The Leaning Tables of PISA


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When the PISA league table of international educational standards was released I braced myself for some pretty hysterical responses and I wasn’t disappointed. Once again Australia, who believes it should be competing at the top of the league, noticed its position decline. There was all sorts of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Often the first reaction when shit hits the fan is to look for a culprit. Never a good example when a government does this as they set the bar for the rest of the community. Surely the best reaction is to pause and look more closely? Only after a reasoned assessment of the facts and getting input from interested parties should a relevant action plan (with measurable milestones) be put in place. Least that’s what we do in the business world…and after all isn’t it for this very business world that we want top of the table students?

I’ve been pondering how China (in all its extended form e.g. Hong Kong, Taipei) and Estonia have managed to climb to the top of the educational league. One thought that popped into my head was the internet speed of the top performing countries. This theory held good for Singapore, clearly, with their legendary speed but came crashing down when Estonia only managed a poor 44th place on the global table of fixed broadband speed. Australia came in at a miserly 64th in terms of Mbps. Maybe it has to do with diet or age when children first start to be educated? I even refreshed myself with Outliers the great read by Malcolm Gladwell. Still none the wiser, I put the blog aside for a while!

Then I got to thinking. Does it really matter where we are on the PISA list if it doesn’t deliver what we really need as a society and nation – a happy and contented community. The WASP view of life, while still an undercurrent running through society (especially the owners of capital), has much less of a sway in terms of public policy and establishment of societal norms nowadays. The rise of the happiness and well-being movement is testament to this shift. I put this down to the greater affluence of the middle classes, which in the Western world, has expanded immeasurably. And guess what – we are none the happier for all that extra stuff we get to buy! There are some things that some people get to realise as they get older and wealthier and that is they get wiser as well. It’s a wisdom borne of experience. Invariably that experience teaches us that wealth is not correlated to happiness and even if it was it wouldn’t be dose dependent.


Next step on what had now become a quest, was researching global happiness tables. Surprise surprise! There appears to be no direct correlation whatsoever between being a happy nation and the level of educational attainment. The first point of commonality is Finland topping out the happiness league, with an educational system ranked 7th. The Scandinavians dominate the happiness table with Denmark, Norway and Iceland claiming the next top slots. Sweden, perhaps mourning the demise of Abba, come in at a creditable 7th. In the educational stakes most of them are lower than us. Where might Australia be languishing then in the happiness stakes given our parlous educational system (16th place)? Actually on happiness we score a pretty robust 11th out of 156. If we were to aspire to be another country, I bet that a public poll would opt for the likes of those Nordic countries rather than China, Estonia, South Korea or Poland.

Silhouettes of People Holding Flag of Switzerland

No-one could accuse the Nordic bloc as being industrially backward either. But let’s consider the really big league in world commerce. Surely their economies rely on a smart source of labour and that’s why they are faring so well. Once again, I’m confounded to find Germany, arguably the world’s most advanced economy, ranks at 20 on the PISA table. Japan, similarly industrialised, ranks 15th. Switzerland, land of lush meadows, skiing, banks and great wealth – where I think we all secretly want to live – ranks 28th on the PISA scale. Go figure! It features in 6th place on the happiness scale.

In my opinion Australia would be well advised to spend our time trying to implement policies to get us higher on the happiness league table than the educational one. That’s not to say that we rank lowly in either. What policies should we be implementing to improve this position? Sadly the Government seems to want to place the emphasis on education. While more could be spent, I’m not sure that just getting us better at maths and reading (when it’s boiled down that’s what PISA measures) will actually take us anywhere meaningful. Time and again we are reminded by those who have a clear eye to jobs of the future (who are these soothsayers?) that we need creativity and soft skills. Our hellbent focus on STEM is not likely to deliver without us taking a broader brush to our curriculum. I’ve heard for calls recently to narrow the curriculum when, as a non-educationalist (but an employer who gets these cookie-cut kids when they leave school or uni), I need the problem-solving, creativity, soft skills, diplomacy and high EQ. A narrow curriculum is not capable of delivering these requirements.


