Happiness Can’t Buy Healthy!

Say what?  Happiness is a pursuit as old as personkind. There’s lot’s a self-help guides, gurus, TED talks, classes, lotions and potions to arrive at the destination. Yet it does seem to remain illusive for many. There’s a few reasons for this and I won’t to explore a couple in a bit more depth.

Paradoxically we now know more and have access to knowledge that previous generations did not have. What was once tightly held information kept within cloistered communities is now just a click away. Yet armed with this knowledge we don’t seem to apply it in such a way and as often as we should to get off the conveyor belt which is our lives. And that conveyor belt is getting faster and faster as each generation ticks on. They say we live in a VUCA world (volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous). And yet knowing this seem fairly helpless in doing much about it.

‘Pursuit’ I think is the key word when contemplating happiness. It’s not about the destination but the journey we are often glibly told. What happens though when our journey is on a path that can never deliver us to the destination. This I think is true for the vast majority of us. The reason being our VUCA lives are run so fast that we seldom find time to check the map to see that we are still on track. Before we know it the pursuit of the bigger house and the better car has us heading away from true happiness. The paradox of affluence which bedevils most of us who pursue the acquisition of materials things is that they seldom deliver happiness. The more we get the more we want. Those getting their first private jet soon want the jet with the more luxurious cabin and the longer range. This brings misery rather than joy and misery does not lead to physical and mental well-being.

Luckily there is a solution. The answer, I’m told, lies in another pursuit. Happiness academics, and there are now quite a few, advise us that the research points us in the direction of pursuing experiences not things. Easy-peasy!

The next issue bringing us the opposite of happiness lies in social media. We are wired psychologically to compare ourselves with others which acts as a motivator to stretch and improve. Those we compare ourselves too have to be within the stretch zone and historically this was a smallish circle of friends, family or community. Our psychological wellbeing is not overly impacted when this is our comparison group. However, a new phenomenon has emerged based on social media. Forget the carefully manicured and curated lives of our friends. We can see through some of that BS and have evolved to do so.  

What we haven’t evolved is a filter for the influencers and celebrities. Research has shown that having access to the level of detail and intimacy of their lives brings them into our comparator group, previously reserved for those within our own social and economic orbit. And here is where the real danger lies. Subconsciously they become our stretch targets. This is a game we can never win. We can never get their perfect bodies, net worth, luxury accoutrements, amazing circle of influential friends or the kind of financial independence that means we don’t have to grind away in jobs until we are in our mid sixties any more.

This doesn’t just cause dissatisfaction with our own lives, jobs, partners it contributes massively to mental health problems and can cause stress and physical morbidity. In short, it’s dangerous. Academics have been musing about the tidal wave of mental health issues in society right now. I’m willing to bet a significant percentage of this comes from unfavorable comparison with people who have no right to be in our comparison group.

This impacts us all but where might it impact on men’s health? Here I am particularly thinking of male body image. When we start following the likes of David Groggins and similar who berate those who don’t push through their own pain barrier and give up too soon, there are perverse consequences. Rather than motivate the individual which I’m sure is their ultimate goal, the follower gets disillusioned meaning their health suffers and their mental health in particular goes into decline.  Nothing against Groggins and his cohort, they are great turnaround from adversity stories, but they seldom look genuinely happy!

Luckily there is a solution. Go Groggins style and ‘go hard or go home’. Cut off all social media and don’t go back. Not so easy-peasey!

Self-improvement is all the rage!

Warning there is a reference to suicide in this blog. If you need help call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Mates in Construction on 1300 642 111.

I’ve challenged myself to do five blogs in five days for men’s health week. This is day three and I want to discuss emotional regulation.

The common misconception of us blokes is that we are not the emotional gender. That’s our sisters right! Actually I don’t think this is the case. The gap between our emotional responses is wider than we care to acknowledge. There’s the silent guy whose feeling are all bottled up who is susceptible to self-harms or suicide and everyone including his mates are surprised. That’s at one end of the spectrum. At the other is the enraged man who flies off the handle at the smallest thing or uses violence or the threat of it to resolve their issues.

I’m no stranger to unregulated emotional man syndrome. My teenage years were dominated by an anger, the cause of which I’ve never really got to the bottom of. It manifested itself through fighting and verbal aggression. My genetics are Irish and my hair red so you might put it down to that. Temperament is hereditary but the way it’s acted out isn’t. Myth busted! The explosion of testosterone at the onset of puberty could be another explanation, but that angry man with an axe inside didn’t go away when the Clearasil was no longer needed. 

Both types of individuals, and those in their orbit, suffer as a result. The emotionally barren or emotionally under-developed struggle to form meaningful relationships and through lack of social interaction mental health problems often arise. However the ‘rugged individual’, a romanticised term derived in Hollywood which is a much lionised archetype, likewise comes at great cost. 

The cortisol and adrenalin created from the fight response (sympathetic nervous system) when in overdrive has serious long-term effects on the body. There are the obvious mental health impacts of anxiety and depression, as well as physical health detriment of heart disease, high blood pressure, weight gain, cholesterol increase, memory impairment and learning difficulties.  In many cases our home-grown solutions to curb these excesses and responses to stress in themselves are harmful. Here excessive alcohol consumption, drugs and other addictions like gambling may become our panacea. Often the angrier we are the greater the panacea has to be and we all know that moderation is the key to most things.

