Expert culture has killed the innovator in workplaces


We thought this article on the demise of innovation in the workplace was worth sharing. Thanks to The Conversation and Joshua Krook for the great insights.

Joshua Krook, University of Adelaide

Over the last few decades, the Western world has had an increasingly specialised workforce, with workers trained in narrow skills, for increasingly narrow positions. However, the more narrow our jobs have become, the less capable we have become in inventing new technologies, products and ideas. The Conversation

Innovative ideas tend to come, not from specialised experts, but from generalists. But in today’s economy, education is focused almost entirely on vocational, specialist skills, creating a dampening effect on innovative thought and creativity.

The more specialised our workforce becomes, the less capable we are of seeing how our industry relates to other industries. We also become less capable of inventing something to fit the knowledge gap between one industry and the next.

Specialisation of the workforce has been driven by a system called “academic inflation”. Where certain jobs used to require only a high school certificate, they now require a bachelors degree, a masters degree or a PhD. Employers have begun demanding greater and greater qualifications even for the most junior of positions.

As educational requirements have increased, jobseekers have responded by gaining more degrees and spending more time and money on education. The aim has been to specialise early, and become an expert in a field.

This culture of expertise has had an increasingly negative effect on the inventive capacity of our economy.

Over the last century, there has been a decrease in the rate of patenting of new technologies, correlating with an increase in the number of experts working in-house on innovation teams. The more people specialise to gain access to these innovation teams, the less creative they become once they get there. The more private companies are engaged in hiring expert inventors, the less inventions are produced.

Along with an overall decline in patenting, there has also been a decline in the number of young people producing inventions. If inventors require PhDs and certifications to enter into companies, then society loses out on their inventive capacity in their early twenties and thirties, adding an extra layer to an existing problem.

An analysis of Nobel Prize winners shows that the average age of winners has increased by five or six years per century. The data indicates that PhDs and other qualifications have had a major impact on the age at which someone is at their most inventive.

Where Einstein was most productive in his twenties, over the last century only 7% of prize recipients were in their twenties. A potential “lost age” of inventions is now evident in the data – where younger employees do not have access to grants, funding or jobs.

A final concern of a specialised workforce is the decrease in “breakthrough” inventions. Over the last century, as inventors have become in-house experts, they have increasingly turned away from inventing something new, and are increasingly recombining old technologies instead. This is leading to a decline in the number of technologies that revolutionalize human society.

To put it simply, we are creating iPhones instead of light bulbs. Where the iPhone simply recombines existing tools to create something new, the lightbulb was revolutionary in creating several new industries.

New research also suggests the usefulness of having generalists on innovation teams, rather than specialised experts. Breakthroughs arise when someone can combine many ideas together.

The key to being one of these generalists is to think broadly (not deeply) about a variety of topics, rather than a single topic. As Bertrand Russel once wrote:

There is something lost, when many authors co-operate. If there is any unity to be gained in a particular idea, there is a necessity to synthesise all the relevant information “in a single mind”.

The solution to our lost innovative capacity might therefore be relatively simple.

Instead of focusing on hiring specialists or experts in a particular field, we should hire generalists of a broad mind, capable of thinking outside the box. Hiring independent innovators outside of institutional structures might be one way of protecting them from the pressures of specialisation.

Funding and grants should also be less tied to how much someone has specialised, and more to how inventive or creative they actually are. Our system should move more towards this kind of merit-based ideal, rather than focusing on expertise and certification.

Beyond this, businesses can consider challenging staff with lateral thinking. The key is to push staff beyond their narrow jobs and into new fields and endeavours that challenge them to think in new ways. Younger workers in particular should play a greater role in contributing to the ideas, products and inventions of a company, rather than being excluded until they have gained the relevant degrees or qualifications.

The benefits of a specialised workforce need to be reconsidered in the light of this new evidence on reduced inventive capacity. If our economy is to be innovative, creative and diverse in thought, then so too must our education, our workforce and our jobs. If we are to have breakthrough technologies, we need to create breakthrough thinkers with the capacity to understand a variety of fields.

