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Have we upset you lately?


The following blog post was first published as the Editor’s Note of Anthill Magazine Aug/Sep 2008 (AA29)

Why do people keep asking me to be reasonable?

It was George Bernard Shaw who gave us the maxim, ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’

As you know, we like to question common assumptions at Anthill, fight conventional wisdom, rally together to combat commercial stupidity.

We particularly enjoy it when we’re able to rattle some cages in partnership with our readers, because if progress depends on the unreasonable man (and woman), just imagine what an unreasonable army of Anthillians can achieve.

And we’ve been busy lately, joining our readers to collectively protest the surprise closure of Commercial Ready, inviting Anthillian blog readers to contribute to our Magazine 2.0 experiment and, in this edition, we contradict some basic assumptions of business and test the boundaries of ‘freeconomics’.

A recent highlight of Anthill activism, and the first of the examples above, took place on 19 June when ‘up to one hundred’ annoyed constituents, according to one of Minister Lindsay Tanner’s media spokespersons, called the offices of the Federal Minister for Finance and Deregulation to voice their collective concern over the Federal Government’s decision to cut Commercial Ready (CR).

The decision to cut CR, one of Australia’s most successful grant programs to support innovation, was made in reference to a report completed by the Productivity Commission, part of Minister Tanner’s portfolio, which found that the program supported too many projects that would have gone ahead without public support.

Of course, that’s easy to say once a project has raised development finance elsewhere, enhanced by the endorsement implicit in a government grant, and, only then, proven commercially successful. The scrapping raised the ire of our readers and almost anyone dedicated to the development of Australian innovative, new-to-world technologies and the companies that support them.

A stream of angry comments communicating the frustration, disappointment and general dismay of many Australian entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, scientists, technologists and innovation professionals began to appear on the Anthill blog, accompanied by a swelling ant hill of emails and letters to the editor.

And then, with a bit of help from Anthill, this general ire began to manifest itself into action, a ‘flash protest’, a mass ‘call-in’ to the Minister’s parliamentary office in Canberra with a simple message:

“My name is [insert name here] and I’m calling to voice my concern at the closure of Commercial Ready. Can you please make sure that the Minister gets my message?”

Normally an uninspiring and fairly bland sentiment such as this would go unnoticed, particularly if the 30 word message was presented by just one, lone and often lonely recalcitrant (as is generally the case). However, when delivered by ‘up to one hundred’ people, over a six hour period, orchestrated by email and SMS, the impression created becomes hard to ignore, representing one call every 3.6 minutes, relaying the same repetitive message.

Surprisingly (at least to me), all this ‘rabble rousing’ (without the rabble) has caused some of our observers (and even supporters) to criticise this editor because, by providing the technology and guidance to coordinate this flash protest, we complicated the jobs of our elected officials.

What the!?

To set the record straight, I am a proponent of positive change. (That’s how I ‘lean’.) However, change for the sake of change is just plain dangerous. And it’s the responsibility of every unreasonable man and woman to exclaim vigorously, “Hey! There’s a baby in that bathwater!” whenever the need arises, irrespective of their political persuasion or slant.

As I post this blog, Federal Innovation Minister Kim Carr has yet to make any decision on the matter, after declining to do so until the outcomes of the National Innovation Review, chaired by the respected Dr Terry Cutler, are released. (However, he did contribute his thoughts on Australian innovation in an Op-Ed column for the current edition.)

I, for one, without the benefit of hindsight, am excited. Like Anthill’s editorial ethos, the recommendations won’t please everyone. But that’s fine, so long as Australia keeps producing unreasonable people, progress will prevail.