The value of effort compounds

The value of effort compounds

For the first time in 8 years of blogging, my rhythm has been disrupted. I have not posted a blog now for almost 2 weeks. Over the 8 years, I have averaged 3 posts a week, a real effort, that has just become part of my routine.

The last two weeks have been an enforced layoff, knee replacements, a result of an active life, with lots of sport and other physical activity.

The rehab and drugs (I made plenty of jokes of a ‘back to the 60’s genre) have made it impossible, but while being still pretty stiff and sore, my brain is at least starting to function again. (knees are still stuffed)

So what.

In my absence, the 1550 blogs already up there continued to garner attention, to attract readers, both old readers coming back for another look, and new, finding me via the various channels I have inhabited over the last 8 years.

It occurred to me that this is the result of the compounding power of effort, and specifically the compounding effect of the slow building of knowledge, because that is what this blog is.

For me, it is a way of recording the varied, and often whacky ideas that emerge from between my ears as I observe the commercial  world that I inhabit. I record all this random stuff, and sometimes it makes enough sense, even to me, that it ends up as a post.

It is not a grindstone, it is a joy, an intellectual journey, and if it helps someone else, that is great, but the base reason is far more selfish; it helps me.

Einstein is reported to have said ‘Compounding is the greatest mathematical discovery of all time’ and if we needed any further proof that he knew  what he was talking about, the continued engagement with StrategyAudit in the absence of any new material proves it yet again,

Thanks for reading, and as the fog clears, I will get back into the swing of it.


Can the government’s innovation initiative innovate us out of the funk?

Can the government’s innovation initiative innovate us out of the funk?

Peter Drucker said something like “innovation is the only truly sustainable competitive advantage”.

Having just re-read his 1985 musings on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, after 20 or so years, the degree of his foresight is truly astonishing. It is great to have a Prime Minister who supposedly understands how to make a buck, and the strategic, commercial and competitive challenges of bringing new products to market. He may be one of the few in Canberra who do, but at least it is a fair start.

With much fanfare the Government on December 3 last year tabled in Parliament a Senate  report on ‘Australia’s innovation System.’  However, with the exception of Professor  Roy Greens valuable contribution as an appendix, I see little of real  value in the report beyond a few worthwhile observations and some useful changes to the tax treatment of entrepreneurial endeavours.

Our venerable Senators have had summarised for them documents (I wonder how much consideration these busy important people actually gave to the detail of the submissions) that may have started with some valuable ideas but which have been sanitised into a document long on rhetoric and disturbingly short on anything of value, which can only be delivered when someone asks the question “What now”?

As someone who has run an agency outsourced from the Federal bureaucracy charged with identifying and delivering innovation to a specific sector, I can attest from first hand just how powerful the cultural forces are against anything with even a hint of risk, change, or long term thinking in the public sector.

Successful innovation takes all three, plus a clear definition of the problems to be addressed.

There is little evidence of anything in the report that encourages me to think that the status quo will be truly challenged.

It is useful to look to successful models, and there are none more successful than the US since the second war. Most will now assume I am jumping to Google, Apple et al, but no. If you look deep enough you will see the hand of government at a deep level making very long term investments in basic science, building knowledge that the private sector then leverages with innovation.

A scientist named Vannevar Bush (no relation to the Bush pollies) was commissioned by President Roosevelt just before he died to report on what needed to be done to promote research and development and the commercial innovation it drives, just as this senate inquiry has done. Bush reported to president Truman in 1945, delivering his report, “Science, the Endless Frontier” which laid out the proposition:

“Basic research leads to new technology. It provides scientific capital. It creates a fund from which the practical application of knowledge must be drawn”.

Directly resulting from this report was the National Science Foundation. Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency DARPA  and several other institutes charged with the charter to do basic science, of discovering new knowledge.

When you look at all the products disrupting industries up to today, and changing our lives, many if not most of them have their roots in the various agencies spawned by Bush’s farsighted ideas, and the ability of the scientific agencies concerned to outlive the political cycle. (that longevity may be tested now with the new President Trump apparently running amok)

Now compare that to Australia’s situation.

CSIRO used to be a great agency, capable of developing technology like the wireless technology in the 70’s now in every mobile phone after 30 years on the shelf until a commercial use was found. Scientific Capital at work.

Now CSIRO is a politicised dysfunctional rump of its former self, with a little of the funding ripped out over each of the last 15 years of hubris, restored via this latest in a long line of Innovation “initiatives” to the sounds of grateful clapping. I see few practical remedies for the past 30 years of innovation vandalism being actually addressed, although at least a real start may have been made.

