Brown Study

Brown study

23 January 2016

9:00 AM

23 January 2016

9:00 AM

As our Prime Minister has observed many times, there has never been a better time to be alive, what with all this innovation and science swirling around, discoveries made every day, a swathe being cut through the jungles of ignorance, venture capitalists clawing each others’ eyes out to invest in one new idea after another and pleading with young entrepreneurs with beards to take their money. We did not have any of that under Tony Abbott. In those barren years we lived in a miserable dark age, peasants tilled their fields by hand, technological advance had ground to a halt, and the government actively discouraged any sign of creative endeavour or ideas. But now, under Mr Turnbull, all that has changed. We are now modern, vibrant, innovative and full of ideas. It is indeed a wonderful time to be alive.

And a new team of hitherto undiscovered geniuses have been persuaded to abandon their previous modesty and turn their talents to the public good by running the new agenda of science and innovation for the government. Christopher Pyne, fresh from his triumph in reforming the universities, has been prevailed on to make a voyage to the new world of ideas, ably assisted by an enthusiastic cabin boy in the form of Wyatt Roy (although, can that really be his name?).

But what exactly is this powerful force that will pick Australia up, give it a good shake and usher it into the sunlit uplands of enterprise, innovation and ideas? As they say on the ABC, that is a very good question.


Well, the answer is, in one word, failure. Failure is to be the new success. And what an inspiration it is. This new dawn crept up on me slowly, but the turning point was young Christopher’s speech at the National Press Club just before Christmas, launching the new innovation policy. Look, he said, ‘we want to see failure in business as not the end of the world but as a learning experience’. In fact, we should not be fearful of failure, which is in ‘the public good’, so businesses should be allowed to fail ‘two, three, four, even five times’ before they hit the jackpot. And it was not as if he just threw the concept of failure as a learning experience out there as a cliché, as some politicians do. No, failure will be put into immediate practice and given a good chance to succeed. It must succeed because, as young Wyatt has revealed, ‘failure is essential’. So, the law is going to be changed. Today, if you go bankrupt, you stay bankrupt for 3 years; but young Christopher is going to cut that back to one year. It will be a bit like when the great Moshe Dayan was asked what he would do if he lost the 6 Day War and he replied ‘I’ll start it again under my wife’s name’. Also, if your company is on the rocks today and the directors keep trading, they will go straight to the slammer for insolvent trading. Young Christopher is going to get rid of that too, so the directors can keep trading and keep the BMW and the beach house, with no need to start paying the debts. Best of all, those outrageous clauses in mortgages and loan agreements where the banks say you have to pay the money back or go bankrupt, they are going too, so that companies can take refuge in Christopher’s ‘safe harbour’. Tax dodgers used to send their companies to the bottom of the harbour, but calling it a safe harbour is far more conducive to the whole learning experience.

I had never quite seen business in the light that Christopher has shone on it. Nor had I ever thought of bankruptcy as a personal goal in life for which I yearned. My day used to be one long grind of worrying about paying the rent, the wages, the tax and the bills and striving for success. But then, I was brought up on Menzies and I can see now what a drag he was on business. All that nonsense in The Forgotten People that the government’s job was to encourage ‘success’ and ‘ambition’, paying your way, getting off ‘the list of beneficiaries’ and onto ‘the list of contributors’. And where did it get us, apart from all those factories, dams and mines and things?

But now, since Christopher’s speech, I’ve stopped worrying. I leap out of bed with a Hey Noddy Noddy and a new enthusiasm for business and life as a whole. All because of the prospect of failing in the public good. Gone is the manic preoccupation I had with surviving, paying my way, and working towards success. Failure has so much more to offer, now that I know it is a learning experience and the powerhouse behind new ideas and innovation.

There is certainly a new enthusiasm in the air and its name is innovation. Fairfax has gone ecstatic over it; their James Massola was writing the other day that it was all about ‘creative destruction and moonshots’ and how you never had any of that under Abbott. And you can learn from Fairfax just what a learning experience failure can be; what a fool I was to sell my shares for $4 when with a bit of patience I could have sold them today for 80 cents.

But the thing that gives me the greatest pride, as we come out of the barren wasteland of the Abbott years, is knowing that the discovery that failure is the power house of the new world of ideas and innovation was made right here in Australia. Young Christopher’s ‘Failure is just a learning experience’ speech should be lodged in the library at the London School of Economics as a contribution to economic theory, an inspiration to all underdeveloped countries and a likely candidate for the Nobel Prize.

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