So here’s some suggestions, from my own experience, for dealing with your inner man with an axe: 

  • Seeking professional help. We tune our car, so tuning the bloke that drives the car is a good thing;
  • Move  your mindset from ‘hard’ to ‘tough’. A hard man is often admired but this is most often to do with physical prowess. Anyone can go toe to toe. A tough man does things that no longer involve a confrontation and demonstration of brawl-craft. A tough man does stuff that would generate derision from a hard man.
  • Recognising that you are not impervious to stress – in fact you might even be more of a stress sufferer than the average bloke!
  • Share your feelings with family and mates.
  • Meditation- too woo woo? Don’t knock it until you try it. It’s pretty tough actually.
  • Exercise and diet – yeah these old chestnuts again. Actually, on the subject of nuts; walnuts are good!
  • Accept your emotions and control them but don’t look to repress;
  • Use breathing as a tool. 4-7-8 is great for this. Breathe in 4, hold 7, out 8..repeat;
  • Reframing – looking at the situation in another way. Perhaps the problem that someone is causing that’s giving you grief isn’t about you at all? Perhaps they are having a real bad day too?
  • Use a trigger taming tool. For that moment when you feel your adrenalin about to kick in try this:

Stop – whenever you feel triggered just stop. This allows a different path to be taken. Don’t use the trigger as a justification for the usual inevitable outcome.
Breathe – focusing on breath holds the pause and calms the body. Special forces use this technique before smashing through that door!
Notice – get a sense of what part of your body has reacted to the trigger.

Reflect – try to determine where the emotion is coming from. Is there history here?

Respond – think about what your response should be to achieve a positive outcome.

This doesn’t come easy or naturally. Like playing State of Origin lots of practice is required to build muscle memory for when the crunch comes.

  •  If you have an employee assistance scheme use it. Reaching out for help is the domain of the tough man.

We are all works in progress and to get to good mental and physical well-being it’s necessary to go on the journey of self-improvement. It might be a long one but it’s worth the effort.

You Snooze…you win!

Courtesy Getty Images

Day two on my challenge to write five blogs in five days for Men’s Health Week and I’m tired already! Shouldn’t have watched that ‘inspirational’ David Goggins video clip last night. Nice segue to today’s topic which is sleep. Is sleep a health issue you might ask? Well no…until it becomes one. Getting a good night’s sleep is critical to our physical and mental health. By ‘good’ the experts tell us two things are required:

1) 7-8 hours;

2) good sleep hygiene (quality) during this time.

Before I go on and share some of the alarming and interesting facts of sleep I thought I’d start with mindset. Unless you have a young baby, or someone who’s keeping you up due to illness etc. the insufficiency of your hours slept is no bragging right. The fact that you only need 3-4 hours a night is indicative of nothing to be honest, unless you are someone who has a condition called short sleeper syndrome (SSS) and can function without detriment for less than six hours a night. Even then it only equips you to fill more of your day with stuff to do.

All too often there is a machismo to how well we can function on only a few hours sleep as though it’s some pointer to how hard we are. Guess what – unless you actually do have SSS deluding yourself around your sleep hours is robbing your physical and mental  health and here’s why.

1) There is a clear line between poor sleep and higher body weight. Good sleepers consume less calories;

2) Poor sleepers are at greater risk of stroke and heart disease;

3) Sleep affects glucose metabolism and type 2 diabetes. You can see why I led with diabetes yesterday!

4) Poor sleep impairs your immune function. People say they caught a cold because they are run down. That’s often because they’ve had inadequate  sleep;

5) Poor sleep is also linked to depression. 90% of people with depression list poor sleep as a major complaint.

6) Our concentration and mood are impaired without sufficient sleep causing among other things issues in our home and work life;

7) Poor sleep is linked to inflammation. Inflammation is the ‘flavour of the month’ in medical research and it’s not a good thing.

Sleep volume is important but as mentioned above sleep quality or hygiene as it’s called is very important too. Did you know there are four stages of sleep and having all four is important. The diagram below shows the stages and what happens.

Stage 3 (deep sleep) is important because growth hormone is released and tissue regeneration occurs building muscle and bone and strengthening our immune system.

REM sleep is particualrly important as it allows certain things to be committed to memory and for dreams to occur. Dream are our blueprint for living and also our way of sorting some of our shit out so it’s important that we experience this stage each and every night. It’s the REM component of our sleep that gives us the get up and go for the next day. The phases cycle through during your 7-8 hours taking around 90 minutes to 120 minutes each time.

So if you need more, better quality or both here’s what the experts say we should try:

Oh no not these again;

1) Get regular exercise;

2) Reduce blue light exposure at night and f you can get greater bright light exposure during the day do so (but be sun safe!);

3) Consider your diet particularly heavy food intake and alcohol and other drugs that may act as a stimulant. Coffee and nicotine also to be avoided. They tell me kiwifruit is good which might explain the All Blacks?

4) Make the bedroom a haven for sleep including getting the ambient temperature right (20 Celcius). Stimulation by smashing-out some Netflix is not recommended.

5) If you can’t get to sleep or back to sleep don’t lie and count sheep. Get up and do something;

6) They say avoid naps but maybe you napped because you couldn’t sleep the night before in which case a micro-nap is good but no longer than 20 minutes;

7) Create a pattern of going to bed and getting up at the same time;

8) If you wake during the night try flipping your pillow so that you lay your head on the cold side to get back to sleep;

9) If you’re older and needing to pee during the night make sure the path to the loo is clutter/trip/slip free so that you can navigate there and back without needing to get fully awake;

10) Consider melatonin but speak to your GP first as the jury is still out on its side effects long-term.

OK I’m heading home now. Didn’t sleep well last night and don’t want to doze off behind the wheel…which is a compelling reason to get more and better sleep…to avoid accidents. It’s believed that 20-30% of all accidents are as a result of sleepiness. If you haven’t slept for 17 hours straight it’s the equivalent of being over the blood alcohol limit.

After scouring the internet the only cure I’ve found for sleepiness is sleep.

Night night all!

What’s In a Number?



At my most recent GP visit to discuss some blood test results my doctor raised the issue that I was 0.1 away from being considered in the pre-diabetic category. This is based on fasting indicator scores. 0-6mmol/l being Normal 6.1-6.9 being pre-diabetic and 7.0 and above diabetic. This relates to Type 2 diabetes which accounts for around 85% of the cases of diabetes in Australia. It’s estimated that around 5% of the population has this condition.