As I always say in workshops, “the best time to start an innovation initiative was 10 years ago, the second best time is now”.

Let’s hope it is not too late for Australian manufacturing, and being an optimist, I do believe that we will overcome the barriers built by inertia, lack of a clearly articulated Australian view of our place in the world, self interest, and short term political opportunism.


January 26, 2017, and is all well?

January 26, 2017, and is all well?

It is Australia day today, and it has become my tradition to make some comment on the community in which we live, rather than addressing an issue of commercial sustainability, the main meal for the other 200 odd days on which I post.

What a welcome change, if somewhat depressing for me as I survey the stuff happening around us.

As I re-read the post I did for Australia Day 2016, it is hard to see what I missed, and not a lot has changed, unless for the worse.

In NSW we have a new premier, as of Monday. I have met Ms. Berejiklian on several occasions, and she is a seriously impressive person. However, I am a little concerned that the whole rhetoric has been about ‘her’ government, and ‘her’ priorities, which are clearly different to those of the previous premier, to whom she was the deputy and treasurer. It seems like there has not just been a change of person at the top, but a wholesale change as if she had nothing to do with the previous government, was nothing more than a bystander.

This does bother me, as it is an abrogation of responsibility for the decisions taken and changes made to the lives of many.

Nevertheless, we seem to have it good compared to our septic friends, who had the choice between two equally awful choices last November, and stayed away from the poll booths in droves, and got something they may live to regret  by default. Trouble is, the man now in charge of the most powerful military and economy the world has ever seen appears to be an egocentric  sociopath with no acquaintance with the truth or any form of consistent values . Will it affect us here on the other side? Who really knows, but I suspect at best we are in for a bit of a hairy ride.

And then I look at Canberra.

Our PM has been a grave disappointment to me. I thought that at last we had someone who knew what it took to make a bob in the private sector, who was independently wealthy, so did not need the pension  and trappings that go with the power. At last it seemed, we had a chance of some backbone and principal emerging. No such luck it would appear. But then there is the opposition leader, who seems to have pioneered the political practise of ‘Alternative fact‘ in the election campaign, blatantly lying, repeatedly, about the intentions of the government on Medicare. I guess he can claim if nothing else that the new US president has taken a leaf from his playbook.

We seem to have lost something from my childhood, now a long time ago. A sense of community, that  we are all in this together, now it seems it is every man for himself, the rest be buggared. This is reflected in every part of our community, and usually Social Media gets the blame, but I suspect that is too simplistic.

We evolved as a social species because we needed each other, had to trust each other and the group, to survive the depredations of the sabre tooth tigers, weather, and marauding tribes from across the river. Those threats have largely been eliminated, so we have forgotten how to behave, and just blame the poor behaviour on Social media instead of taking the responsibility on our own shoulders. I wonder how we would take a real crisis, one that threatened us as were our fathers and grandfathers in 1939. Hopefully the DNA would kick in and we would again find strength in community.

There seems to have been lots of emotional discussion about the nature of  ‘Australia Day’, particularly as it relates to indigenous Australians.  It seems forever, but we have only had an official Australia day and holiday on January 26 since the bicentennial in 1988. prior to that there was a mish mash that differed across time and location. I think we should just get on with trying to live together, maintaining the inclusive and  tolerant society that made us great. So what if the last 219 years is but a spec on the 60,000 year history of human habitation? Life did change 219 years ago for the then inhabitants, and some terrible things were done, but nowhere near as bad or widespread as has happened many times since in many places around the world, and continue to happen today. Stop wasting time on irrelevancies, accept the reality that Australia is still the best place on earth to live, and get on with it.

There must be something in the water, an osmotic process of some sort transmitting the concerns. My 9 month old granddaughter on Monday, about the time President Trump was taking the oath of office, started hugging her stuffed sheep as if her life depended on it, and has not let it go since.

Co-incidence , or some alignment of the cosmos felt only by the most innocent among us?



Requiem for a master poet.

Requiem for a master poet.

My first year at University, 1970, was marked by many life defining events. Call-up to Vietnam and the resulting awareness of the world around me, an opening of my mind to thinking beyond the surf, sport, beer and meat pies of my youth, meeting Harvard Professor Jim Hagler who became an indelible mentor, my first serious girlfriend with the memories that linger after 45 years, and hearing the first record of Leonard Cohen.

Each in their way shaped the progress of my life, and I remain indebted to them all.

On Friday I heard of the death of Leonard Cohen, and on getting home, felt compelled to play that recording again. Mumbling along with the words of  ‘Suzanne’ “Maryanne’ and   the ‘Sisters of mercy”  coming as they did from the depths of memory with absolute clarity triggered a deep wave of feeling for times long past.

