making the complicated simple

December 19, 2011  |  environment, knowledge, life, main blog, philosophy  |  2 Comments

After my wife read the first draft of this post about making things simple, she said, “you’re guilty as charged – you’ve written a complicated piece on simplicity!” She was right. Complicating things is what we tend to do. But here’s the good news. As information, the pace of change and choice grow quickly, we don’t need to roll over and accept that complexity must prevail.

Edward de Bono said, “Dealing with complexity is inefficient and an unnecessary waste of time, attention and mental energy. There is never any justification for things being complex when they could be simple”.

 I asked a friend who plays golf very well, what tuition books he reads. He replied, “a golf swing is simple mate, you just focus on the ball and hit it – constant analysis complicates it”. On reflection I thought that his comment was a poignant metaphor for life itself.

 Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple defines innovation and creativity. It’s true in technology (think Steve Jobs), art, photography, design and fashion. Coco Chanel said, “simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance”. Leonardo da Vinci offered “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

 Perhaps the greatest challenge in removing complexity is in communicating simply – and this can be a real burden. Mark Twain made a telling comment “I apologise for the length of my letter, I didn’t have time to make it shorter”. It’s not hard to think of examples in our own working lives where we’ve over cooked our written and spoken communication. A former boss of mine claimed that if you couldn’t put it on one page then you didn’t understand it. Something is simple or complex depending on the way we choose to describe it.

 It’s tough getting simplicity in workplaces, where making things appear complex tends to be an art form. Jargon, sounding important and impression management are often actually rewarded in organisations. For leaders who can see the value of a simpler, more inclusive approach concerted effort to de-complicate, achieves reduced costs and mistakes, and improved morale and return on investment. Making the complex clear always helps people work smarter – because it’s a lot easier to figure out what’s important and ignore what isn’t. Note however that Einstein said that “everything must be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”.
In our personal lives we’ve become so materialistic and self-indulgent that the next new toy or experience isn’t special for long.  Accumulation of “things” has led to clutter in both our living space and inner space.  We’ve also tended to be more excessive with what we try and fit into our lives, what we consume and the way we obsessively protect our kids. It’s also easy to allow the struggle and strife of others to become part of us – which is something the Kinks say we should eliminate in their little known song, Complicated Life.

The old saying, “less is more” resonates with me. The fewer friends, possessions, and experiences we have, the more we appreciate and enjoy them. Simple living, which is about people being satisfied with what they need rather than what they want, is different from living in poverty – it’s a lifestyle choice. The choice might be around frugality, health, ecological footprint, stress or just increased quality time. The people I know who live this way are, without exception, the happiest. The art of having less but enjoying our lives more, involves a few simple changes in perspective, like understanding where our true values lie – and focusing on them.

What else can we do? We can try to minimize the impact of negative people in our lives as part of our search for simplicity and elegance. It doesn’t mean removing ourselves from criticism, but it does mean taking control of our environment. We can also escape from the “everyday” to get doses of perspective by experiencing wilderness, meditating, and volunteering, for example.

Simplifying our unnecessarily complicated lives can also extend to what we eat. I’m reminded of my mum’s sign in her library, “live simply so others may simply live”. There’s also a lot to be gained by being more like children – learning, appreciating what’s around us, being active, having fun and above all keeping things simple. What ideas do you have for making the complicated simple?

framing a vision for the tarkine

framing a vision for the tarkine

Last year the battles were about logging native timber in the Tarkine, right now it’s about mining. On the one hand there is the economic growth argument about extracting valuable minerals, and on the other the recognition of the significance of the ecosystem. Finding sensible solutions must start with an understanding of the place and the issues, and finish with a spirit of compromise, because there are no right answers in these debates.

There’s no doubt that the Tarkine is one of the world’s great wild places. It is a landscape of such breathtaking beauty that it is impossible not to love it. It is an expansive 447,000 hectare wilderness area which contains remarkable natural and cultural values, including one of the world’s most significant remaining tracts of temperate rainforest.

