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the dignity of man

It is a while since I blogged and I understand the need for regularity – so please accept my apologies. Here is the first in an eclectic series for 2011.

Occasionally, we intersect with special people in our lives. I had the privilege of working on the Board of one of the few remaining Australian manufacturing companies with such a person for four years. He has a wonderful human touch that seems to accompany respectful people who have that precious ability to listen.

There is no need for this man to be humble, but like many great leaders he is.  He ran Mitsubishi in Australia for seven years and knows more about lean manufacturing than anyone outside Japan. He received the Centeneary of Federation Medal for services to the automobile industry. He also ran GNB Batteries and Pacific Dunlop in the USA and mixed it with people like Hilary Clinton and Sam Walton. Some of his stories about Sam are both instructive and amusing.

His name is Graham Spurling – a giant of a man with a unique ability to give “tough love” in the work environment and gentle love in the personal sphere. Graham was a champion of environmental and community responsibility long before they sat on board checklists. As we walked the factory floor, Graham taught us the principles of eliminating hard work, of the dignity of men (and women) in factories and the importance of evaluating change programs through the eyes of the worker. He is the only Director I have ever seen put on a pair of gloves and lift a piece of steel to check how much the workers were being asked to lift. Graham, I salute you, just as many others did when you were a respected Major in the Australian Army Reserve.

Graham, like many good scientists, engineers and leaders, showed us the value of a planned approach and of rigorous analysis to solve problems. His creativity and lateral thinking also surfaced, as they did in his recent proposal to the Government to have one car manufacturing plant in Australia. The logic was compelling (and still is), but the challenge was too hard politically, going the same way as many other value adding  mid to long term projects at State and Commonwealth level. Populism and opportunism prevail!

Today, Graham chairs the prospective junior miner, Phoenix Copper. He is also a much admired figure in his home town of Adelaide where he is tireless in making contributions to society as a mentor, visionary and philanthropist. If you are travelling in the southern Flinders Ranges near Melrose, you might find Graham at his North Star Hotel or at his Bundaleer winery, extolling the virtues of his sparkling shiraz, or discussing an issue of the day with one of the customers. Ask him about the car industry or about the dignity of man. You might get a twenty first century version of the famous fifteenth century Pico della Mirandola oration.

To blog or not to blog?

“Be very careful sticking your head up and writing a blog”, came the wise counsel of one of my conservative friends. He understands that I am a professional director and was being supportive and protective in his known world of risk management. The very next day, another colleague who had read my blog phoned to explore the possibilities of forming an alliance of influential people to work on sustainable futures. Obviously this wouldn’t have opened up without the blog.

These contrasting experiences set me thinking about the pros and cons of writing a blog – a concept that has been around for over a decade, but is still alive and well. Some bloggers have migrated to social media and some are now using social media to support their blogs.

Why should I write a blog?

  • We have migrated from a world where “knowledge is power” to one where “sharing knowledge is power”. By sharing, the blog becomes a conduit for additional knowledge and networking. It is the perfect place for focussed attention for an interested community. Network learning is the way of the future.
  • A regular blog stimulates thinking around subjects and requires a disciplined approach to developing that thinking. As such, it can become a powerful learning vehicle – a bit like doing your homework! It often adds to thought leadership.
  • Blogs are permanent and can be grouped in a way that stimulates ongoing discovery and interaction
  • Being a professional is also about contributing as well as consuming
  • You own your work in a self-hosted blog and remain in total control of its content and submitted comments
  • By putting your “head on the block” and because content is public, open to scrutiny and has an infinite life, authenticity and openness is demanded and more likely to be delivered through a blog

Why shouldn’t I write a blog?