Joshua Krook, Doctoral Candidate in Law, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Celebrating nine years of c-words


106774214_3bc9ae93d5_oWe recently celebrated our ninth anniversary – nine years of cool clients, creative campaigns, considered conversations, chilled champagne and constant chuckles.

To mark the occasion, we thought we’d share nine highlights from our first nine years.

  • 2008: Hit the road Jack – Communication and change for a large Victorian organisation with a regional tour and showcase.
  • 2009: From Noosa to St Kilda Beach – Delivering a national social media campaign for Run for a Safe Climate.
  • 2010: Onscreen roles – Producing an education video for Responsible Alcohol Victoria, which continues to be used today.
  • 2011: Stopping all stations – Bringing Moving Galleries to Flinders Street Station
  • 2012: Look up there – Delivering our first National Bird Week media campaign.
  • 2013: Can you have too many cannoli? Community engagement for Your Footscray as part of the Regional Rail Link Project.
  • 2014: Portraits of Innovation – Developing a commemorative publication for veski: 10 years of inspiring innovation
  • 2015: Tea bags for the Dame: Delivering the first Shared Value Forum.
  • 2016: Communications for a centenary at VU
  • And 2017: We’ve only just begun…


And from our founding year … the 2008 Eurovision Winner: Believe!

Campaigns admired from the #CommsCorner


ALWA19371-LikeAGirl-3-Page-701x313We often ask the communicators who sit in our #CommsCorner which campaigns they admire.

Here are some highlights of the campaigns admired from our #CommsCorner – get inspired!

Rumours rule a silent #BuckinghamPalace


3193235272_fa8e832aed_oFor seven and a half hours on Thursday, royal watchers from around the globe were glued to their smartphones, televisions and radios awaiting news from Buckingham Palace. A virtual vigil sparked by the emergence of details of an ’emergency’ meeting called by the royal household.

While the world clicked refresh on #BuckinghamPalace, there was silence from the Palace resulting in countless memes, rumours and ‘fake news’ spreading around the globe.

The French were first to report on the potential death of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, while others pondered whether the Queen was passing the crown to Prince Charles. Others considered the news might that that Her Majesty had passed away.

While we watched the rumours swirl around the internet – was the flag at half mast or not – we also considered what stems from silence in a crisis.

It reminded us that where there is silence, internal and external stakeholders will fill that void with rumour and misinformation. Silence leading to greater uncertainty and potentially confusing the message in an already confusing time.

Thankfully, as Big Ben chimed its way towards the 10am meeting, the Palace finally revealed that there was “no cause for alarm” and no issues with the health of The Queen or her consort.

And then the news finally broke. The Duke would be stepping down from public engagements. Not exactly the earth shattering news we were expecting – certainly nothing compared to the rumours that had emerged in the silence.

We’ve recently seen the misinformation that can be spread in the wake of silence from the United crisis. And so when details of an issue with Delta emerged this week, the company was quick to respond.

While one lesson may be that we all need to not worry about what’s happening at the Palace, the other lesson for communicators is the importance of controlling the message and reducing the period of silence as much as possible.

We’re pleased to hear the Queen and her consort are both well. And congratulate the Duke on his dedicated service.

Jack & the c word crew

Australia on track to becoming the shared value nation


AFR BOSS Editor Joanne Gray leads a fireside chat with Mark Kramer

The collaboration between business, government and community is the secret ingredient in Australia’s continued shared value success, according to global shared value thought leader Mark Kramer.

Closing the 2017 Shared Value Forum in Melbourne on Wednesday, the US-based shared value expert praised the growth of the business concept in Australia and told leaders from the region’s shared value community that Australia has the potential to be the shared value nation.

“It is always exciting to be in Australia and see how companies are really taking this concept to heart,” Kramer said.

“Australia is not only taking the lead in the Asia Pacific with companies like NAB and IAG making shared value a core part of their business strategy, and achieving strong returns for business and society, but also has the potential to be the shared value nation.”