 The Tarkine is now generally recognised as that part of north west Tasmania bounded by the Arthur River and its tributaries to the north, the Pieman River to the south, the Murchison Highway to the east and the Southern Ocean to the west. Most of the land is either managed by Forestry Tasmania or the Parks and Wildlife Service. Much of the Tarkine is listed on the Register of the National Estate and there are a number of reserves that provide the Tarkine with some level of conservation protection.  

The Cradle Coast Authority Master Plan for the Tarkine describes it as, “a place of sustenance for its inhabitants, a breathtaking, fragile wilderness for those in search of renewal, a robust landscape rich in minerals and forest resources, and a playground for the communities that surround it”. 

The Tarkine is Australia’s most significant tract of rainforest wilderness and Tasmania’s largest unprotected wilderness area. It is described by the Australian Heritage Commission as “one of the world’s great archeological regions” with aboriginal middens, artefacts and rock carvings that predate the pyramids. 

There’s been much debate and emotion about land use priorities in the area – for tourism access, primary production, logging and mining. Conservationists have sought to have the Tarkine classified under the world heritage listing. The Forests Agreement of September 2011 has brought timber industry and conservationists closer, although many issues remained unresolved. Tasmania, now facing reductions in contribution from commercial timber, is increasingly looking to the resources sector for economic growth.

How do we, as stewards of this 60 million year old wilderness, make sensible decisions on its future at any point in time? We can rest assured that it will involve compromise from all sides. As a plan is developed for the Tarkine, some guiding principles are needed, and these might be a good start:

  1. Manage the Tarkine for multiple end use according to the sensitivity and significance of particular areas, rather than lock it up
  2. Special parts of the Tarkine, notably the primary rainforest, should be totally protected from logging, mining and recreational vehicles (these areas may be the focus of world heritage)
  3. Controlled tourism access that leaves no footprint should be encouraged
  4. Community involvement in decision making is essential

 Such guidelines need fleshing out and adding to. They may well end up allowing a flourishing adventure tourism industry based on walking, some selective logging for value added timber in agreed areas and mining with appropriate rehabilitation, in areas other than primary rainforest. Honey production and agriculture in existing cleared areas would sit comfortably under these guidelines.

 They would not, however, allow clear felling of native timber in the region, nor allow projects such as the proposed open cut tin and tungsten mine in primary rainforest at Mount Lindsay by Venture Minerals. That particular proposal, for a 3.5km x 3km 200 metre deep mine, is not within the scope of these guidelines. It’s also the sort of project that depends on the price of tin to be high for its sustainability.

 If the right information is gathered and shared, and if there is willingness to compromise, worthwhile outcomes can flow. They will only be forged by people working together. As the old African proverb goes:

“if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together”.

We also need to remember that we are transitory human beings making decisions in a microsecond of time, in the context of what has gone before us.

a youthful mindset

a youthful mindset

In the space of 24 hours recently I met a young person who seemed old and an older couple who seemed young. The 45 year old was living in the glory of his football days and the 85 year olds were enthusiastically seeking new things to challenge them. It made me think that a youthful mindset isn’t necessarily related to chronological age. Then I remembered Samuel Ullman’s brilliant poem on youth, read it again and felt the need to share.

“Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigour of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

 Youth means the temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.  This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty.  Nobody grows old merely by a number of years.  We grow old by deserting our ideals.

 Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.  Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.

 Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing childlike appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living.  In the centre of your heart and my heart here is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.

 When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty, but as long as your aerials are up, to catch waves of optimism, there is hope you may die young at eighty”

 The insights are brilliant. This was Konosuke Matsushita’s favourite poem. The “god” of Japanese management and founder of Panasonic was a living example of a person who died happy at 95 with a curious mind. Ullman died at 84, still writing.

 We often joke that 60 is the new 50, 50 is the new 40, and so on. As much as youthfulness depends upon staying fit and strong, it also depends on what’s going on in our heads. If you want to feel old, convince yourself that your best days are behind you. It’s not uncommon for people who think like this to have an aversion to change and to find it difficult to face new challenges, like social media. People who turn that on its head and take a future orientation, tend to have an enthusiasm and energy for life beyond their years. It’s not always about age!