  • Blogs can be addictive and a drain on time
  • Some people have a perception that writing a blog is self-indulgent and tend to categorize bloggers as ego trippers
  • There is a risk of offending someone who is in a position to influence your desired outcomes in life or career
  • The challenge to keep the material interesting, regular, original and relevant can be daunting
  • There is an underlying assumption that people will be interested in what you post

So it looks like the ayes have it! Now what will that next blog be about? Perish the thought of blogophobia!

life advice from the pointy end

When I used to fly up the pointy end of the plane, there was nothing like a glass of Krug and freedom from electronic invasion, to stimulate the brain. I did some of my most creative work in the air. The following list of “life advice” given to my daughters in 2001, flowed from the beautiful bead at ten thousand metres……

  • Learn Spanish and visit as many places where it is spoken that you can
  • Take risks but be sharp when you do
  • Find a partner who will cherish you and who has soul, depth, passion and strength
  • Drink less and better
  • Share stunning experiences with your parents as they grow older
  • Be slow to judge, quick to relate and balanced in your conclusion
  • Respect, reputation and credibility are hard earned and easily lost – value these attributes
  • Mostly travel off the beaten track
  • Let passion and positivity reign over cynicism and mediocrity
  • Develop self-esteem to match your talent and most barriers to fulfilment will be removed
  • Be humble because we are lucky to be who and where we are
  • Place your trust in others wisely – they are not all like you
  • Have fun but understand when to knuckle down – hard work generally precedes success
  • Lust after knowledge
  • Understand the power of subtlety in todays “in your face” world
  • Those who respect you for being strong and independent will be your best friends
  • Be either switched on or switched off – never be caught half way
  • Embrace dancing for fitness, romance and fun
  • Do what you can to save the earth – we are losing the battle
  • Mentor/sponsor/support someone younger
  • Ask of yourself what you ask of others
  • See how much more you hear when you listen without judgement
  • When something goes wrong, seek to learn, not to blame
  • Understand and appreciate music – the international language
  • Look at the big picture – love is always there
  • Extensively use the best stress beaters – laughter and exercise
  • Allow the high of life to transcend over artificially induced highs
  • Whatever you pay attention to will grow stronger in your life.
  • Show empathy most to those who annoy you most
  • Ask questions instead of making statements

It’s easy to give advice – particularly when sipping Krug – and much harder to accept it or do anything about it, even if it hits the target. I was chuffed to discover recently that these beautiful women still carry a copy.

Beware reality television politics

“Never underestimate the intelligence of the electorate” has become a throw-away line in Australian politics. A more relevant mantra for the next election might be, “never underestimate the desire of the electorate for authenticity and leadership”.

In this era of poll driven politics, there is a growing concern from informed Australians about decision makers in the Parliament seeking populist solutions. There seems to be less appetite from those in power to form policy based on principles, on sound analysis and with longer time horizons. The balance between consultation and leadership has swung to consultation as those at the helm (I hesitate to use the term leaders), fear being voted off in today’s reality television politics.

Why should this worry politicians? Voters are changing as society norms change and as awareness and knowledge grow at an alarming rate. Voters who decide elections (as opposed to those locked into their fixed loyalties, beliefs and prejudices) have never been better informed. They are also looking for meaning and authenticity – as they are in their work and personal lives. Their bullshit detectors have never been more finely tuned. They are increasingly intolerant of political opportunism and of leaders who play the man rather than the ball.

Polls and surveys reflect opinions about the known world at a point in time. They don’t measure responses to a different world, one which can be created when a leader takes a stand on a clearly articulated principle. For example, Julia Gillard appears to have lost an opportunity to tap into the latent values of an informed electorate on the complex asylum seeker issue.  A more humanitarian line on asylum seekers, is a potential election winner. Courageous leadership and clear communication around the context and principles used in reaching such a position, has the potential to actually change attitudes – and as a result the polls. Espoused views can and will shift as people are given permission to allow their better understanding and desire for authenticity, to be expressed.

Another sleeper is climate change. We saw the exodus of swinging voters to the Greens as the Government dropped the ball on their previously expressed principles. I have written previously about the Moderate Green Majority, environmentally conscious Australians who are waiting for clearly communicated logic and policies to follow leadership – leadership based on issues and outcomes, rather than on responses to polls in their known world.

