Number 8 wire is a British gauge of steel wire that was popularised as fencing wire around New Zealand farms in the 19th century. Not long after, farmers were using this wire as an unconventional shed tool for all kinds of practical purposes. Borne out of isolation, Kiwis were improvising and adapting limited resources to produce innovative solutions. This ‘make do, can do’ attitude embodies the tradition of kiwi ingenuity where New Zealanders refuse to be constrained by limited experience and resources, and believe in their ability to solve problems in ways that challenge the status quo – the ‘’Number 8 wire’’ mindset.
This mindset has long been the root of Kiwi innovation. It has offered a competitive advantage to New Zealanders thus far and has seen the success of many Kiwi inventions - the jetboat, electric fence, and zorbing - to name a few. The No. 8 wire mindset has also launched several successful Kiwi startups, namely Xero, the global accounting software company. Xero spent its first five years in New Zealand, refining and building its product to become ‘’The Apple of accounting’’. They thought big from day one, managed to get $15 million by listing the company on the NZ Stock Exchange, and attracted success that proves working from New Zealand is not a limitation for startups.
However, there is an ongoing debate about whether this mindset is sufficient to sustain New Zealand's reputation as high-level innovators. We are no longer in a simple pioneering age where inventiveness directly translates to success. Value needs to be captured from the idea. Nowadays information is ubiquitous, technology is rapidly advancing, and consumers and markets are becoming increasingly complex and competitive. Working independently and making do with what’s at hand are core attributes of the No. 8 wire mindset. For success in the current global reality, collaboration with experts, leveraging the best technology around the world, learning from others, and being prepared to fail is necessary. The mindset requires ‘re-wiring’, and I believe we are already heading down that path. Take Lanzatech as one example, an Auckland-based biotechnology company that utilised expertise from many nations and global investment to create world-leading technology.
In saying so, the traditional Number 8 wire mindset should always be acknowledged. Willingness to challenge the norm, use unexpected approaches to solve problems, and embrace challenges are characteristics that define Kiwi ingenuity around the world. Recognising our culture as a pioneer for lateral thinking will continue to inspire New Zealanders to push their ideas out to the world.
I’ll leave you with the adorable Mitre 10 ‘sandpit kids’ ad that graced New Zealand television, and perfectly represents Kiwi ingenuity and ‘‘DIY’s in our DNA’’ attitude.