the shared leadership imperative

the shared leadership imperative

Brian Cook, the Geelong Football Club CEO – who has steered three premierships at Geelong and two at West Coast – was interviewed recently on Fox Sports. He was asked what the pre-requisites are for a good coach. His response was compelling – “the two most important elements are leadership and cultural development – the ability to achieve the desired culture in the club and to lead the eight assistant coaches in a way where they operate as an effective team. The technical and tactical elements come second”.  I reflected that the most successful leaders in my experience have also focused on creating team culture and team decision making processes as their primary objective. The vision and strategies in these organisations were generally defined by, agreed to, and lived by the team.

The concept of shared rather than authoritarian leadership has been an espoused “preferred state” in most modern organisations, but has often been derailed by leaders who have problems giving up control. If only they could see the irony that the former CEO of Levi Strauss, Robert Haas articulated – “the more you share leadership and responsibility, the more you multiply your own effectiveness through the effectiveness of others…..you have to accept the fact that decisions and recommendations may be different from what you would do alone…..different but possibly better. You have to be willing to take your own ego out of it”.

Why change? Traditional leadership styles are a carry-over from the evolution of the industrial era which created centralised systems and hierarchies to support those times. Ingrained for centuries, they remained accepted as the norm. Today, they are increasingly coming under pressure to change to modes that will support the new imperatives in business and society.

Getting a sniff of the need to change, there’ve been many well intentioned attempts to introduce shared leadership, only to see them despatched to the “too hard basket”. We’ve seen as many failures as successes, because it takes commitment and then relentless determination to establish the mindsets, processes and rules to make it work.

 I was lucky enough to work with an organisation in the late 90’s where three years of hard work created a powerful team environment. Staff and managers stepped up to wear the hat of their assigned role, as well as that of leader, often “taking one for the team” and seeing the organisation as a whole. It was underpinned by agreed goals, mutual respect and strong adherence to the team norms (like not tolerating territoriality, passivity or mediocrity). People who couldn’t comply were rejected by the team – or volunteered to leave. There was less “wheel spinning” and everyone felt valued and recognised. It reminds me very much of the team culture at the Sydney Swans over recent years.

If today’s leaders (be they in community organisations, family businesses, sporting clubs or large corporations), can’t see this irony, there are some powerful forces at work that will apply the brakes to centralist, heroic and authoritarian leadership styles. The digital world demands that we share. A former boss said once, “information gives power”. Today, sharing information gives power. So does sharing leadership and responsibility.

 Social media is also helping to redefine leadership. As Michael Fauscette writes, “people have new levels of empowerment because of their on line voice, and expect experiences from organisations that mimic those in their personal life….power and communication are networked, not hierarchical and one way”. Organisation cultures must therefore change to meet these new requirements – or people will move to places where cultures have already been transformed.

In a shared leadership team, each person fulfils a clear role and all members strive for a common, agreed goal. A true team provides the right environment for the pursuit of quality, customer service, productivity or whatever is agreed, in a changing environment. Intact teams also provide strong social and emotional rewards, including self-esteem and a sense of being valued. There’s great satisfaction in being part of a high performing team where critique, learning and personal development flourish.

When a true team culture is established with its norms and behavioural expectations (often around respect, listening and personal obligations to the team), it’s hard for leaders (or anyone else) to violate the culture. It’s also a hard place to want to stay if you’re unaligned. As we move from the old industrialised world business cultures to those of the knowledge economy, some of the different imperatives can be summarised as follows:

 OLD – Hierarchical model   NEW – Social business model
  • Managing
  • Hoarding information
  • Leaders are served
  • Conformity is rewarded
  • One way communication
  • Openness discouraged
  • Top down strategy
  •  Coaching
  • Sharing information
  • Leaders serve
  • Everyone has voice and influence
  • Networked communication
  • Transparency flourishes
  • Particpatory strategy/viison work

I’d like to hear your personal experiences and thoughts. Does change depend on having a leader who believes in shared leadership, or can organisational culture be changed by the people? Do staff really want shared leadership or do some have fear of the commitment and step up needed?

Image by Omar Eduardo

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

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 creeping inertia

australia’s creeping inertia

There are many things that fill me with pride as an Australian. There are others about which I am increasingly embarrassed. We all have long lists on both sides of that ledger. The one which disturbs me most, and which can most impact our long term prosperity, is inertia.