This was a bit of a wake-up call for me. Me! A pre-diabetic? WTF! Isn’t that for obese people who don’t exercise? Well strangely enough if you check your risk factors for diabetes on the Diabetes Australia website (www.diabetesaustralia.com.au) the biggest risk factor appears to be age and gender. If you’re ageing you can’t control that and our gender is (usually) fixed.

That prompted me to take a deeper dive into Type 2 diabetes and this is what I discovered:

  • It is caused by the body’s inability to use insulin properly i.e. turn sugar into energy;
  • Being overweight is a big risk factor particularly the fat you carry around your middle (the old middle-age spread);
  • Family history is a strong predictor;
  • Being physically inactive is a risk factor;
  • About 280 Australians develop diabetes every day. One every 5 minutes;
  • It’s estimated there are 500,000 Australians right now with diabetes who don’t know they have the disease. This is referred to as silent diabetes;
  • The annual cost to the Australian economy a whopping $14.6bn. Think of that. We’re buying 72 Joint Strike Fighters for only $17bn and that’s a one-off!

It’s not all bad news though. Like most things in healthcare it’s better to know sooner, before the progress of the disease has increased your morbidity and hastened your mortality. We know with particular reference to men’s health, that the last 11 years of our lives are often lived in poor health. Diabetes is a major player in this statistic. Bad news is there is no cure. Good news is reversing pre-diabetes is possible though through (and yes you can probably guess them by now);

  • Losing weight;
  • Exercise;
  • Healthier diet; and
  • Quitting smoking.
The health impact of diabetes can be wide-ranging and severe.

In the building and construction sector there is much good work going on in terms of health education. In Queensland Australia we have awareness about airborne lung disease (asbestos and silica), prostate awareness through the excellent work of Prostate Awareness Australia, the dangers of sun exposure through Danger Sun Overhead and mental health awareness through MATES in Construction.

It’s likely that the same degree of attention paid to diabetes across a workforce that is predominantly male with a wide age range would pay dividends. Type 2 diabetes is a slow burn and doesn’t just pop up overnight. Behaviours developed early, which can be rusted on and therefore hard to shake, can be risk factors for many things, diabetes included.

Next time you are scoffing that Four’n Twenty topped with some sugar-rich tomato sauce and guzzling back a can of Mother or Red Bull just think about me and how I’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure I don’t hit the slippery slope into pre-diabetes and beyond. Those diet and exercise decisions I made, or didn’t make all those years ago are knocking at my door right now!  

Big Pharma – it’s time to cook!


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…it’s still pharma

Surely right now Big Pharma should be riding high in the public zeitgeist? After all the speed at which we now have a range of vaccines that are able to save hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives to protect us all from COVID is a wondrous thing. Our scientists – all STEM role model superstars – have done something never before achieved in the history of the world. While COVID, as a simple/complex virus, has no ability to distinguish between the developed and developing world, the ability to treat and prevent COVID morbidity and mortality is differentiated between these two economic extremes. The wealthy countries can, the less wealthy can’t to anywhere near the same degree.

Recent months have seen us exposed to vaccine nationalism, which is not entirely surprising given the political imperative to show you are managing the crisis well. Even Biden is on this bandwagon to a degree. It’s important in politics to be seen to be able to organise the proverbial ‘knees up in a gymnasium’. The current recipe to get re-elected is, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, ‘it’s the virus stupid!’ I get that nations will want to vaccinate their own people first, so there has to be more radical thinking around how to prevent COVID further dividing the globe into the vaccine haves and have nots. Actually I think the solution here is not that radical…just share the intellectual property (IP) making it possible for countries to manufacture their own.

India in crisis

And this is where big pharma comes unstuck. So far the developed world, which has the vaccine IP, is refusing to share it with the developing world who are having to wait their turn with clogged manufacture and logistics backlogs only furthering delays. Case in point here is India. Are we happy to see the misery that is India every night on our screens or in our news feeds? This tragedy would be greatly ameliorated by mass and rapid vaccine roll-out made possible by local manufacture. India is a huge player in world pharmaceutical generics and is well capable of delivering vaccines once they have the recipe. The same goes for many other COVID ravaged nations including South Africa and Brazil. The primary argument that Big Pharma puts up against sharing the IP is the money they’ve had to spend in R&D to produce it.

The fact is in many cases it has been public money – provided by taxpayers – that has bankrolled the vaccines. Big Pharma are overstepping the mark by trying to hold the IP close to their chest and running this line of argument. Furthermore production of pharmaceuticals and vaccines in particular have a large element of social license attached. After all it is the government regulator, be that the FDA in the US, or the TGA in Australia, that decide whether a drug or vaccine can be used. Within this regulatory framework experts look at the efficacy and side effects of the drug and weigh this against the benefits among other things.

All drugs and vaccines come with risks and side effects. Big Pharma relies on the regulator standing in the stead of the public interest, to approve their products with the side effects noted. In other words regulators give license knowing that drugs will harm and kill in some cases. They weigh this up and determine whether these risks are acceptable. The old risk-reward equation. This is the social license in operation. In many cases with vaccines, countries also indemnify the vaccine manufacturer against legal action. Once again a social license issue.

So Big Pharma’s ‘protect at all costs’ default mode should be challenged on order that the whole world gets the benefit of the great work of the scientists; as and when they need it. First challengers off the rank have to be those very STEM superstars who produced it. Whether they realise it or not they hold great power. If we can extrapolate any lessons from small pharma i.e. Breaking Bad, we know that Walter White aka Heisenberg was left alone to cook because his product was so good the proprietor of Los Pollos Hermanos had no other options but to tolerate him. Same applies to our leading scientists. We can only hope that their voices will be heard before more misery blights the developing world. The world needs the scientific community to speak morals to power right now. If not I am left wondering how the IP deadlock can be broken. In such legal matters I can only defer to Saul Goodman!

