Battle with geography slowly being won

It's been ten years since the Knowledge Wave conference. So has the world changed for you? Has technology and innovation swept you away? Or are we expecting too much, too soon?

The 21st century has whacked me round the face a couple of times in the past week. First, I was asked to give a job reference for someone I'd never met. A woman I've only ever known and worked with online asked if I would talk about her to a potential new employer, and to my surprise I found that I could.

Later, I was having a beer with a friend not long returned from UK, who said he was doing some 'night shifts' running a major British website from his home in Pt Chevalier. Which is, frankly, remarkable.

It dawned on me that this was the world that we have long been promised – the world of remote work, the 'always online' world, the world where the tyranny of distance is conquered and where it doesn't matter where in the world you are.

But what struck me most of all is how rare this is. It's a world I've hardly glimpsed and which is still a foreign land to the vast majority. The revolution has been slow in coming. Or so it seems.

This all became rather telling because it's ten years since the landmark Knowledge Wave conference, which was meant to set us on course for this sort of world with its rich knowledge-based economy and high-tech companies that lead us all to prosperity.

On Q+A this coming Sunday we will be screening an Innovation Special, which will ask how we've got on in the past decade and how we make progress in the next.

Looking back ten years, we see that from the Knowledge Wave push came organisations such as The Icehouse, KEA (Kiwi Expats Abroad), the Venture Investment Fund and the New Zealand Institute. All substantial achievements.

The Icehouse, for example, has helped found 200 new companies and some are going gangbusters. It's holding the Ice Ideas conference today, and some clever people are offering some clever ideas for New zealand.

Andy Hamilton of The Icehouse reckons New Zealand needs 3000 new globally competitive businesses by 2020 to get us back into the top half of the OECD. His ideas to achieve that include a "global from day one" fund of $10 million. The  money would come from rich individuals looking for a risky investment and ould help start-ups sell their product to a global market from, yes, day one. It's called being 'born big'.

They want to fund 100 interns into business incubators and angel networks, to spread the entrepreneurial bug and send senior executives out to mentor young companies.

Perhaps the idea with the most public sex appeal is to create an innovation park on the edge of the old Carlaw Park in Auckland. It's close to the city, university, motorway on-ramp and planned Parnell train station, not to mention the reserve and Parnell cafes. Innovation parks have been around in other countries for some time (check out these random examples from the Netherlands and Taiwan), and it's about time New Zealand had one of its own.

And he's not the only one with his thinking cap on. Franceska Banga of the Nz Venture Investment Fund, the government venture capitalist, wants the law changed so that rich individuals getting exemption to come to New Zealand have to invest their money into the productive sector, rather than just land and houses. She also reckons one percent of all KiwiSaver funds be funnelled into venture capital.

So, while most of us are still conquered by geography, and the sort of experiences I've had in the past week or so are rare, there is change happening and people out there working at a great leap forwards for this country.

I wrote initially that the change has been slow. But in researching for the special the point has been made that Silicon Valley has been going nearly 70 years; MIt 50 years. As a young country we're naturally in a hurry, but perhaps a little patience and long-term vision is required. We've come a long way, baby.

Check out Q+A on Sunday to see what these smart people think we need to be doing next.