 I believe that a youthful mindset is a precursor to happiness, quality of life and longevity. Here are five things we can all do on that journey: 

  1. Get fit and stay strong, offsetting the 400gms of muscle we lose every year after 30
  2. Have a curious mind and a thirst for knowledge
  3. Look forward to things
  4. Vigorously pursue your ideals, rather than just accepting, or complaining about, a less than perfect world
  5. Take on new challenges – even if they’re a bit of a stretch
  6. Show gratitude for our lives and what we can give and achieve
off the beaten track in argentina

off the beaten track in argentina

December 2, 2011  |  main blog, travel tips and tales  |  No Comments

Argentina is accessible and fun for visitors. In fact, it’s easy for Aussies to feel at home in a place with friendly people, jacarandas, malbec and cheap, tender meat. Buenos Aries, a city of 12 million, has plenty to experience for up to a week in any itinerary. The 24 hour side trip to Colonia in Uruguay, adds variety and can easily be built in.

From a travel perspective, the “must do’s” in Buenos Aries include the Evita museum; Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada – the scene of many significant events in history; MALBA – the museum of Latin American contemporary art; Recoleta Cemetery; La Boca – the birthplace of the tango; Teatro Colon -the famous opera house; the markets of San Telmo; and one of the many professional tango shows. Getting off the beaten track unlocks little treasures of restaurants, nightclubs and bars, although there’s little action before 10pm.

It’s amusing how some things seem relatively expensive and others cheap. Two poor quality cappuccinos cost 35 pesos (about $9) – which can buy a good bottle of malbec, a return taxi to the city, an entire home cooked meal, or ten empanadas. Don’t order cappuccino in BA!

Beyond Buenos Aries lie plenty of options – including Iguazu Falls, the Mendoza wine region, Patagonia and the north-west with Salta at the centre. We chose Salta on a LAN Chile flight – having been outraged by the discriminatory airline pricing policies for foreigners.

First impressions are always interesting – Salta has a rich heritage, lots of battlers, interesting ethnic influences (Inca, Spanish, Italian, Syrian and Lebanese), pretty girls (Matt Damon and Robert Duvall married Salta girls), a town in transition being discovered by the rest of the world,  and where the siesta is taken more seriously than in Buenos Aries. We warmed to Salta – a city of 500,000 with grand colonial architecture, great restaurants and a fantastic little boutique hotel called Hotel Antigua del Convento at $80 a night.

It’s OK to drive in regional Argentina. The manual Chevrolet was a suitable way to make excursions south and north of Salta. The trip south to the wine region of Cafayete provided some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever seen. Our eyes were on stalks as we ogled the crimson rocks and sheer magnitude of the dry river beds and massive Andes mountain ranges. It really was as if we were on another planet. Words cannot do justice to this multi-coloured, multi-textured landscape that is a geography teacher’s paradise. 

Cafayete wine region is older than Australia’s. Vineyards in the region are the highest in the world, averaging 1700 metres. The altitude is offset by the latitude as Cafayete is quite close to the Tropic of Capricorn. The region enjoys 340 cloudless days annually, with temperatures ranging between 2 and 38 degrees. The soils look similar to the champagne region of France – shale dominated, hungry and well drained. We loved the Cabernet and Malbec but didn’t warm to the much acclaimed white, Torrontes which was a bit sweet.

The trip north took us close to Bolivia to places like Purmamarca (home of the hill of seven colours), Humahuaca and the amazing Salinas Grandes – an inland salt lake at 3500 metres altitude, covering 3000 square miles. Purmamarca has become a tourism mecca, with artesan stalls dominating the town landscape and boutique restaurants and accommodation springing up. They offer a stark contrast to the living conditions of local people in their almost primitive mud brick homes. We pondered whether this destination will suffer from the “Kuta beach effect” ten years from now. Tourists can destroy the essence that attracts them in the first place.

The drive from Purmamarca to Salinas Grandes is at least the equal of the Salta wine trail south. A magnificently engineered mountain road (a key route to Chile), llamas, multi coloured mountains and the expansive salt lakes were a totally different experience for two seasoned travellers. Although we only experienced a small transect of the Andes, it left us without doubt that this is one of the most impressive geographic phenomena in the world.