Earlier this morning, I stumbled across this podcast of Leonards last interview by David Remnick of the New Yorker magazine, and have just finished listening to it for the second time.

The 18 year old tear-away of 1970 bears little resemblance beyond the genes to the 64 year old grandfather I have become, but listening to the interview, and reflecting on Leonards words and rhythms this morning touched something deep in my soul.

You never knew me Leonard, but I feel I knew you. Godspeed.

Picture credit: New Yorker magazine.

Addendum. This post from the wonderful ‘Brain Pickings’ site adds considerably to an understanding of the depth and breadth of this great gentleman who gave us so much.

7 things business leaders can learn from this election campaign

7 things business leaders can learn from this election campaign

Over the weekend I was talking to my 32 year old son about the coming election.

I thought I was  the quintessential cynical old buggar, while being politically engaged, but I had nothing on my formerly optimistic son.

He is not just a cynical young buggar, he is so disengaged that in the long term, it can only be bad for our economic and social life if he is any way representative of his demographic cohort, and I fear he is.

As he said ‘Problem is that the gap between what the pollies say, and what they do is so wide, they have lost any sort of credibility and moral authority’.

Sadly I agree with his analysis, but the core of the problem seems to me that they claim control over things they cannot control, while ignoring, misrepresenting or pork-barrelling the things they can.

It is the same in business.

Those that promise the world do not have any credibility at all, while those that demonstrate the performance and value of what they can control earn our loyalty and respect.

There is a lot those in businesses can control, and should strive to improve.

You can control the way you spend your time. Every job, even those on a manufacturing line has some level of flexibility in the way the time is spent. In management roles of any type, the discretion is significant. You can choose to do what may be apparently urgent, but is unimportant, or those things that may  not be urgent, but are important. It is those who elect the latter route that will prosper in the long run.

You control the way you  behave. Those who say one thing and do another, or worse, demand behaviour of others  they are unwilling to demand of themselves will be judged failed leaders.

You control your attitude. An optimistic person has an effect on those around them, infecting them with your optimism and enthusiasm

You control your leadership style. Dictatorial, aggressively demanding results without consideration of the personal toll that may take, or you can be a coach and mentor, seeking to improve the results by improving those around you.

You control the way you see opportunities. Often opportunities are in the problems being faced, but if all you see are the problems, the opportunities will pass on by.

You can choose where credit/recriminations are levelled. The best leaders I have seen have a common characteristic: they give credit to others, even when the credit is largely due to themselves, and they take absolute responsibility for the performance within their span of control, never seeking to allocate blame elsewhere.

You can choose to have a clear and unambiguous moral compass, or purpose in your life. Having a purpose, and living to that purpose is empowering for individuals and the groups they interact with. Even when others disagree with you the simple presence of a foundation of beliefs that drive your behaviour will get you considerable credit, loyalty and an ability to get things done.

When you think about it, politicians have exactly the same choices we in business have.

Perhaps it is their collective failure to adhere to the basic tenets of leadership that has us so disillusioned with them all.

I predict that come next Sunday, there will be a narrow Coalition win, but the outstanding feature will be the percentage of the first preference votes that go to other than the two major parties, particularly amongst those under 30 whose expectations have been shaped by different factors to those that shaped their parents. This group will also exercise their compulsory obligation to vote by deliberately voting informal. This will not be a ‘donkey’ vote, it will be a vote against what these youngsters see as the irrelevance, hubris and self interest of the political class. It will be fascinating to watch the spin  the major parties put on this disaffection, assuming that both, somebody does the analysis and I am right.

Do we still need books?

Do we still need books?

In a world of abundance, we are desperately in need of depth.

Skating across the surface of the ice is fine for a while, but at some point you need to be able to recognise the weak spots, and figure out how to avoid them before you drop through and drown, just after you freeze.

A book does that for me in a way that an e-book does not, neither does a blog post, or a tweet, they are not physical, they have no intellectual or physical weight somehow. A ‘real’ book still does it.

The other thing is that when you find a book that ‘speaks’ to you, it is easy to walk into someone’s home or office, and plonk it on the desk, and say, ‘read this, it will change your life’ or even be just interesting.

A mate of mine who makes his living researching and writing complicated tenders for large projects, also writes a blog on words, their use and misuse, origins, and various meanings. One day he will assemble it all into a book, as he has done with an collection of illustrated verse he wrote for his kids, personal stuff that he has shared with them, now in a tattered book they have all loved.

It is hard to love an e-book in the same way.

I love books, perhaps scarcity is just making me realise how much.