I’ve been in the UAE, China and Singapore recently and returned wondering why we’re being beaten hands down in development of convention centres, bullet trains, sustainability programs, new hotels, freeways, and even knowledge economies. The world is moving at an incredible pace. In many areas, we seem to lag, even behind the developing world. Why?

Within the context of “free market” principles, national sovereignty is diminished as global markets, multinational corporations and global institutions play a major role in shaping our economy. While these forces also prevail in emerging markets like China, they are matched by a hunger to catch up and exceed, which is strongly nurtured by State. By contrast, inertia is rife in Australia, not so much in the private sector, but certainly in public policy.

 I’ve spoken with a few wise heads to get an angle on our malaise (in the spirit of “first seek to understand”) and have developed some thoughts. I wondered whether to tackle the ultimate sacred cow by asking “is democracy itself the problem – and do democracies inevitably tend to inertia?” On reflection, I think the issue is more the way our democracy is manifested. Australian democracy today is being impacted by four forces:

  1. The shape of politics today

- Reform is always slow and politics is about compromise  – a challenge enhanced by the current political mix. Without masterful negotiations or bipartisan support for reform, we have a melting pot for inertia.

- As membership of, and interest in, political parties diminishes, the influence of factions and divisions increases, resulting in a sub optimal mix of candidates. There are too many poor performers, insufficient diversity, too many lawyers and union officials, too few business people and visionaries. As a consequence, we have fewer issues focused debates and more fixed partisan positions, with vested interests buried in ideology and inaction.

      2.    Our relative comfort and apathy

Australians have not faced any prolonged shock or discomfort since the end of the WW2 more than 60 years ago. While there is poverty and disadvantage in our country, standards of living have continued to improve. As consumerism grows and people increasingly “have what they want when they want it”, they are becoming less happy, readier to find fault and carry a higher expectation for “the Government” to fix things. We’ve become more apathetic and short sighted and this flows on to major projects – where is the next Opera House, Harbour Bridge or renewed public transport system? Are they a priority today?

      3.   Media

Lack of media diversity and standards is a major concern. In many of Australia’s media markets, only one single company dominates.  John Faulkner captures the argument – “the media’s freedom to publish was once a safeguard for our democracy. Today, as trash tabloids and opinion-for-hire commentators destroy any semblance of a debate of ideas, the principle of informed decision-making at the heart of the ideal of democracy drowns beneath racy headlines and print-now, retract-later coverage. Radio shock-jocks and shallow television infotainment do the same”.

         4.    The digital revolution

Technology has shrunk and accelerated our world, generated more choice and shortened our attention spans. There are greater demands on our time and more attention to the short term than the longer term.  Faulkner again – “opinion pollsters report a lack of interest or understanding in politics from the very same people racking up massive mobile bills voting for an Australian Idol contestant. This disinterest breeds a vicious cycle, for those who don’t speak up will find nothing so certain as that they won’t be heard”

Solutions?

These four elements are causing indifference, distrust and disengagement about politics and democracy – and apathy about our future. What can we do? Here are four thought starters:

  • Achieve electoral reform at candidate selection level through absolute transparency
  • Win bipartisan support for application of the benefits of the resources boom into infrastructure and other long term benefits, such as creating a knowledge economy
  • Overhaul media laws to achieve diversity, debate and responsible reporting with a view to the future of the country and the globe – not just selling papers. As this is being posted, there are cries for a media review based on the events in News Corp.
  • As individuals, bother to be heard. The world is changing and solutions are not always driven in the traditional way. Look at what GetUp is achieving, for example.

We must achieve major reform and progress in these relatively strong economic times, rather than having to wait to react in the bad times. What about a sovereign fund? That aside, it’s up to us all to make a difference, in a democracy that’s tested but not broken.

climate change attitudes part two

climate change attitudes part two

Encouraged by responses to my blog post last week on the role of ideology in driving opinions on climate change, I feel the need to follow up with another post based on the release of Lowy polling over the weekend. Why does community concern about climate changed appeared to have softened in Australia?

The annual Lowy Institute Polls on public opinion are useful background information. In the 2007 poll, Australians ranked tackling climate change as the equal most important foreign policy goal. In the same poll in 2009, it ranked seventh out of ten possible goals.  In the 2011 poll, released this week, 39% of Australians were not prepared to spend a cent on global warming, with the numbers prepared to take action even with “significant cost” falling from 60% (2008), to 41% (2011). What’s happened?