Why don’t you elevate Argentina in your travel priorities and experience it before the Qantas direct flights stop in April 2012? If you do, here are a few tips:

  1. Incorporate the Andes in any travel itinerary – there’s nothing like it on the planet
  2. Get some basic Spanish before the trip. It gets embarrassing when you can’t reciprocate the enthusiasm and warmth of a new interaction
  3. Buy a Frommer’s guidebook to supplement the internet. It’s the pick of the crop.
  4. Book ahead. Argentina is becoming a hot spot for world travel and often booked out
  5. Book an apartment with cooking facilities. While restaurants are reasonable good value, the fresh produce and wine is outstanding quality and value.
  6. Don’t be afraid to drive in regional Argentina –it’s  quite easy really
  7. Take the subway around Buenos Aries at 30 cents a trip and supplement it with walking. Major attractions can be “clumped” and reached on foot
surprising argentina

surprising argentina

As we become increasingly aware of our short time on this planet, priorities for life, including travel, are often discussed. Little did we imagine that Argentina would take priority in our own travel plans. Encouraged by one daughter, we enjoyed an amazing two weeks in Buenos Aries and north-west Argentina. The appetite has been whetted for more, in a fascinating country with 5000km of coastline from tropical to sub Antarctic environments.  

 Rich with Inca heritage and battles with European invaders, and of politics over the past 60 years that have swayed between military rule and Peronist power (past and present), Argentina seems poised to regain lost prosperity. There are stark contrasts between regional poverty – almost third world poverty – and some of the well to do in Buenos Aries. Another contrast is old world sophistication and the vibrant energy of the young. Gauchos, tango dancers and i phones happily coexist, and yet it’s easy to sense substantial change ahead in this highly urbanised, exciting country of 42 million people. Low taxation and high inflation are current challenges for this resurgent, resource rich nation.

 From a tourism perspective, Argentina has seemingly untapped potential. Before the direct Qantas flight home from Buenos Aries (which shifts to Santiago in April 2012), I talked with Geoff McGeary, the founder and owner of APT, who has just established a business in Argentina. The adventure business is booming and he can’t keep up with demand from Australia alone. The country is accessible and interesting, with key points of differentiation in a tourism world that is increasingly homogeneous.

 Argentinians love football, siestas, and have a strong sense of community. The European influence – not only from Spain but from Italy as well – permeates local life, with bidets to be found even in hostels. This is an accommodating country, one which is tolerant and welcoming. It also possesses an energy brooding beneath the siesta – an energy that will make Argentina economically more powerful and accessible to the world. There is a pervasive sense of hope and justice in Argentina, just nine years after the dramas of police shooting protestors in the streets.

 Argentina served up surprises everywhere:

  •  Argentina is a food bowl. We enjoyed the quality of the produce available on the domestic market – much of it reflecting no middle men in the supply chain, although supermarkets are starting to put pressure on small local shop keepers as they have done in every other part of the developing world. Some food was exceptional – like freshly squeezed orange juice; organically grown and dried peaches; fresh shelled walnuts; raisins; tomatoes that tasted as if they came from the back garden; succulent corn; ripe and cheap avocadoes; abundant and tender fresh asparagus and of course the meat – fillet steak was AUD 8.00 a kg in most retails outlets
  • The insidious influence of western diet is having an impact on the local population with obesity apparent and possibly aligned with an overwhelming consumption of soft drink, confectionary and very sweet and fatty bakery items. What a shame given the corn and other foodstuffs that formed the base diet for Argentinians in the past
  • The behaviour of children and young adults is as we knew it forty years ago – respectful, controlled and cheerful. We were amused by the habit of very young students wearing lab coats – like young engineers. Bizarre but cute!
  • Old cars are abundant, particularly in regional Argentina  – Ford 100’s, Ford Falcons, old Peugot 504’s and Renault 12’s, Fiats and the ubiquitous Volkswagens and  Toyotas
  • Beverage consumption varies from the comfort of flasks of mate tea to fizzy drinks to the hip wine bars of Palermo serving craft beer on tap and wine by the glass. Red wine is improving and represents a real global opportunity for the industry – blessed with cheap labour and proven terroir. Quaffing wine is very cheap and good wines excellent value. AUD10 will deliver a seriously good Cabernet or Malbec.
  • Whatever happened to the African slaves who were abundant in the 19th Century? Little is written about this subject. Did they leave due to the prejudices of the military; did they become subsumed into the population; or did they perish?
  • Although Argentina has seen a large influx of Spanish, Italian, Syrian and Lebanese immigrants, there is almost no Asian or Muslim presence in the country
best 20 wines under $20 - christmas 2011

best 20 wines under $20 – christmas 2011

November 27, 2011  |  main blog, wine review  |  4 Comments

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS POST HAS BEEN SUPERSEDED BY A NEW ONE – GO TO http://rebounds.com.au/category/wine-review/

