The secrets for successful innovation in Papua New Guinea


Papua New Guinea is driving forward with innovation but there’s still so much to do. Pete Williams, Chief Edge Officer at the Deloitte Centre for The Edge, shared his secrets to harness the power of innovation effectively at the recent Innovation PNG 2019 conference.

Deloitte’s Pete Williams during his keynote speech at the Innovation PNG 2019 Conference. Credit: Rocky Roe

‘I thought PNG was a country that had been excluded from the digital world, but as I travelled around I saw people doing things with their businesses,’ said Williams. ‘There is an energy here, despite all the difficulties. I have found PNG very exciting.’

Williams said internet speeds will increase in 2020 by 800 times because of the connection of the Coral Sea Cable. One of the consequence of increased connectivity will be more reliance on younger people. He noted that when he talked to school teachers, for example, they turned to the ‘youngest, smartest’ person in class. The teachers said: ‘We don’t understand it, but these kids, they understand it. Talk to them.’

‘I say innovation is about trying new ideas. You don’t have to invent the iPhone or colonise Mars to be an innovator.’

Williams said PNG has taken to mobile phone technology and social media like nobody else. ‘This country is driving forward with innovation and does have a purpose to make things happen.’


Pete Williams’ innovation workshop at Innovation PNG 2019. Credit: Rocky Roe

Williams said he sees innovation as ‘more as an action thing’ than something conceptual. ‘I say innovation is about trying new ideas.

‘You don’t have to invent the iPhone or colonise Mars to be an innovator. It is about trying something and learning from it – not about five years of plans. It is about: “what can I do when I wake up that is different?”‘

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Williams said his practice at Deloitte Centre for The Edge in Australia conducts a two-hour review of operations at the end of each week.

‘[We ask]: “What did we learn? What do we need to do differently?” So, on Monday, something different happens.’

The innovation expert said it is necessary to be determined and avoid expending too many resources. ‘We use the phrase “small moves, smartly made” to set things in motion.

‘You hope your ideas are right, but they may not be, so don’t overcommit. If you have a long-term vision, you play short. You are always moving towards the long-term goal but in short steps, rapidly learning and bringing others in.

‘Innovation is not a solo sport, particularly in the digital world. We are connected in ways that we have never been before.’


Innovation need not just be confined to business. Williams pointed to the Immigration and Citizenship Authority (ICA), which now accepts online payments for visas. ‘The ICA is smashing it out of the park,’ he said.

William explained that one way to create effective innovation is to look for ‘dumb things’ – areas where improvements can be made and where the solution might be.

‘Innovation is about passion before skills.’

‘My favourite dumbest thing in PNG is a whole queue of people holding mobile phones. Why not use an online form? I hear people have to take half a day a fortnight to do pay their remittances. It shouldn’t be that hard.’

The secret to becoming an innovator? Passion, focus and determination are critical when innovating, although Williams warns that ‘absolute focus is a disaster’. It is necessary to keep a sense of context.

‘I say the best innovators are really masochistic; they just keep going. When they see a barrier, they see it not as a barrier but as a hurdle.

‘Innovation is about passion before skills. Passionate people will hunt down those people with the skills [they need]. They are open-minded, don’t hold things close to their chest, are willing to put things out there and be criticised.’

Williams argued that to create teams that are innovative it is necessary to combine people from diverse backgrounds. ‘Get different people looking at the same stuff. Deloitte has anthropologists, writers, artists, strategists, project managers. That diversity and collaboration is what takes it [innovation] to the next level.’

Pete Williams’ innovation tips

  • Ask yourself: “what are the dumb things we do that we could change?”
  • Review your work regularly, asking ‘what did we learn?’ and ‘how could we do things differently?’
  • In teams, combine people from diverse backgrounds and skills to get a diversity of views
  • Avoid spending too much on resources by innovating in small steps, even on long-term projects
  • Stay open-minded and invite criticism
  • Just keep going and maintain your passion


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