Remember the Howard Government’s plans to commence an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in 2007? Despite differences of opinion around the edges, there appeared to be general bipartisan recognition of the issues and the need to act through a market based mechanism. It was carried forward by Rudd and Turnbull in their respective leadership roles. What has changed? In my view, it’s mostly to do with politics and communication.

Although climate change remains a complex and challenging issue around the world, in Australia and to a certain extent in the USA, the debate has been politicised and people’s inner worldview, and the opinions of their peer groups has prevailed. Apart from some of independent thought, people have now tended to line up along traditional conservative and progressive lines. The other driver of confusion, indifference and resistance has been the inability of the Rudd and Gillard Governments to adequately articulate the issues and the case for action – a disappointing lost opportunity for the Government and Australia.

Why have things become more politicised in recent times? In my blog post last week, I discussed the reasons why many conservatives may push back from acceptance of, and the need to act on, Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW).The theme I didn’t develop is the disproportionate influence of the religious right, many of whom adopt literal interpretations of the bible such as, “the world will end when God is ready”. It underpins the mindsets of many in the Tea Party in the USA and conservatives in Australia with strong influence. It is proving to be a significant contributor to the polarisation and politicisation of the issue.

Other contributors are some of the positions offered by the “dark greens”, who tend to crusade on issues rather than see them in the context of a dynamic and finely balanced economy. This causes reactions, push back and further polarisation. We need to understand the respective positions, debate the issues, play the ball not the man and work together with open minds. Failure to do so will cause more and more people to switch off altogether.

Of course it’s hard for people to give things up to fight a cause which is difficult to see and understand. AGW is a global issue and there are now more than 30 countries with an ETS or some form of carbon tax and many more without such measures. While there is a majority belief that action needs to be taken by Australia on climate change (latest CSIRO survey), this belief seems tempered by the respondents’ key concerns about the cost of living and financial hardship.

Perhaps the essential challenge for society is to clarify the relatively minor costs of acting now compared to those of acting later. We need to find a path forward that proactively addresses the needs of individuals while encouraging action on climate change.

In Australia, the polarisation and politicisation of AGW is disappointing and short sighted. Both sides of politics are guilty and should lead the chorus of apologies to our children for our collective inability to lead, build consensus and act. The apologies will be all too late when decision makers “get it” in 20 years; when people can actually see that the melting of the polar ice caps has caused devastation to hundreds of millions of human beings; when they can ultimately see before them the outcomes that the ostriches said wouldn’t happen in 2011.

Sadly, by then it may well be too late to save this planet from irreversible damage. Sometimes it is necessary to lead rather than look in the rear vision mirror and ask people what they think. To reinforce the point, watch James Hansen talking with David Letterman in an entertaining yet disturbing treatment of the subject.

Seduced by the prospect of power at the next election, both sides of Australian politics have dropped the ball. The Government has done a lousy job in building consensus and articulating why they feel the need to act. The Opposition has passed up a once in a generation chance to show bipartisan leadership on an issue which will affect the planet, and the lives of all future generations.

conservative ideology and climate change

conservative ideology and climate change

I see that lobbyists are paying to bring Christopher Monckton – the high-profile climate denier – on another speaking tour of Australia. Earlier this month, Monckton accused Australia’s climate advisor, Professor Ross Garnaut, of being a fascist. People’s behaviour in the climate change debate, or what passes for sensible debate in this country, has been interesting and frustrating. Denial and spoiling tactics have been adopted by people who seem to carry an agenda. It is an immutable fact that the vast majority of these people are conservatives and reactionaries, rather than progressives and true liberals. Apart from their characteristic resistance to change, I’ve struggled to understand this particular conservative rationale and driving purpose, until reading the insights presented by Tim Dean in the Drum in March 2011.

 My blog post is stimulated by his piece, but largely expresses my own frustration with the situation we find ourselves in today. Of course, these views don’t apply to all climate change deniers or all conservatives. I am trying to understand the motives of deniers rather than to bash them. It is not about conservatives being bad and progressives being good. Clearly all conservatives and progressives don’t think and behave in the same way and not everyone will agree with this generalisation of the conservative view, however analysis of specific demographics, ideologies and patterns of behaviour can be instructive.