The Pub Test – Not to be Sniffed At


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Cheers regulars – the ultimate pub test

I’ve heard the terms ‘pub test’ and ‘sniff test’ used quite a bit lately and that had me wondering exactly what these tests are? I know about the COVID-19 test in various formats. What we do know from the latter is that there are false negatives and positives. Do the pub or sniff tests suffer from the same degree of reliability? Of course, the pub test is a political dog whistle suggesting that frequent pub drinkers are casting opinions that if it ain’t good enough for them it just ain’t good enough. The problem with the use of such vox pops is they are pretty blunt. For starters not all people who drink in pubs are of one mind and not all of them have a ‘dog in the manger’ attitude. The most recent outing for the pub test was the departure of Christine Holgate from Australia Post. There’s no better time to conduct my own pub test, especially in the month of November when I’ve decided to have no alcohol in the run up to Christmas!

The other one I’ve heard used lately is a comparison between the public service and the corporate world. The suggestion is that certain behaviours wouldn’t be tolerated any more in the corporate world, so why do they linger in public service? Here I’m referring to the ‘bonk ban’ and most recently the departure of Nine CEO Hugh Marks for having a consensual relationship with someone from his own company.

Here’s why the pressure put on both these individuals was inordinate and why if you don’t deploy nuance to any situation then amplifying the disquiet of the rabble starts to head you in the direction of telling the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by”.

Christine Holgate

Let’s get to Holgate first. As I understand her situation, she rewarded a small group on her Executive for winning an important contract. Without knowing the particulars of that deal, I do know Holgate has been working hard to ensure Post Offices remain as the lifeblood of smaller communities and a vibrant proposition in larger ones. I know she’s been successful in this by the outpouring of support by hundreds of postmasters who own these small businesses. She didn’t pay her inner circle cash bonuses with the associated super etc. Besides which they are paid pretty well by all accounts anyway. She bought them each a watch. Total cost to the company $19,950 for four watches around $5k each. Not much of a bonus by the scheme of things for top execs. Indeed, had she paid this amount she would probably not have been in trouble with the government but it’s highly likely her executive colleagues would have felt a bit underdone. This was a banking deal where success bonuses are more often in the order of 20 Cartier timepieces by value.

Don’t get me wrong, Holgate has made a few mistakes along the way e.g. the One Nation escapade but I don’t particularly see ‘watchgate’ as one of them. We know from research conducted by Cindy Chan of the University of Toronto that the actual concept of giving a gift rather than the gift itself is what builds relationships. Not only did Holgate not spend much compared to a financial bonus but the gift was accompanied by a handwritten note from Australia Post Chair . Where Holgate could have been a bit more on point was buying an experience rather than a material item. That said if you are going to make it personal a watch, as a piece of utilitarian jewelry, is pretty much as personal as you can get. Next time you are working back late or on weekends when you would rather be with your family and friends when checking what time it is, you get a subtle reminder of just how much you’re doing right now means to your boss. Pretty savvy on the emotional intelligence front but not so politically I guess when the pub test lies in wait.

A mural depicting Prime Minister Scott Morrison wearing an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, orange lei and Santa Claus hat while holding a cocktail by artist Scott Marsh on a wall in Sydney, Wednesday, December 25, 2019. (AAP Image/Steven Saphore)

For me the other issue with ‘watchgate’ is the fact that the Prime Minister intervened in a way that made it inevitable that she would have to leave. The pressure put on her was unedifying. Surely in this day and age, when critical to our nation’s success is the quality of our management, we need to have examples of better  practice. Psychological safety is right up there in terms of how we should create positive cultures and mindsets. This means admitting failures, learning and moving on (depends on your prism of course as to whether ‘watchgate’ was a failure or not). Stranger still was the pointed criticism coming from the mouth of Scomo, who did a major mea culpa when his response to the bushfires ravaging Australia was to don an Hawaiian shirt…you know the rest! He was redeemed in much of the public’s eyes and yet Holgate couldn’t enjoy that same generosity of spirit. Scomo’s disastrous handling of the bushfires definitely failed the pub test and was completely tone deaf. He survives, she gets moved on.

Hugh Marks

And so to the latest scalp of the unforgiving pub test; Hugh Marks. Marks is, or more accurately soon will be, the ex-CEO of Nine which combines Nine media and Fairfax. Two cultures coming together under one media banner. What was not to the liking of those quaffing a VB or XXXX? Well it turns out that Marks started a relationship with one of his colleagues, one Alexi Baker. Of course, nowadays in a more enlightened and transparent corporate climate, such intra-company relationships are more than just frowned upon they are outright employment-ending. The corporate sector has led the way and it’s been said of late that behaviour in Canberra amongst our pollies is unacceptable and that it needs to take a lesson from the Corporate world which had moved on long ago from office trysts. Actually it was America that paved that way and we have almost blindly followed suit. I find an incredible double standard when our public servants are asked to look to the corporate world for moral and ethical leadership. When was the last time a public servant destroyed over 60,000 years of priceless and irreplaceable indigenous heritage a la Rio Tinto and then tried to weasel their way out of it? At least of course there was no bonking after they made that decision! Get a grip sniff testers, the corporate world is not the pantheon of all that is good and righteous.

They don’t need a caption everyone knows who they are

For Marks, of course as CEO, there are additional factors at play. No asymmetric relationship where there is coercive or just sheer power imbalance in the workplace can be tolerated. Except, and this is where nuance is sadly needed but seldom deployed, this was no such thing. This is no President v intern a la Clinton and Lewinsky, which was surely one of the greatest asymmetric couplings in history. Marks’ love interest, which only commenced after his separation from his wife a year prior, was his fellow C-Suiter, Director of Strategy and Corporate Development Alexi Baker. An immensely capable person by all accounts, it is no surprise that working closely together a special bond was forged. It’s lonely at the top as CEO. With so much time dedicated to the company what other avenues to find a partner are realistically available to Marks? Surely Nine wouldn’t want him bar-hopping or constantly swiping left or right on his mobile phone? Isn’t the happiness and well-being of ourselves and our teams a duty we are increasingly asked to contemplate in the corporate world?

