi. blend of the best of old and new characteristics will evolve only if we get the social and political settings right. And that means thinking very differently from how we have thought, and too often acted, in the past.
Instead of holding others up as examples to follow, New Zealand must seek out its own successes and hold them up as individual and organisational leaders to follow. By thinking differently, we could set our own performance standards with every chance they will be more relevant to tomorrow’s world than others on offer. It is hard to look without jaundiced eyes at the past and present performances of most of the world’s so-called leader nations.
New Zealand could and should learn from the best examples of its own commercial endeavours and outstanding individuals. We can learn from the mistakes – they litter even the most recent pages of our political and commercial history.
New Zealand has, more through good luck than good management, much going for it. Relying on good luck to lead and manage us successfully through the next 20 years won’t, however, be quite enough. There isn’t any reason why, with some thoughtfully honest rather than politically-charged leadership, we shouldn’t come through with higher standard of living, preserved environment, an innovation-driven economy and creative and caring society.
New Zealand’s approach toward difference will define it.

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