Get off the Grass: Kickstarting New Zealand’s Innovation Economy

Shaun Hendy & Paul Callaghan


‘Science is the compass on the voyage we must all make into the twenty-first century.’ – Sir Paul Callaghan, 2012


While we New Zealanders live off the cow’s back, our long-term economic prognosis looks grim. Our economic growth lags behind Australia and other countries in the OECD. Our universities fall each year in international rankings. We export 24 per cent of our university graduates. The country’s lack-lustre economic performance following the free-market reforms of the 1980s is often cast as a paradox: why haven’t sound economic policies led to growth?

In this book two of New Zealand’s leading thinkers tell us to get off the grass! – and explain how we might do so. Shaun Hendy and Paul Callaghan argue that the New Zealand ‘paradox’ can be explained by our struggle to innovate. On a per capita basis, OECD countries on average produce four times as many patents as New Zealand. Why is this? What determines a country’s capacity for innovation?

Shaun Hendy and Paul Callaghan take a quantitative look at how innovation works both in New Zealand and around the world. They show that economic geography plays a key role in determining rates of innovation and productivity. If New Zealand is to grow its economy more rapidly it must overcome geography to build nationwide communities of innovators, entrepreneurs and businesses. It must get off the grass and diversify its economy beyond the primary sector. Hendy and Callaghan pose deep challenges to the country: Can New Zealand learn to innovate like a city of four million people? Can New Zealand become a place where talent wants to live? Can we learn to live off knowledge rather than nature? Are we willing to take science seriously?

In a brilliant intellectual adventure that takes us from David Ricardo and Adam Smith to economic geography and the science of complex networks, Shaun Hendy and Paul Callaghan pose the tough questions and provide some powerful answers for New Zealand’s future.


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Professor Shaun Hendy FRNZ is a Professor of Physics at the University of Auckland and an Industry and Outreach Fellow at Callaghan Innovation. He has lectured at Victoria University of Wellington (2003–2010) and was the Deputy Director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials & Nanotechnology from 2008 to 2012. Dr Hendy has a PhD in physics from the University of Alberta in Canada and has research interests in nanotechnology, complex systems and innovation. He writes a blog, ‘A Measure of Science’ as part of, a hub for New Zealand’s science bloggers, and has a regular slot on Radio New Zealand Nights as physics correspondent. He is a sought-after public speaker and commentator on science and innovation matters. In 2010, he was awarded the New Zealand Association of Scientists Research Medal and a Massey University Distinguished Young Alumni Award. In 2012 he won the Callaghan Medal and the Prime Minister’s Science Media Communication Prize.

Professor Sir Paul Callaghan (1947–2012) was one of New Zealand’s most successful and internationally renowned scientists. Sir Paul was the founding Director of the MacDiarmid Institute and the Alan MacDiarmid Professor of Physical Science at Victoria University of Wellington. He published over 240 articles in scientific journals as well as the books Principles of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Microscopy in 1994 and Translational Dynamics and Magnetic Resonance in 2011. He was also a founding director and shareholder of Magritek, a technology company based in Wellington that sells nuclear magnetic resonance instruments. He was a regular public speaker on science matters and, in 2007, one of his radio series appeared in book form, As Far as We Know: Conversations about Science, Life and the Universe. His 2009 book, Wool to Weta: Transforming New Zealand's Culture and Economy, deals with the potential for science and technology entrepreneurialism to diversify New Zealand's economy. In 2001 Sir Paul became the 36th New Zealander to be made a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. He was awarded the Ampere Prize in 2004 and the Rutherford Medal in 2005. He was appointed a Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2006 and in 2007 was recognised by a KEA/NZTE World Class New Zealander Award and the Sir Peter Blake Medal. In 2010 he was awarded the Günther Laukien Prize for Magnetic Resonance and shared the Prime Minister's Science Prize. In 2011 he was named the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.


August 2013, 210 x 140 mm, 248 pages
Paperback, ISBN 978 1 86940 762 9, $34.99