I’m all for ethical and moral approaches in government and corporate corridors but let’s not get spooked by what some faceless people might say could go viral on social media and damage brand. Let’s also acknowledge that a group of people down the pub are not necessarily going to have a ‘chippy’ conversation about what others are benefiting from which they can’t access. It is more likely to be about climate change, how the country might get through in a post COVID world, where we might next go on holiday, when might we be able to go on holiday (even), how to raise the kids to be safe and happy, how to have a good retirement, how to be safe at work and when might (if ever) the Broncos return to their former glory! I’m saying that those who cite the pub test or sniff test rarely set foot inside such establishments. So lets all chill, be less judgmental and leave the sniping to others. Next time you quote the sniff test just be wary it’s not smelling salts! Perhaps in the future we need to be handing out moral compasses rather than worrying about a few Cartier watches…

World Economic Recovery – One Step At a Time

Not surprisingly, given the precarious state of the world economy, there has been much speculation as to how the recovery might happen. I say speculation advisedly. There is no economist or market analyst alive and working today who was around during the Great Depression. So everything is putative. Quants are looking for graphs to outline their predictions. The early discussions were around whether there would be a’ V’ or ‘U’ shaped recovery. Such descriptions given our times are too glib and lack the necessary granularity to be helpful. Next up, smart economists posited that the recovery would be more like the Nike swoosh. That had me thinking how the logo of the various training shoes might give us a sense and predictor of how the world economy will recover. Here’s my attempt to provide shape and colour to these discussions.


Adidas is a German sports clothing mega corporation and arch rival of Nike. Its logo suggests there will be 3 key phases in the recovery starting slow but building momentum. All up quite positive. The three distinct phases might indicate a slow emergence and maybe suggest 2nd and 3rd wave of the virus. Slightly concerning that the growth trend leans backwards!


Founded in Osaka in 1906 this Japanese company is renowned for its sports equipment and apparel. Their logo suggests a bit of a fudge. There is a Nike suggestive swhoosh which indicates a reasonably long slow recovery, but a cautionary note is thrown in for good measure with a scenario showing a bloodbath decline, followed by an equally ‘heady’ recovery. Mizuno are covering all bases here – clearly a committee involved!

Under Armour

Under Armour is a Baltimore based global sports, footwear and casual apparel manufacturer. New kid on the block, maybe they don’t have the resources of more established companies because it looks like only two people got involved with their modelling. A positive and negative mindset (or left foot – right foot) pairing I would suggest. Big U is a commonly held economic view but alarmingly another scenario is also offered – a big inverted U. My advice; buy now and sell before the second crash based on this scenario.


Reebok was founded in my old neck of the woods, Bolton in England in 1958. Like their football team, their economic outlook is a mixed bag. Two clearly think the economy is on the up but, as is often the case, the rapidity of this recovery is moot. The bleak third option is typical of many groups…there is often ‘that guy’ who dissents and wants their dissension mentioned in the minutes.


Nike provides us with the new global consensus of what the recovery might look like. It’s straightforward, reasoned and well communicated. That’s typical Nike..it’s the Jacinda Ardern of  the predictions. Whether it comes to pass is still not certain…just like Ardern’s re-election! Let’s hope it’s not her last dance.


Another Japanese company this time one founded in 1977. The Japanese economy has been doing it tough for quite a few years so it’s not surprising that they predict a pretty rapid recovery, but then a reversion back to their ‘old normal’ of a stagnant economy.


Italian based sports clothing and accessory manufacturer founded in the 1940s, Diadora don’t give us much guidance. In their view it might go up, it might go down. Could have been written by a pundit in a horse racing form guide. A good each-way bet. At least they can never be entirely wrong.


Manchester based Umbro was founded in 1924. I take back what I said- this company was around before the big crash so we should pay a little more attention to what their logo tells us. It looks like it’s a circular future of sustained growth, correction, deep fall then recovery. If trading on the share market has been anything to go by of late the Umbro effect explains exactly what has occurred.


Kappa was founded in Turin in 1978. Is this helpful for mapping our way forward? Economic crisis, what crisis? Lets just get naked and take our minds off it. That’s where the smart money should go.

Stay fit!

Colourful Lives in the Age of Black and White Movies


I wanted to write something in recognition of International Women’s Day. It’s problematic. As more people get on board feminists have, I think rightly, called into question whether it’s become a sort of Mothers’ Day equivalent. My credentials are intact – I’ve been in this space as long as I’ve been in management. This time around I thought I would hark back to the golden days of Hollywood. Strange backward glance you may think given the excesses and underlying misogyny of Hollywood is only just now being called out. Well, maybe not, as Malcolm Gladwell might say.

With Weinstein now convicted there is a sense of relief, but no belief that such issues won’t emerge again or that others who have misused their power won’t now be brought to light. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra Nietzsche wrote “wherever I found man, I found the will to power”. The abuse of power is not the persevere of men, but is disproportionately prosecuted by them. In more recent times female actors have felt more empowered to come forward, despite the fear their careers may be impacted. But what of the days when the studios, headed by powerful men, reigned supreme? It’s often called the golden age of Hollywood and remembered through those stunning black and white photos of stars and starlets.

It’s easy to imagine, armed with the knowledge of what Weinstein perpetrated (and he was nowhere near as powerful as those studio bosses and elite directors), that female actors of that era were subjected to pretty significant harassment and abuse of power. To say that power relationships were asymmetric then would be an understatement. That is perhaps why two women, in particular, stand out for me. I want to spend a little time outlining why they have my utmost admiration and have done so for many years.