Why is it that so many conservatives appear immune to the overwhelming scientific evidence and rational argument that suggests Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is real? The answer may lie in the fact that to conservatives, climate change is not about science or economics – it is about an ideology and politics, as Clive Hamilton points out in his book “Requiem for a Species”. Most of us decide at some time or other where our political beliefs sit and rarely stray from this belief. When a concept like AGW comes along, we tend to reference our political belief system before assessing the evidence. When facts don’t support the pre-existing belief system, then the facts must be wrong! Often rational thought processes are subsumed in the emotional responses to challenges to a political belief system or to our implicit worldview. AGW represents a fundamental threat to the conservative ideology or worldview. Denying it doesn’t make climate change go away, it only makes dealing with it even harder, for us and future generations. There is also an argument that the more climate change is associated with the Greens, the left and environmentalists, the less comfortable conservatives are about embracing it.

 Various Newspoll and other polls have consistently shown that a big proportion of the conservative demographic behaving as climate change deniers, are over 50 year old males. Why? Maybe they want to eliminate challenges to their comfortable existence, despite the consequences for future generations, at any cost. Dealing with climate change is uncomfortable for many of them as it requires, at least to some degree, embracing social consciousness and stepping away from selfishness and mass consumerism. Unfortunately the vested interest of many conservatives is so strong that only climate related disasters of increasingly devastating magnitude, which personally affect them, will have any chance of changing their world view.

 The one thing that intrigues me is the veracity of their sense of purpose on this issue and their relative indifference to other issues. Maybe it relates to control – one thing this demographic holds disproportionately strongly. The thought of losing control of control, control of wealth, and control of assets certainly sharpens their minds, as do potential changes in power relationships in society. But have they really thought things through? Ironically, conservatives have the most to lose from the impact of AGW, as they control most of the money! Why can’t conservatives see nature as an asset that supports humanity? Failure to do so is to support an unsustainable world. Perhaps, as Lewansoky points out, conservatives with a free market ideology will be more able to accept AGW science when it is framed in a favourable context (lots of technology, opportunities to make money etc.)

 In even further irony, the tactics many deniers adopt, either deliberately or unknowingly, generally become supporting proof for the issue they are trying to discredit. Spoiling tactics take on many forms including exaggeration of potential harm, use of irrelevant issues, appeals to personal freedom and magnifying disagreement among scientists. Suddenly, non-scientists claim that science is about opinion rather than fact. Or they talk of the need for more peer review. Clutching at straws, they selectively search the haystack to find the needle represented by a dissenting scientist. Whether by ignorance or spoiling, they confuse weather patterns with climatic change. They confuse El Nino and La Nina cycles, and Ice Age effects, with AGW. They reserve the right to “make up their own minds” on this issue, while accepting what science says as the truth on other issues.

When their arguments start to flounder, they resort to saying that Australia (as the biggest per capita polluter in the world) shouldn’t act because the rest of the world isn’t acting! You should see the massive greenhouse gas reduction programs in the latest 5 year plan for China!! When all else fails, they play the man rather than the ball, attacking the motives and integrity of the scientists.  Assisted by News Limited media and “shockjocks”, who have irresponsibly confounded the debate on this subject in Australia, they throw mud so that some sticks, causing doubt where there should be acceptance and a desire to understand more and seek the best solutions. Please forgive me for drawing the analogy with conservative Anglicans who thought that Darwin was a left wing activist as he used massive amounts of scientific evidence to overthrow dogma and ignorance.

 Perhaps we should cut some slack to those people not trained as scientists, because they don’t know what they don’t know. Doing post graduate science, I can remember my professor saying, “a science graduate is a person who is introduced to bodies of knowledge in such a way that he or she can continue to relate to them”. The undergraduate degree taught us to gather evidence, test, analyseand think in a logical way and establish hypotheses that can be subsequently confirmed. I’ve heard deniers and sceptics who claim to have better knowledge and the right to be heard as they have “read many books on the subject”, yet understand neither the concepts of theory, probability and proof in a scientific context. It’s amazing how many of them believe they have the technical and intellectual capacity to look at the data themselves and arrive at the correct conclusion, and how their conclusions are radically different to those with the relevant training and expertise. Then there are others – people with a genuine desire to learn, who are vulnerable to manipulation by legitimate sounding conservatives without adequate science, and to the propaganda of some hard line Christians and the resources sector lobby.

 Climate change deniers don’t have a mortgage on being selective in the information they seek and use to support their ideologies. While progressives are more accepting of the science, they can also be selective in mounting their arguments, and can also be driven by their own worldview. So how do we break the deadlock of our implicit, and often irrational, worldviews or our political attitudes? The circuit breaker is awareness. When considering an issue such as AGW, we should pause and reflect on whether our feelings are inspired by evidence and reason, or by a strong emotional inclination. Think about how we’re approaching the issue, and how we’re injecting it with value, and the benefits of keeping an open mind.