Here they are – the best value wines in Australia (with a stray NZ pinot). All wines are available at the time of writing, with hyperlinks link to the cheapest source I could find. 

SPARKLING WINES

  • Brown Brothers NV Pinot Noir Chardonnay and Pinot Meuniere. From the King Valley, without doubt the best Australian sparkling under $20. Nicks $19.99
  • Seppelt Original Sparkling Shiraz 2006. A classic – spicy black fruit with length and balance. Perfect for Christmas dinner turkey. Boccacio Cellars at an amazing $18.99

WHITE WINES

  • Pewsey Vale Riesling 2011 – Clean, citrus zest, lime and mineral texture. Amazing value at $13.99 from Kemenys
  • Heggies Riesling 2011. A tightly structured Barossan gem.  Dan Murphys $17.99.
  • Tar and Roses Pinot Grigio 2011. One of the best of this style from Don Lewis, showing crisp pear and nougat. Well priced from Dan Murphys at $16.15
  • Montgomerys Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2010. Fresh asparagus and tropical fruit salad – a wine from Albany direct from the winery at $18.00
  • Stella Bella Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2010. From Margaret River, a classic blend and easy Christmas drinking. Grays on line at $19.99
  • De Iuliis Semillon 2011. A lively, fresh Semillon from the Hunter from Cloudwine at $17
  • Bellarmine Estate Chardonnay 2010. A winner from Pemberton. Stone fruit and length, Fantastic buying at Boccacio cellars at $18.99
  • Ingram Road 2010 Chardonnay. Another impressive chardonnay from the Yarra Valley. Available from Cloudwine at $16
  • Barwang Chardonnay 2011 – outstanding Tumbarumba sourced Chardonnay. $13.75 at Kemenys – not on line but in the latest catalogue

ROSE

  • Dandelion Fairytale of the Barossa Rose 2011. A serious wine better than the competition. Halliday 95 points. Cloudwine $20

RED WINES

  • Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir 2010. Brilliant value quality pinot from the Yarra Valley from a great vintage. This is a must buy. $16.99 at Kemenys
  • Palliser Estate Pencarrow Pinot Noir 2010. An excellent Martinborough pinot at an unbelievable price from Cloudwine for $18
  • Tar and Roses Alpine Valleys Heathcote Tempranillo 2010. The best yet – rich mulberries and hints of blackcurrant with impressive length, balance and structure. Dan Murphys $18.99
  • Hidden label Langhorne Creek Cabernet Malbec 2006 KHL 1307. Sells for $33 under its own label. Impressive wine at Kemenys at $17
  • Tatachilla Cabernet Sauvignon 2008. From Mclaren Vale, an outstanding wine. Be quick! From Winelistaustralia on line for $19.99
  • Majella ‘the Musician” Cabernet Shiraz 2010. A 55/45 blend from the Coonawarra winery. Beautiful wine from Topwineries on line at $17.99
  • Plantagenet Omrah 2009 Shiraz. From Mount Barker with ripe fragrant red currant fruit and velvety texture. Go direct to cellar door at Plantagenet Wines $18.00
  • Philip Shaw Idiot Shiraz 2010. From the emerging Orange district. A great wine from a globally recognised maker. Topwineries on line at $19.99
and the fairies danced at midnight

and the fairies danced at midnight

September 21, 2011  |  life, main blog  |  2 Comments

I went to a wedding recently – probably been to 30 others over the years – but this one was different. It was a three day festival – the Tie the Knot Festival in the stunning Kangaroo Valley.