Olivia de Havilland portrait

Olivia de Havilland photographed on 23 April 2018 by Laura Stevens for Variety Magazine at the Pavillon de la Reine in Paris, France

My first and favourite is Olivia De Havilland. I’ve mentioned her previously in other blogs. She is an amazing woman by any standards. Still alive at the grand old age of 103 and living in Paris, she was a Hollywood superstar. She is most famous for playing Melanie Hamilton in Gone With the Wind turning down, as legend has it, the lead that went to Vivien Leigh and along with it an Oscar. My first real encounter with her was in the early 1970s while staying at my grandparents and watching a movie one afternoon in black and white (no colour TV then but the movie was black and white anyway). We grew up, deliberately I’m told, without a TV so anything on the box fascinated me. This movie, in particular, held me spellbound with the gritty scenes and the challenging subject matter. It was Anatole Litvak’s (director) The Snake Pit. Cinema has never had an easy relationship with mental health and the scenes of a woman’s descent into insanity were harrowing. De Havilland played the part of Virginia Cunningham who finds herself in an insane asylum with no recollection of how she got there. The usual Hollywood fairy floss this was not. I was deeply impacted by it and perhaps explains why I am still to this day so interested in issues of mental health. De Havilland was mesmerising in the part. A true actor in the finest sense.


Earlier than that in 1939 de Havilland co-starred in Gone With the Wind. De Havilland thought that having starred in such a picture she would get improved billing and act in more serious work. You really were ‘owned’ by the studios in those days. Objecting to the lightweight movies that she was required to participate in following her critical and box-office success, she refused to act in several and received her first of many suspensions by the studio. De Havilland was tied to Warner Brothers for seven years. Glad to be out of their clutches at the end of that period she found that Warner Brothers had extended her contract by 6 months to make up for her suspensions. Others, most notably Bette Davis, had tried and failed to challenge this in the courts. That did not deter de Havilland. In November 1943 the Superior Court in California found in de Havilland’s favour when she decided to take on Warner Brothers. The ruling is considered one of the most significant and far-reaching legal rulings in Hollywood reducing the power of the studios and extending greater creative freedom to performers. The ruling is to this day known as the De Havilland law.

Warner Brothers, of course, did not take this lying down and a letter written by them to all the major studios meant de Havilland could not find work for the next two years. De Havilland had the last laugh in this battle when securing a two year deal with Paramount Pictures. Her amazing acting in Mitchell Leisen’s To Each His Own rightly secured her the best actress Oscar in 1946.

The Snake Pit was released in 1948 with de Havilland producing perhaps her most challenging movie performance. She deliberately lost weight to portray the gaunt appearance she felt necessary to do her character justice. Commonplace now, unheard off then. She consulted regularly with psychiatrists and visited Camarillo State Mental Hospital to research her role and observe patients. Her efforts were rewarded with an Oscar nomination and other international awards. In 1949 she starred in The Heiress which Paramount secured the rights to after de Havilland saw the play on Broadway and persuaded the studio she would be perfect in the role. Obviously she was, securing her second Oscar for best actress. She also turned down the role of Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire…if only!


In the 1960s and beyond de Havilland was plagued by what remains an issue for many female actors today; securing good parts. She transferred to the small screen in her later career, a medium she was not enamored of, and retired in the late 1980s. I could go on about her awards from the US, UK and France and her political involvement including being called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (McCarthy) but I have to leave space for my next legend!


Next up is Hedy Lamarr, once known as the most beautiful woman in the world. Her face was the inspiration for Disney’s Snow White. Put the two together and the likeness is extraordinary. She was born in Austria and her early acting career was in Czechoslovakia where she made the controversial 1933 movie Ecstasy which is renowned for being the first non-pornographic movie to portray sexual intercourse and female orgasm. Of Jewish descent and married against the wishes of her parents to a fascist-leaning munitions manufacturer, she eventually fled from her extremely controlling husband.  Making her way to London via Paris, she happens upon Louis B Mayer, head of MGM, who offers her a movie contract in Hollywood. Thus begins her time in Tinseltown making a number of movies. Legend has it that in her first US-released film when her face first appeared on screen the audience gasped!


Quite possibly this ‘beauty’ limited her options and she was constantly offered parts that emphasised her physical attributes with few lines and little artistic stretch. The highlight of her acting career was Samson and Delilah in 1950 directed by Hollywood giant Cecil B DeMille. This was the highest grossing release of the year winning her critical acclaim as the leading lady. This aside she was not at ease with her celebrity status and found her acting parts boring. It was this reason that had her looking for other roles. She helped sell war bonds during WWII using her celebrity and beauty despite wanting to join he National Inventors Council which had been recently established to bring novel ideas forward to help hasten the end of the war. Unfulfilled she turned to hand to inventing!


On learning that naval radio-controlled torpedoes during the war could be jammed and set off course she put her mind to a solution. Engaging her friend composer and pianist George Antheil she created a frequency hopping system immune to jamming. Patented in 1942 it was ignored by the authorities as it came from outside the military. There’s more than a hint too that its shunning was because of the gender of the inventor. In 1962, staring down the barrel of the Cuban missile crisis, all US Navy ships had the device installed. Women’s liberation was kicking in!

Her legacy outside of her film career is still with us today. The streamlining on planes was her idea from observing birds in nature. Next time you are connecting via Bluetooth, or indeed communicating via secure wi-fi or other means you have Hedy Lamarr in significant measure to thanks for that. Next time you reach for GPS to find out how to get somewhere you should thank  Hedy Lamarr. While other starlets of her day were out socializing on their time off set, Hedy was in her trailer inventing things. In 1990, ten years before she passed, Hedy Lamarr, who lived the last portion of her life as a recluse, commented :

“The brains of people are more interesting than the looks I think.”


If this was the underlying preoccupation of Hollywood then the #metoo movement would have been redundant. It’s tempting nowadays to think of our current times as being much more complex, volatile and uncertain than days gone by. We live we are told in a VUCA age. Things seem more cut and dry back then, more straightforward, more monochrome. As this blog shows though, true colour lies beneath the outer veneer of black and white! Happy International Women’s Day everyone.

Kaufland – Sunk by the Cost of Their Fallacy?