 Science has established beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of the greenhouse effect (without which our planet would be a frozen wasteland), increases in CO2 levels produced by humans and increases in global average temperatures. The science has also established, on the balance of probabilities to at least a 90% level, that humans are the primary cause of that change. We should be at consensus on this point and now be sensibly considering what action to take. That’s the subject of another blog post.

cultivating an open mind

cultivating an open mind

Most of us claim to have an open mind, but we often stop walking the talk when it comes to certain beliefs and opinions, some which can be held dogmatically. Dogma can lead to intolerance (does anyone spring to mind?)  No matter how open minded we think we are, we still shut off new things or alternative perspectives, just not realising the rut we’re in.

An open mind doesn’t mean that we fail to develop convictions, rather it means being able to question things – even our central beliefs. It gives us the capacity to think on both sides of an argument, and the chance to grow, and to change. I was surprised, early in my career, to see the reluctance of people to embrace change, and so developed an appetite for helping people and organisations accept and grow with change.

There are two paradoxes associated with change. Firstly, to achieve continuity, we have to be willing to change. Change is in fact the only way to protect what exists, for without continuous readjustment the present can’t continue. A marriage, a career, a dream for the future are all destroyed if they don’t change over time. The second paradox is that the very things we wish to hold on to and keep safe from change, were originally produced by changes.

Having an open mind takes courage, because it challenges our minds. After all, we can decide whether we want to be disturbed or remain in the comfort zone, both personally and professionally.  I think that the keys to an open mind are curiosity, and affirmative listening. When we listen affirmatively we listen for the possibilities for ourselves and others, we hear more than the words, and we hear the person behind the words. 

Being open minded keeps alive the childlike appetite for what’s next, and enriches our lives. This often occurs through working together with like-minded people to express our own values, but can also occur through partnerships that are not as obvious.

There are many examples of people with different mindsets and beliefs coming together to achieve amazing things. In these cases, on open mind or a willingness to overcome barriers to partnerships that don’t come naturally, is important.

 I continue to be excited about the possibilities around partnerships across generations. Business and life experiences with my children and their mates have been inspiring. They bring fresh ideas, hunger and new skill sets to the table of experience and wisdom. There are so many opportunities for young people and older people to work effectively together. Bring it on! Combine the dreamers and the pragmatists, the wired and the wise to capture the benefits of mutual learning, and the different perspectives that resonate with different audiences….and do it with an open mind.

Can I challenge you this week to take on one thing that you’ve made your mind up about….and open it?

we took them for granted

Flathead fillets at $45 a kg! Rabbit at $32 a kg! Individually wrapped quinces in tissue paper @ $4 each in Fourth Village Providore. Figs 2 for $5. Excuse me! Quinces and figs were left to rot on the ground 30 years ago.

Growing up in Gippsland, flathead and rabbits were accessible to any old hunter-gatherer with a fishing rod, ferret and some local knowledge. My father in law, Frank Ferrari, bought rabbits at one and six (15 cents) a pair. No-one wanted rabbit – chicken was a treat. We used to joke about Kentucky Fried Rabbit, thinking that some cheating Yank was denying consumers their advertised chicken. Now the boot’s on the other foot with the bunnies bringing three times the price of low flying pigeon.

Unwanted cuts like ox tails and lamb shanks are now making the butcher a healthy margin as Master Chef fuelled enthusiasts serve trendy comfort food. We knew they were good, but assumed they would continue to be cheap and undiscovered. Don’t tell anyone about the lamb back-straps at $5 a kg or what a Moore Park apricot straight off the tree tastes like!

What else today is relatively less affordable and less accessible than it was 30 years ago? Consider water and petrol, energy and houses, mushrooms and passionfruit.

What do we value now that we took for granted then? Consider space and silence, family time and customer service, less choice and clean air. It’s interesting to see how making a virtue of the fact there’s no mobile phone reception at Corinna (an eco-tourism destination on Tasmania’s west coast), resonates with guests. A temporary escape from a wired and complex world!

We’ve seen a revival of home gardens and of course the farmer’s market phenomenon has caught on like wildfire (sadly to the point of opportunistic commercialisation in some cases). I reflect on the paradox of cocooning on the one hand and connectedness on the other, as we react and learn to cope with a constantly changing world, and as we search for authenticity over superficiality.

