Friday, February 15, 2013

NZ vs USA- are we leaders or followers?

After spending the last week in the USA, my mind is still boggling- electric cars, pimped out planes like nightclubs, free wireless everywhere and SUPER fast broadband.  I literally downloaded a 12MB MP4 movie in about 10-15 seconds.  I could not believe it.  Admittedly, I was at Microsoft HQ and the movie was demonstrating our Kinect for Windows ability using the technology as a language teacher.  Nothing seams to be a barrier in the USA, and if it is, they do all they can to take it away.
Even on the news, they were talking about doing road-works on the I-5 freeway and this would be disruptive to people sleeping so the council gave out free earplugs! 

So I feel I need to get a few things off my chest!  Firstly, I was amazed at how excellent the service was in the USA, from the minute we landed, almost until the minute we left.  From the bus driver in San Francisco who was joking with his passengers, to the retailers who when you say 'thank you' almost always say 'you're welcome'.  I only had 1 bad incident in the USA, and this was at LA airport, which to be honest is more like a form of organised chaos anyway.  The lady at the information counter sent us in completely the opposite direction of the international terminal and we ended up walking about 2km to get there.

So to my blog topic- NZ vs USA- are we leaders of followers?  Ten years ago I would have said we were leaders.  I know there are some amazing pockets of innovation.  I'll be bold and even say my own company, Business Mechanix leads this in many areas and we discovered this by measuring ourselves against our global competitors last week in Seattle USA.  We have what others want.  We are developing products and tools in gesture driven technology- Kinect for Windows, our product- called ASLO - Advanced Simulated Learning Objects.  We already have a US school interested in a pilot as they have never seen anything like this, even in the USA. 

So this is why I summarise we are not generally leaders in NZ in the innovation space on the global stage.  Firstly, it seams we are great at coming up with excellent ideas, but how offer do they really get integrated into everyday life?  Here are 25 examples of what I saw just living over in the USA for a week and how it changed everyday things I do...

1/ Border Control- USA to Canada- fast tag- just hold up your card, scan and drive- no need to talk to anyone just go....
2/ Planes that no longer worry about no smoking signs and have replaced with 'Turn off your electronic devices'
3/ At the shopping mall, there are spaces for electric cars where you can pay by credit card to charge them
4/ You can purchase a thousand dollar item with out a single bit of paper, this even includes signing for it.
5/ There are shops with no tills, just people roaming around with pimped out cell phones with credit card sleeves to pay for your transactions....and there are 12 of these people not just 1 or 2 behind the till
6/ You can purchase $299 BOSE headphones through a vending machine at the airport, or for that matter about 30 other types of technologies, just like you can a bag of chippies or a chocolate bar.
7/ Free wireless is commonplace.  If you don't have it, customers will go somewhere that does. They even have it in the supermarket.
8/ Internet is assumed and FAST- 12MB download in 10-15 seconds- nice.
9/ You can get "all you can eat" everything on your cell-phone plan for $50 per month, including texting, phone-calls and broadband.
10/ Taxes are not 15% in Washington or California.
11/ There are schools that barely use paper in the classroom called 'Schools of the Future' and the kids use inking on tablet devices instead of writing on paper.
12/ Kids are allowed to bring cell phones into class and they are integrated into teaching plans by the teachers.
13/ Service is not just assumed to be good, it is.  People make their livelihoods from it.
14/ There are very few immigrants in low-wage jobs and the people that are in these jobs, such as driving buses and retail, love what they do, and it shows.  The service industry is seen as a valid career path in the USA, not a second job.
15/ Cars have Satellite radio (Sirius) built in (not so good in car-park buildings so we discovered!)
16/ You can shop online on the planes and have it delivered to your door after the flight.
17/ E-Bay is free to surf on some airlines from your seat
18/ You can choose the currency you wish to transact in when shopping with your credit card at some shops - it actually asks you before you confirm the transaction and shows you the converted cost.
19/ Genetic Modification in fruit and vege is common place.  You should see the size of the Grapefruit in the USA- like a small football.  An I picked up a carrot that was almost as long as my arm from fingertips to elbow.  Odd!
20/ Bulk food- when you buy something in the Deli in bulk, it actually works out cheaper than purchasing it pre-packaged.  I think I literally paid $6 in NZ for 1/2 a small pottle of salad from New World before I left. In the US, it would be about $1-$2 for the same amount.
21/ You can get a flu shot at the supermarket...say no more!
22/ The shopping malls and other shops are open until 9.30pm.....every day- Monday-Sunday
23/ The Universities have TV channels where they run documentaries on their work and interesting topics so its shared with the world!
24/ Pedestrians are given respect at crossings and the whole light phasing is designed to help the pedestrian, not wait until all vehicles at every street have finished their phase before everyone else crosses!
25/ Technology is assumed to be part of life, it's not surprising to see children with cell phones or devices from very young ages and its encouraged rather than taken away.  The kids are encouraged to innovate through technology as much as adults.

Come on NZ, lets starting getting some more innovation into NZ in everyday life, including innovative services and pricing!  Let's encourage our clever companies and researchers and innovators.  Government and local government need to work more collaboratively with local businesses to put NZ back on the map in this global world.  We are a great test bed as a country for new innovations.  Lets see some more!!