Kaufland, the German hypermarket juggernaut, recently pulled out of the Australian market to concentrate on other markets where it felt it would get a better return on its investment. They left without firing a shot. That is they never actually got around to selling anything. The money lost that they had already sunk? Estimates vary, but the costs sunk in Australia by Schwarz Gruppe, the Kaufland parent company, are thought to range between $435m and $550m. From a job loss perspective, it amounts to over 200.


You could hear the collective sigh of relief from Coles and Woolworths at the news and their share prices lifted considerably as a result. Aldi would have felt relief too. In the Kaufland stable is Lidl, which is Aldi by another name. Only difference? Special Buys Thursday and Sunday! Now that would have been real competition. Imagine the Board room in Germany making the decision to pull out. All that due diligence that said ‘let’s do it’, all the analysis around the non-competitive Australian supermarket market, the money already invested and an important but often overlooked aspect of such decision-making, the ego and reputations of those who originally pushed for the project. That’s why it’s such a fascinating case study of corporate decision making and the psychology of decision-making in general.

Let’s analyse the rationale for Kaufland making the decision to enter the Australian market in the first place. If you want to grow your business then ultimately you need new markets. FMCG has high barriers to entry and establishing supply chains and supplier arrangements is complex. Getting the quality and cost equation right is essential as this is what the customer is seeking. They will have looked around the world for markets ripe for some additional competition. Despite what they said about now ‘concentrating on growth opportunities in Europe’ (I don’t think there are many) there was real potential in Australia. Here’s why the Australian market is attractive despite the tyranny of distance issues around supply chains. There is a duopoly (Coles and Woolworths) meaning there is space for other competitors. As the ACCC noted in their objection to the TPG-Vodafone merger, adding a third like-for-like player into a duopoly does not change pricing or innovation they just split the market between them. Competition comes when the new player brings a different offering and doesn’t compete on a like basis. Kaufland would not have competed as a Cole or Woolworths doppelganger.

Kaufland was offering, probably for the first time, grocery shopping as an experience. Australians who happen to do grocery shopping outside of Australia (even in New Zealand) are amazed at how much better that experience is compared to our domestic offering. Because competition here is so weak there is no need to spend money on fit-out and ambience. Close shelving, unattractively displayed product with awful lighting is the Australian way. Let’s get you in there, your wallet opened and out again. It feels more like a 2 or 3 sitting cheap restaurant rather than high-end degustation which is more the Kaufland model. A model that we now won’t experience.

So what were the Board thinking pulling the rug from under our feet? Were they stupid in the first place? Maybe so… we’ll never know. What they did do was act fast. What they didn’t do was suffer from the sunk cost fallacy phenomenon. From a behavioural economics perspective this is defined as when an individual or company continues a behavior or endeavor as a result of previously invested resources. This fallacy, which is related to loss aversion based on past inputs can also be viewed as a bias resulting from ongoing commitment. It’s the old ‘we committed to this endeavor so let’s double down on our efforts to make it work’ thinking process. We have after all spent so much money on it already. It’s a human foible to be sure, but one that investors require highly remunerated board directors to avoid to protect long-term value. They don’t always get that right. In fact it’s probably the exception rather than the rule.

While the sunk cost fallacy creates a strong pull in favour of the status quo, it is often running parallel with other decision biases that when experienced together makes it very difficult to take the brave and decisive decision. The first of these is the confirmation bias. You made the decision to attack the Australian market so when this is questioned you look for information supporting this decision and reject the data that undermines it. This is reinforced by anchoring. When you made your mind up first time around you really committed to it like an anchor. It takes a lot to shift your position. We’re often told to trust our initial judgment and instincts. Now you’re getting data which said we should pull out and hell we haven’t even sold a single item…don’t think so! Not on my watch…we can turn it around…just a little more money in the marketing budget…improved supply chains…better suppliers. Next thing you know you’ve been in for five years and still no profit!


Let’s look at what would have been the competition for Kaufland; Coles and Woolworths. Would they have the board room nous and sophistication to see off the new rival? A good place to look for evidence either way is to determine whether they have had their own sunk costs fallacy pivot points and how they each reacted to those. And as it turns out both have had similar moments. So how did they fare? Well each mirrored the mistake of their rival (I’m saying rival rather than competition advisedly as two players in the market rarely compete in the truest sense). Let’s take Woolworths first up. They launched the Masters ‘big box’ hardware business to take on Bunnings,  part of the stable of rival Wesfarmers. It was pretty obvious to me and many others that it was doomed from the get-go but they plowed on anyway with the full energy and focus of a lemming heading for the cliff’s edge. Where Kaufland pulled out of the headlong surge and managed to walk away, Woolworths plunged over with vigor. Do you see a Masters around today? Well perhaps, as some of the abandoned retail warehouses may remain un-let. It’s a dead brand though with egg over the face of the directors and egg in the wallets of the investors. A better case of the sunk cost fallacy you’d be hard pressed to find….


…that is until you look at Wesfarmers who owned Coles outright at the time. Clearly buoyant from seeing off their rival Woolworths, they embarked on the crazy plan to compete with their lookalike in the UK, B&Q, by, and you cannot make this up, buying the UK equivalent of Masters (Homebase). What were they thinking? Well I don’t think they were, at least not uncluttered from bias. Here the Board clearly had, at some juncture, a sunk cost fallacy decision point and pushed on. I think their concurrent biases were the gamblers fallacy which is expecting past events to influence the future. They had been able to take Bunnings from the relative obscurity of Western Australia and crush its rivals in the east and become pretty much a monopoly. Surely they could do it again? They won once they surely will win again kind of thinking. They also probably suffered from over-confidence bias. They were placing a lot of faith in their own knowledge and opinions. They clearly had an unrealistic view of their own ability to make investment decisions on behalf of the shareholders. The rest is history. Wesfarmers pulled out of the UK, tail between its legs after dismal sales figures. Just like Woolworths they plouwed on even when the writing was on the wall.