The praise followed a day of discussions focused on leadership, competitiveness and trust – key topics explored through a series of panel discussions, storyteller sessions and keynote presentations featuring national and international speakers from HESTA, Hong Kong SAR Government, IAG, IBM, Infoxchange, Myer Family Investments, NAB, Novo Nordisk Pharmaceuticals, The Yield and Yume.

As part of the panel on ‘changing the world, Kramer explained “when it comes to solving problems, companies are rooted in the reality of the problems, in a way that governments are not”. In the ‘investment innovation’ panel speakers spoke about the importance of intraprenuers in business and the role of networks in shaping shared value investment. In the final panel speakers explored the digital disruption occurring and its influence on shared value.

Alongside the formal program of panel discussions and workshops, the Shared Value Project used the event to launch Australia’s first shared value MBA program, which will incorporate a new resource, SV GO, to help Australian business tackle social issues while creating sustainable profits.

The forum, organised by the Shared Value Project in partnership with NAB, IAG and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and media partner AFR BOSS, also included Australia’s first Shared Value Innovation Lab, facilitated by the IAG by Design Team. Participants worked together to develop shared value solutions to support the mental health issues within communities affected by natural disasters.

The forum is part of the Shared Value Project’s ongoing commitment to supporting its community of practitioners and companies exploring shared value. The new tools are further reinforced by new case studies from members including NAB, and continued promotion of shared value throughout the region.

The forum was attended by more than 170 c-suite executives, board members, strategists and policy makers, and senior government leaders as well as academics and non-profit leaders.

For more information about shared value in Australia visit

United crisis far from landing



We’ve read some great and insightful takes on the United overbooking/forced-passenger removal fiasco this week. As communications professionals this terrible incident provides a stark reminder just how easily an organisations’ reputation can be irreparably damaged.

As Tim Burrowes at Mumbrella points out: it takes years to build a positive brand identity, and merely seconds to tear all that hard work down.

The company missed its one small window to successfully stay ahead of the crisis and made things worse by not immediately taking responsibility for the incident. United also failed to properly manage the continuing fallout, failing to correct the emerging narrative that passengers were bumped from the overbooked flight to make room for off-duty staff. Whether or not this was true, it was one of the few elements that the company had any control over.

Within days a proliferation of memes had sprouted up all over the internet like mushrooms. Jimmy Kimmell’s viral video was seen by millions of potential customers. And the hashtag #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos continues to churn out hilarious grist for the viral online mill.

All that damage from a few bad decisions at a critical juncture in the public relations cycle.

So what’s next for United? How do they go about repairing their image and moving on from a PR disaster of this magnitude?

As they say, nothing is ever lost forever on the internet, so that infamous viral video of the incident isn’t going anywhere soon. Obviously some heads are going to be on the chopping block, right up to and possibly including CEO Oscar Munoz. They may take note of a few other recent PR incidents that might offer some guidance.

So, a quarter of million dollars in stock market valuation, and countless gifs and late night comedy bits later, United is stranded in crisis land.

Cheers, Jack & the c word crew

Grammarians rejoice in the $10 million comma

Image 20170320 8883 12pwn9m
The most expensive punctuation in the world…
Gayle Dee/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Roslyn Petelin, The University of Queensland

Portland-based company Oakhurst Dairy will potentially owe US$10 million to 75 milk-truck drivers in the US state of Maine because of a missing comma in a legal clause. The Conversation

Last week, Judge David J. Barron upheld an appeal in a class-action lawsuit, opening his opinion with: “For want of a comma, we have this case.”

Three dairy-truck drivers sued Oakhurst Dairy in 2014 for four years of unpaid overtime wages. The case hinged on the missing comma after “packing for shipment” in the following clause of Maine state law, which lists exemptions from overtime:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

The missing comma, in this case, would have separated “packing for shipment” and “distribution” into distinct activities, both exempt from overtime. Without the comma, the drivers argued, the law refers only to the act of packing, for the purpose of either shipping or distributing.

There are other grammatical issues with this clause (neatly unpacked in more detail by Mary Norris in The New Yorker) but David Webbert, a lawyer for the drivers, told The New York Times: “That comma would have sunk our ship.”


