by George Nott

Sir Ray Avery: observation key to innovation

Aug 01, 2016
CareersCollaboration SoftwareHealthcare Industry

New Zealand’s leading inventor, entrepreneur “and Readers Digest readers’ ‘Most Trusted Man’ 2011”, Sir Ray Avery, was in Sydney last week to give advice to app-makers, CIOs and startups.

The best apps put the customer first, he told the audience at the Gartner Application Architecture, Development and Integration Summit on Tuesday.

“The problem is,” he explained, “often what happens is you get an app and then you try and find a customer for that app. And it doesn’t work. You have to do it the other way round. What you have to do is constantly think about being customer-centric.”

Avery spent his childhood in orphanages in the UK, and in his teenage years lived rough under a railway bridge in London. He would visit museums and libraries to stay warm, and read the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover, sparking a passion for science: “It’s like the Google of the day. I read the whole thing!”

Later he trained as a researcher and worked as a laboratory analyst. He eventually bought the laboratory that employed him but on a whim, in his late twenties, sold his business interests for a new life in New Zealand.

There he was a founding member of the Department of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Auckland School of Medicine and technical director of Douglas Pharmaceuticals.

Avery has a number of world-changing inventions to his name including a device that facilitates the safe administration of potent IV drugs, a high-tech low-cost incubator for premature babies and an amino acid based functional food used for the treatment and prevention of malnutrition.

Key to the success of these and his other inventions, which have helped millions of people around the world, is a solid customer statement of need, he said.

“We start with the customer and find a customer statement of need, and find a solution for that. If there are enough people with the same problem, you’ve got a perfect product realisation process. I’ve never started a business where I hadn’t had a customer before I started.”

He said that innovation was powered by observation, a skill that everyone has but not everyone utilises.

“I try and have some white space when I start thinking about things. But inevitably it’s that one moment of observation that changes things,” he said.

“You don’t have to be practised in the art. You can develop the most brilliant app in the world if you find a statement of need with the power of observation. So start looking at s**t and don’t get consumed with products.”