That’s why what Kaufland did is so remarkable. It’s not easy to bail out when you have so much invested, financially, reputationally, personally and psychologically. Kauf in German means ‘purchase’ so Kaufland means ‘purchase land’. And boy did they in Australia; a mouth watering $20m buying the old Bunnings site in Burleigh on the Gold Coast in 2018 being just one example. Despite this, when they couldn’t make the business stack for whatever reasons (and there’s plenty of speculation about this), they put all bias aside and withdrew. It’s brave, canny and staggering in equal measure. Oh that our Australian companies, in whom we trust our retirement superannuation, had leadership metal like this!

Blue Poles Apart


Outside of the arts community, the death of James Mollison on the 19th of January this year probably went unnoticed. “James Mollison?” I might hear you say. Well as it turns out Mr Mollison was quite a remarkable individual. He was a secondary school teacher from Victoria with an interest in the arts. More on him later.

1972 was the beginning of the ‘heady’ reign of the Gough Whitlam government, with ended with a bang in 1975. 1973, his second year in the seat, was a remarkable one for many reasons. The Vietnam War ended, oil rose by 200%, Roe V Wade was ruled upon by the US Supreme Court, the UK joined the EEC, there was the Yom Kippur war in the Middle East among many other news-worthy events. It was also the year of Blue Poles.

Blue Poles

Blue Poles is a painting by Jackson Pollock which he painted in 1952. The excellent piece in The Conversation in 2015 is a good place to start to get an art critic perspective on the work. Suffice to say it is now considered a mammoth work by a mammoth artist. As the photo above shows it is a mass of seemingly random colours splattered on in layers with eight diagonal deep blue lines signifying the poles. In its day this was a polarising (no pun intended) work of art as was the majority of the artistic output of Pollock. The phrase ‘my four year old could have painted that’ was often used when the likes of Pollock, Rothko et al were discussed. Loved and loathed in equal measure Blue Poles resides in the National Gallery of Australia.

Gough Whitlam personally signed off on the purchase early in his Prime Ministership and famously hand wrote on the approval letter to release the purchase price to the public. He was a wily politician knowing that the price would leak anyway. Releasing the price at the same time as the announcement meant there was no shame and no hiding. Compare that with today’s Prime Minister whose Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet would not confirm where he was on holiday (Hawaii) as the bush fires took hold.

As might be expected there was a bit of a furor as the public lined up to see Australia’s new purchase. It cost the princely sum of $1.3m. There were lots of vox pops at the time with people saying it was a huge waste of money and how many hip operations or new school teachers could be paid for with those funds instead. The usual stuff. There was a fairly broad consensus that it was a ridiculous amount of money to pay for a country that could ill afford it.

And whose insane and ill-considered idea was it to buy this work of ‘so called’ art? None other than the secondary school teacher James Mollison! Remarkably Mollison worked his way up to eventually becoming the Director of the National Gallery of Australia. He was described by his successor as:

“of almost legendary stature [and] had single-handedly built a great and comprehensive collection from the ground up; indeed he had presided over the collection for more than twenty years with great flair, and over the institution for seven years—it was in the truest sense, his Gallery, his professional achievement.”


Blue Poles wasn’t the only standout work he purchased. He is well known in art circles for the purchase of De Kooning’s Woman V, and securing Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series. The Gallery now has one of the best collections of Australian art. It’s no exaggeration to say that Mollison had a significant stewardship over the cultural maturation of Australian society, where previously it was felt that if you wanted ‘culture’ you had to go abroad e.g. Germaine Greer, Robert Hughes, Clive James etc.


On hearing of Mollison’s passing I mused what would have happened had social media been around in 1973 when the Blue Poles purchase was made. Based on my observation of the vitriol that seems to engulf the web and twittersphere etc., I’m thinking the reaction would have been a lot harsher. Listening to and seeing the contemporary responses in 1973 the opinions were less ingrained, less visceral, less politically charged and polarised. People seemed less willing to take the event and extrapolate it up into an ‘us and them’ proposition, or a reflection of the government of the day. In short, people seemed kinder and more forgiving in their responses, even if they were completely at odds with the purchase.

A lot of the criticism centred around the amount paid. If art’s not your bag then perhaps another prism to judge the purchase in retrospect,and the contribution of Mollison, is through the eyes of an economic rationalist. In today’s dollars that’s the equivalent of paying possibly $7m. I’m pretty sure that competing interests nowadays would kick up the proverbial shit storm if we paid that for a single work given the crises facing rural communities etc. Facebook, Twitter et al would go into melt-down. The anti-intellectual, anti-arts lobby would come out all guns blazing. Blue Poles would surely not pass the ‘pub test’, although some might argue it’s easier to like after 10 pints!

So I did some homework. Blue Poles has a current estimated value of $350m. Take $7m in today’s dollars and compare it to $350m. “Not bad” as the ‘posh’ lady on the Trivago advert would say. I then calculated that if we had put the $1.3m in the stock market what that would be worth today. Guess what, the ASX200 doesn’t even come close to $350m!  Mollison knew about art appreciation and he also knew about appreciating value. Who knows what the real value is beyond its sale price in terms of tourism and the confidence the Australian community has in having a vibrant arts and performance culture?


Putting value aside for a moment, is it any good? It doesn’t tour much and that’s understandable given its size. In 1998 the work was included in a Pollock retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It dominated the show according to critics at the time. Featured as the last work in the final room critics said it ended the show “not with a whimper, but a bang”. There were calls for it to be re-purchased and Americans questioned why such an important piece of cultural history was allowed to be acquired by a foreign government in the first place. Mollison clearly demonstrated 20:20 vision when it came to a fine eye for art.

We live in an uncertain world today and it’s easy to think that it is more complex and controversial than days gone by. Looking back, 1973 in particular, would suggest otherwise. What has changed, I think, is greater polarisation of our views, less willingness to see the other perspective and less kindness in the way we broadcast these views to the world. Sadly in today’s world we seem many poles apart on issues. In 1973 we were merely Blue Poles apart! Vale James Mollison – a man of vision and courage.