A talented bride and groom were the planners, architects and visionaries behind organising and delivering a complex event. They celebrated the philosophy of inclusiveness, with every one of the 140 guests having a particular role, however small. The broader participation of generous guests somehow added to the fulfilment – almost as though we all had a hand in creating this unique experience. The wedding planners catered for diverse interests (from yoga to karaoke), in this non-stop cauldron of activity that flowed from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning.

The wedding component was special – the love between the marrying couple so authentic and apparent in many ways. Their bespoke vows, exchanged in a bush cathedral of spiritual significance, transcended a ceremony of tradition and spontaneity. The bride jumped up and down with excitement when the celebrant pronounced them man and wife. Spoken blessings from friends and family were original and heartfelt, the bride and groom never stopped grinning. In this timeless bush setting, flanked by massive rock walls and lofty trees, we were united with nature and could feel a flood of love, emotion and spirituality wash over us. No more words were needed.

There was only a handful of baby boomers present – this was a festival for the bride and groom’s friends. When the band stopped playing at the reception, these friends were transformed on mass into fairies, in the blink of an eye. They seemed to have done it before and were eager to seek their collective liberation through costume and friendship.

It was different because we had sensory stimulation, from the stunning location at Kangaroo Valley Bush Retreat, to the food and beverage (cocktails, Back Vintage fizz, Berry sourdough bakery breakfast, Duck Duck Goose catering), and to the infectious enthusiasm of a collective of fun loving, caring young men and women. Constant stimulation also came from a spirit and tone which transcended the event….a spirit of love, inclusion, care and friendship. It was truly remarkable.

That bride is my daughter, Catherine – and you can’t begin to imagine how happy I am for her, and how much I love and respect her – and her caring, understanding husband, Cyrus. My mate Les, a person of great depth and wisdom, penned the following verse which captured powerfully the essence of the festival. I offer it with his permission and my total admiration.

 the fairies danced at midnight

kindred spirits wait

dwarfed by nature

bush beauty

and weathered rock

the voice of an angel

time stops

wisdom shared

vows read

clouds passed overhead

as tears flowed

with contagion joy

and the fairies danced at midnight.

celebrations

ordered grace

laughter, courage

a warm embrace

family pride

on display

a speechless bride

remained at play

the bush sparkled

the knot tied tight

and the fairies danced at midnight.

colour, movement

souls set free

costumes, lanterns

burning trees

moonlight magic

stars shone bright

a sea of love

at high tide

and the fairies danced at midnight.

audacious, amazing

never again

a one off moment

shared with friends

creative joy

knows no bounds

when spirit soars

and laughter sounds

and fairies dance at midnight

penetrating the USA market

Sustainable penetration of the lucrative US market by Australian companies is uncommon. Although there may be diminished appetite for market entry by export, investment or full participation due to current exchange rates, the US is still the king of global markets. Many Australian corporates have tried, however not many have succeeded.

Much has been written about the way Yellowtail Wines created as much value organically as Fosters paid for Beringer by acquisition, and the Westfield shopping mall penetration is well known. The successful entry of the US market by listed Australian building materials company James Hardie, is another case study that offers some valuable insights to aspirants.

James Hardie initially entered the US market in 1990 with imported fibre cement roofing and it was apparent by the early 90’s that a prospective market for siding products existed. Siding is the term used for a product we might call weatherboard, and in the USA some of the engineered wood siding products were failing in the southern States. Savvy local operators led by the current Hardie CEO, Louis Gries, made the choice clear – “there is a big market opportunity here. You can have a skimming strategy or a penetration strategy, depending on price”. The right price for a penetration strategy demanded a lower cost base.

Even with the establishment of manufacturing capacity in California, the cost base, at $400 per thousand square feet, would only enable market skimming. It needed to be $200. There were those who thought the task impossible, but the Americans, particularly those from Chicago, are real “can do” people. We assembled a team of American engineers and Australian researchers, committed between 4 and 5% of sales to R&D (an amazing level for a building materials company) and 18 months later had cracked it – a volume market strategy for the biggest building materials market in the world.

What were the critical decisions made to ensure this success?