Many goods and services are becoming more affordable and accessible, but the interesting question is, “What are we taking for granted today that will be more valued in 30 years from now?” What do you think?

diversity, inclusiveness and aussie rules

diversity, inclusiveness and aussie rules

April 26, 2011  |  aborigines, knowledge, life, main blog, motivation  |  3 Comments

Australian Football has always brought people together from different walks of life. If you’ve supported, or played for an Aussie Rules team, you’ll understand. I once played in a team with truckies, scientists, farmers, wine makers and policemen. There was a salesman, a preacher and a horse trainer as well. We were the Rutherglen Redlegs, where backgrounds and occupation counted for nothing, where there was a strong sense of belonging, acceptance and inclusiveness. In our team however, there was little cultural or ethnic diversity. Thirty five years later, Australian football is now a game open to any person, regardless of their race, religion, gender or sexuality. The evolution is not accidental.

For indigenous people, AFL has been a conduit to better life opportunities for the gifted, a source of fun for others and a vehicle for greater understanding and tolerance by Australians generally. Understanding the passion that indigenous kids have for footy, some schools demand attendance into senior years as a pre-requisite for their participation. While there is strong evidence that aboriginal people were the pioneers of Aussie Rules, for many years it was a white man’s game. Through the leadership of people like Kevin Sheedy, Maurice Rioli, Michael Long, and more recently Andrew McLeod, Michael O’Loughlin and Adam Goodes, that has changed. We now have 10% of senior AFL lists made up of indigenous people, although they make up less than 2% of the total population.

What about ethnic diversity? While AFL hasn’t been the game of choice for many immigrants brought up on soccer, for example, there have been many men from 47 different countries (going back no more than one generation) who have played Aussie Rules at the highest level. Andrew Embley from Burma, Peter Daicos from Macedonia, David Wojinski from Poland and Alex Jesaulenko from Austria, are just some examples.

In what can sometimes be a thankless role, Andrew Demetriou is the CEO of the AFL. He is a former North Melbourne player with Cyprian roots and takes a progressive stance on diversity. His address at a forum organised by the Diversity Council of Australia last year is excellent, including this extract…

“…and, most importantly, we want to be respectful….to embrace diversity and inclusion….to understand and value the differences in every person. I like to think of Australian football as a game for anyone and everyone….a game which is inclusive, accessible and affordable…a game that does not discriminate.  That’s why we must continue to engage with indigenous and multicultural communities to provide pathways for them to participate in our game. Australian football has extraordinary power. Its greatest power is to bring people – regardless of their background or belief – together”

Good on you Andrew! The AFL is walking the talk with its multicultural program and indigenous programs (including ambassadors for life, indigenous academies and employment strategy and AFL kick start programs).

The stimulus for this blog was listening to the old master himself giving an address to the Royal Sydney Show Community lunch last week. Kevin Sheedy, apart from stressing that Greater Western Sydney will be successful on the field, said “it’s not all about footy…. it’s about the game of life”. He went on to tell the story of a Muslim boy who was given a trial game recently and had 150 mates turn up to watch him. He also shared the fact that there are people from 170 countries in his catchment area (33% of people in western Sydney were not born in Australia) and explained how he intends to embrace as many of them as he can. Kevin is a true pioneer in this area, just as he’s been in fostering indigenous inclusion at all levels of our game.

David Wright-Neville, a consultant to ASIO on terrorism, recently spoke at a lunch In Melbourne about managing a junior team. His team comprised Vietnamese Australians, Lebanese Australians and boys from many other ethnic and cultural backgrounds, including recently arrived Sudanese refugees. One of the boy’s grandfathers, the Imam of a large mosque in Melbourne, said that Australia’s capacity to embrace immigrants went a long way to diminishing feelings of ostracism and disenfranchisement – conditions we understand can be precursors to cells of rebellion. He emphasised the vital role that Australian Rules plays in supporting true multiculturalism and a sense of belonging.

These stories highlight some great Australian values – inclusiveness, mateship, originality, groundedness and optimism. Interestingly, these were the some of the values that we defined at the Australian Tourist Commission for Brand Australia in 2004 – values which still underpin the brand story and promotion of our country overseas. It’s what I would like to see Australia really become. It seems that Andrew Demetriou and the AFL do as well…perhaps more readily than some other Australian communities and individuals. AFL is, and will continue to be, a circuit breaker in fighting prejudice – by including all people in the love of our national game.