Have we seen the last of courageous leaders like Jeff Kennett and Paul Keating? Is considered decision making and vision being eroded by reality television politics and polls? Both of the major parties are being seduced by populism and are missing the opportunity to win respect and votes through courage and true leadership. If they fail to see the light, watch out for the emergence of a powerful third force that provides principle, freshness and authenticity, in much the way that Nick McKim has achieved in Tasmania.

hope, optimism and high expectation

Mates often give me grief about looking through rose coloured glasses. When you’re a “glass half full” person, it’s a challenge to strike the right levels of hope, optimism and expectation. Kevin Rudd’s recent demise led me to dust off my article from the 2020 Summit, which highlights the difference between having positive expectations about what we want (hope), and assigning a high probability to those outcomes (optimism). At the time, I wrote:

The spirit of optimism, hope and inspiration, in abundance at the 2020 Summit, reminded me of the mood that engulfed Sydney during the Olympic Games. Equality, respect, enthusiasm and pride in being Australian, transcended personal biases and partisan views.  This Summit was about starting a dialogue right around Australia that will continue. It has energised and enabled people to feel listened to, and relevant. Let’s hope that the infectious enthusiasm and debate generated by the Summit can continue throughout Australia as part of the fabric of our society. Let’s also hope that the culture of the weekend – where different views were offered and listened to, where there are no rights or wrongs, where opposing arguments can coalesce in consensus – transcends our lives and cuts through the dogma, parochialism and inflexibility that are all too common.

Only 27 months later, the central figure giving stimulating the hope and optimism was removed from office. Why? Not because he offered hope, but because he failed to manage high expectation through effective delivery and relationship management. As a result, he dampened the hope and optimism of millions who believed in him. The danger in today’s world is that if hope rises and gets squashed too often, it struggles to rise again, giving oxygen to sceptics, shock jocks and conservatives preoccupied with precedent.

High expectations, well managed (by parents, partners, or corporations) often lead to high performance and achievement. However, poor delivery and failure to bring people on the journey, mostly leads to spectacular falls. To make it even tougher, the bar is set high in this country as “tall poppy syndrome” and the media do their bit to foster “glass half empty”. That movement is also in full swing in the USA where the Murdoch media are doing a job on President Obama as he offers hope on ground breaking health reform.

 Markets love business leaders who “under promise and over deliver”. Effective sales men and women get rich on “under committing and over delivering”. They’ve learned to overcome that part of human nature that wants to promise what we think people want to hear. And yet we continue to fall into the trap. Setting unrealistic expectations can mean that an effort (like carbon pollution reduction) becomes the victim of its own promise. When we fail to deliver, excuses and denial become part of the landscape.

 Despite the constant negativity in parts of the Australian media and despite the natural resistance to change in every one of us, we need to encourage hope and optimism for a better world. Martin Seligman makes a strong link between “learned optimism” and happiness. Katie Couric explains the genetic programming of optimism and tells us that optimists live longer. Hope is a powerful motivator.

 Effective management of expectation is an enabler of legitimate hope and optimism, which can give people confidence, infectious energy and courage to become involved. We saw the start of that process at the 2020 Summit. Let’s hope that our political and community leaders, with the support of the powerful media, can embrace some issues that transcend politics and allow us to unite on some exciting journeys full of hope and optimism, against a background of realistic expectations. What are the most critical issues on that list?

maturity and dignity required on asylum seekers

It would be uplifting to think that Australians had the maturity and dignity to deal with the challenging asylum seeker issue without the interference of politics and prejudice. A broader context needs to be seen – one which includes recognition that there are more than 50,000 illegal overstays (mostly from Europe) at any point in time, the fact that we have 300,000 legal immigrants annually, and an appreciation of the dire situations in countries from which the few hundred annual asylum seekers emanate. We also need to understand the legal requirements under the UN convention, capably outlined by Greg Barns in ThePunch on July 6  Simplistic calls to send the boats home are not acceptable on humanitarian grounds and in most cases, not legal.
Sensible outcomes will not be helped by “boat counts” and comments that deliberately fuel prejudices, often based on ignorance. I can understand certain sections of the media playing this tune, but just don’t understand the intolerance from some Christians in the Parliament, who can’t see the hypocrisy and contradictions between their publicly proclaimed faith and their public positions. To many of these people, it would appear that they can rationalise their Christian and humanitarian principles, as they lust for power in a world of poll driven politics.