  • Having a low cost base enabled Hardiplank to be competitively priced for volume
  • Hardie committed from the outset to putting capacity into the market ahead of demand. That takes courage and commitment.
  • Hardie built plants around freight logistics to cover targeted consumer segments
  • A brilliant, hard-nosed sales force won the hearts and minds of the dealers in a classical two step distribution model (which later incorporated direct)
  • The company used customer preference to steer the ongoing R&D with winning new products hitting the mark every time.

James Hardie penetration of the US siding market became so successful that it surprised the industry. In fact, the market was sufficiently attractive that competitors entered – some of the biggest players in the world including Saint Gobain and Temple Inland. They each spent the best part of $100 million on a single plant, only to retreat after some years.

James Hardie was able to grow market share and see off competitors not only because it had driven the cost base down, but because we had also moved way up the experience curve in the process of understanding how to produce at a lower cost. We also empowered the local operation, which had a deep understanding of the market and drove distribution decisions around freight logistics. It was also about a focused corporate and operational mindset, people determined to win and who understood that there were no quick fixes or short cuts. As the architect of the strategy and CEO who started the journey, Keith Barton, used to say….”get the conditions right and the outcomes will flow”.

Today Hardie (as it is known in the USA) owns the market. The Hardie brand has become the generic for fibre cement and the US exceeds 80% of total company revenue. Products now include siding in its many variations and backer board.

The USA new housing market will take quite a while to pick up again, but when it does, watch those fibre cement machines start pumping in the ten USA plants, strategically positioned around the USA

inspiration and longevity from gardening

inspiration and longevity from gardening

August 23, 2011  |  environment, knowledge, life, main blog, motivation  |  4 Comments

I’ve just come in from an exhilarating day in the garden – made myself a vegetable plot from redgum railway sleepers – and feel motivated to post something about gardening.

Creating and/or maintaining a garden, whatever the size, nurtures the body, mind and spirit. For many people, their garden is their sanctuary, for others like me, gardening can inspire and energise.

Gardens can make us happy, heal us when sad or depressed, and help us understand profound truths about the relationship between ourselves and nature. As we journey through the seasons, the pattern of birth, bloom and decay sheds light on the mystery of being human” Albert Camus

The life and death cycle in the garden is an analogy with life itself. It provides a sense of wonder at what nature can provide. For children, seeing a pea in a pod, a bird feasting on a flower, or tasting a home grown tomato, adds a whole new dimension to our consumer and supermarket driven society. For adults, a garden can be a total escape from the things that bother us, such as technological intrusion, or unfulfilling lives…..and there’s nothing like whipping out the back to find a fresh herb to add flavour to any dish.

Eileen Campbell writes in her delightful little book, “The Joy of Gardening”, “We’ve somehow become divorced from the natural world and seem to be on a headlong course to destroy the planet one way or another. Gardening isn’t a panacea for the problems of the world, but maybe by creating our own little bit of paradise, we can make a difference. Gardening nurtures qualities like patience, optimism, trust, discipline and attention – which can ultimately help us live a fulfilled and happy life

 I was lucky to have been brought up with soil under my finger nails, enjoying the products of an extensive home vegie garden, the taste of home grown fruit and learning to appreciate the beauty of native plants. For those to whom gardening is new, don’t be intimidated by the prospect. It’s highly accessible and possible for everyone to become involved – from single room apartment balconies to sweeping arboretums.  There’s even a trend towards green walls and roofs in residential and commercial buildings. They give a sense of tranquillity, connect the inside with the outside and help the planet by turning carbon dioxide into oxygen.

 The community garden  concept is also becoming popular around the world. Community gardens bring people together, generate fresh food and flowers, and operate on a shared work load principle. If there’s nothing in your local area, why not approach the council or park management authority to kick one off?

So, to the unconverted I suggest you get involved. While great gardens show a sense of flair and artistry, there are no rules – it’s simply a matter of getting on the court and playing. The web is full of guidance on vegetable gardening , growing herbs and even a helpful site which collates 50 blogs covering many types of gardens.

Sowing seed, watching life emerge, weeding, pruning, harvesting and clearing, give a rhythm to life and transcend time. It’s also therapeutic for the body and mind. Active gardening contributes to longevity (my unproven hypothesis) – through fresh air, sunshine, peace of mind and exercise. As the garden you have created and developed becomes part of you, then you become part of it.