The contentious comma

This contentious comma is the serial comma, often called the “Oxford comma” and in some circles the “Harvard comma”. It comes before the final “and” or “or” in a series (a list of three or more items). For example, “Stone fruits include apricots, plums, and nectarines”.

Although some think it’s clunky, the Maine case strikes a blow for the importance of clarity. Consider this particularly spectacular example, supposedly from a TV listing in The Times:

By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.

There are two lists in this example that omit the serial comma, although only the second really demands it to eliminate ambiguity. (It’s worth noting that, even with an additional comma that would prevent Nelson Mandela from being a dildo collector, the sentence is so poorly phrased he could conceivably still be an 800-year-old demigod.)

Maine legislature drafting guidelines actually recommend against using the serial comma, advising that any confusing sentence be entirely rewritten. But the appellate judge is obviously a fan, saying: “We would be remiss not to note the clarifying virtues of serial commas that other jurisdictions recognize.”

He elaborates by stating that both chambers of the federal Congress warn against omitting the serial comma “to prevent any misreading that the last item is part of the preceding one” and says that only seven of the American states (including Maine) “either do not require or expressly prohibit the use of the serial comma”.

I’m with the judge and the other 43 states. I am a lifetime devotee of the serial comma, believing that it ensures clarity and aesthetic consistency. For reasons that I have never been able to fathom, its mention inevitably evokes fierce controversy. More than 1,000 people commented on The Guardian website within 24 hours of the comma story being published last week.

You’re with me, or against me, or ambivalent

People either strongly advocate its use at all times (as I do); weakly (in my opinion) allow its use only if its absence could cause ambiguity; or dismiss it altogether by recommending that the sentence be rewritten so that ambiguity is not an issue.

Those who make exceptions to the “no-serial-comma rule” when a sentence would be confusing include the Australian government in its Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers. This doesn’t even mention the term “serial comma”, stating: “sometimes a comma is placed between the last two items to ensure clarity”.

The New Yorker uses the serial comma, according to its own style guide. The New York Times follows The Associated Press Stylebook, which gives a somewhat ambiguous (or possibly contradictory) example:

In a series use commas to separate items but no comma before a conjunction e.g. ‘We bought eggs, milk and cheese at the store.’

What’s happened to the comma that we have been told to use between the “milk” and “cheese” items?

Beatrice Potter used the serial comma.
The Original Peter Rabbit Miniature Collection (1909)

Most key academic style guides recommend the serial comma. Robert Ritter, author of The Oxford Guide to Style, enthusiastically endorses it. It has been part of Oxford University Press style for more than a century. The quintessential English author Beatrix Potter used it. I have a china mug telling me that “Once upon a time there were four little rabbits: Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter”.

On the other hand, educational guidelines have a more confused approach. The UK National Curriculum horrifyingly warns that “the mark will not be awarded if a serial comma is used in a list of simple items. For example, this would be unacceptable: We bought apples, cheese, and milk.”

What happens in the Australian educational context?

New South Wales provides teachers with advice about the serial comma and other punctuation marks that is appallingly written and includes an egregious punctuation error: “Its used … ”

Use an ‘Oxford comma’ or it can be referred to as the ‘serial comma,‘ to clarify list items that are more than one. [sic]

The Queensland Curriculum Authority disappointingly advises that “No comma is needed before the ‘and’ that precedes the final item in the list”.

Readers’ comprehension of our writing is paramount. The serial comma aids clarity and it should be taught in all Australian schools.

The Maine case was not only marred by missing commas, but generally shoddy language use. The law had been revised since it was first drafted but it had not been clarified. Where were the grammarians when this law was being drafted?

It’s very possible that, whether Oakhurst Dairy fights on or not, the serial comma will join the ranks of eponymous punctuation marks like the greengrocers’ apostrophe as the “milk-truck drivers’ comma”.

Roslyn Petelin will be available for an author Q&A Wednesday March 22, from 2.30pm to 3.30pm AEDT. Post your questions in the comments section below.

Roslyn Petelin, Associate Professor in Writing, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.