Gardens also provide the chance to learn things (I’m still trying to learn how to make compost like my mother in law!) We’re increasingly being challenged to understand concepts like water use efficiency and growing plants without artificial chemicals.  You’ll find that experienced gardeners love to share their secrets with aspiring gardeners – tips like planting a passionfruit vine above a bullock’s liver, or keeping your orchids in part shade. Many of them have also grown to understand the garden as an ecosystem and have learnt about integrated pest management and the importance of soil condition. It’s a great conversation opportunity across generations.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul. Show me your garden and I’ll tell you what you are” Alfred Austin

australia's corporate blindspots

australia’s corporate blindspots

Inspiring case studies about Asian market penetration, leadership in technology and global excellence in sustainability programs, show what Australia is capable of. However, across the ASX 200 and beyond, we tend to lag in some game-changing areas. While it’s risky to generalise, I believe that corporate Australia tends to underestimate three important strategic themes:

  1. Fully understanding the impact of China on a number of fronts – as it shifts from a low cost manufacturing base to the biggest consumer market in the world; as it moves from a user of technology to a creator of technology (2.2% of GDP in the next five year plan on R&D); and as the need for primary resources (minerals and food) continues to grow. Geoff Raby, retiring Australian Ambassador to China, said that the one thing that surprised him most about his time in Beijing, was how few CEO’s and Chairs of Australian companies paid him a visit.
  2. Treating environmental and sustainable challenges as opportunities rather than impositions. There are many ASX 200 companies with lengthy annual sustainability reports, however few demonstrate genuine belief that environmental responsibility and growing profitability are not mutually exclusive. We desperately need a mindset shift from compliance and complaint, to realism and possibility.
  3. Recognising the value of leading rather than lagging in embracing digital technology-based innovation. Although there is variation in responsiveness within the sectors, media and retail are two sectors which have been caught asleep at the wheel. Is this an age related phenomenon – as older people are in positions of responsibility? How many senior executives and directors have you heard pass off Twitter as being frivolous, rather than seeing its potential as a primary source of focused information? Yet I know many savvy over 60’s behaving like digital natives. No, it’s not age per se; it’s about mindset, openness to change and awareness.

In a global context, Australia business has performed relatively well in the last decade, supported by resources based economic growth, a sound banking and legal system and excellent corporate governance. After the GFC, some observers have suggested that this same good governance has trended towards risk aversion and consequent inertia.

As the world is turned on its head by the digital revolution, major shifts in the global economic balance, and the need to resuscitate an environmentally struggling planet, there is no room for board and executive risk aversion in these areas. While being in the “late adopter” or “laggard” group may not have threatened company survival in the past, today’s environment calls for a positioning as “early adopters” at worst, and “innovators” at best.

Peter Williams, CEO of Deloitte Digital, goes even further in suggesting that any board of directors or group of managers who are not moving fast to understand and harness changes that technology is delivering – social media, cloud computing, mobile devices and data – is abrogating its responsibility to deliver leadership and governance.

Over the next ten to twenty years, the future of Australia will be fall into three main areas – primary resources (minerals and food); the service economy, and the knowledge economy. Julian Cribb believes that by 2050, our economy could be 70% knowledge based. In China last month I saw evidence of the emerging demand for our capabilities in disciplines like urban planning, agricultural science, energy, information technology, architecture, engineering, water management and medicine. We have a long way to go to understand the scope and shape of that knowledge economy, let alone create it. The building blocks exist, but success will depend on the ability of corporate (and political) Australia to gain insights and show leadership in the three areas that we underestimate.

What can we do? CEO’s need to get on the court and play – go to China and understand the market and people. Get immersed in the new technology – as ABC CEO Mark Scott does, personally sending 140 relevant tweets a week. He knows the medium and can talk the language because he has become involved. Shift from a mindset of lobbying Government about regulation, to one of understanding which way the wind is blowing and putting up the spinnaker. Get rid of dead wood on boards – people who are reluctant to change and enjoy peer group support for their scepticism. Much focus is given to gender diversity on boards – we need some mindset diversity as well! It’s not too late but we need to act quickly.