So it surprised me immensely when, within a few weeks of the PISA results being published, I learned that the Federal Department for the Arts was being folded into another large Department (Transport). While a precious few might find mathematical problem solving the highlight of their leisure time, they are far outweighed by those who enjoy a cultural experience like a concert, show, art gallery visit or trip to the cinema. It is the arts that distinguish us from being mere fodder for the production of goods. Even industrialists at the beginning of the industrial revolution got that. Case in point; Port Sunlight in  the UK where the enlightened Lever family created a village where they housed all their workers from management to the shop floor. Guess what they put into their village? A library and art gallery. In fact the Lady Lever Art Gallery is an amazing small gallery with one of the best collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings you could hope to see. Yup even the uneducated working class like their art!


Australia’s economy relies quite heavily on tourism. In 2017 tourism contributed $49.7 bn to the GDP. Now I’d hazard a guess not tourists have come solely to visit our science museums! Many though will partake in our cultural offerings. The more culturally interested and literate we become the more likely we are to be happier. Along the way we might find also that our overall IQ increases too. It’s no surprise that those countries featuring high in the happiness scales have lashings of cultural offerings.


So where does this leave us? Let’s not beat ourselves up, go blaming teachers, funding levels, Gonski, lack of Gonski etc. Let’s focus instead on the metrics that are important to us. Hubris too often drives our thinking when we get ranked lower than we think we should. That’s wasted effort. Let’s spend our time and energy making us a happier place. If that means tweaking some aspects on the educational system by teaching more mindfulness etc. then so be it. Let’s leave league table obsession for the other great cultural aspect of Australian Society – sport. At least sport has its own Ministry that’s been left intact. Would it have been any other way?

Y’Ellen at People You Don’t Like



Not that long ago Ellen posted on social media a short clip of her monologue from her TV show about the concept of being friends or friendly with people whose views are not your own. She was specifically responding to being ‘called out’ for chatting and joking with ex POTUS George W at a sporting event. Her clip, which went viral, garnered likes and loathes aplenty on social media. It’s been a pretty well- trodden path so you might wonder why I’m sticking my toe in? I want to approach the issue from one of the workplace.


Photograph: Kyrre Lien / The Guardian

The unique contribution that the internet, and social media more exactly, has made has been the access to connections and links to celebrities and influencers (yes they are different). Before the web we had friends, acquaintances and fellow workers.  Those outside of this sphere were pretty much unknown to us so their views, ideologies and perspectives were neither visible to us nor could we care. We had no point of connection. Everything about this equation has changed. Ironically, by the magic of algorithm, while our total number of peer to peer connections has increased exponentially, the breadth of these relationships has shrunk almost in an inverse proportion. It’s called the echo chamber and it’s a widely acknowledged phenomenon.


Perhaps now the only place where you might get a clash of views and ideologies in person is in the workplace where people come into direct contact with the purveyor of opposing views. This could be in the lunchroom, at the water cooler or the smokers’ ‘den’. Strangely this last group seem more aligned than most. Perhaps the common bond of smoking, where the whole world’s ‘agin’ you, overrides other schisms that might separate them?

I’m not aware that the polarization we see online is manifesting itself to anywhere near the same degree in the workplace. I would posit that this is due to the fact that we engage fellow workers in the flesh. Our interaction with them involves all our senses and our conscious and sub conscious mind. We know more about them on most occasions than just their political beliefs, or where they stand on say a woman’s right to choose, or the extinction marches. We know about their children, or aged parents, their birthdays, their hopes and their aspirations. We know where they went on holiday; we know where they want to go on holiday.  In other words, we form a more rounded and nuanced view of them than just their views on a particular subject that may be existential to me, but of much lesser import to them. Online that fact alone may make you bristle, but in the flesh we get to see a more holistic picture.


We probably know more intimate details of fellow workers now than in the workplace of years ago. Perhaps occasioned by the social media culture of sharing, I think there is a greater willingness by people to put their perspectives on display in the workplace. This is partly occasioned by the workplace as well, reference Qantas support for same sex marriage or Rugby Australia’s support for diversity. On social media the clash of perspectives, beliefs and ideologies manifests itself all too often in a toxicity that at the very least burns bridges. Up the other end of the spectrum you get ‘unfriended’ or worse still trolled. I’ve read where grown-ups have ‘unfriended’ people they have known since early school years because a scant review of their social media has suggested some misalignment of beliefs. The irony here is that on occasions this must have been not long after searching out that old classmate or early boyfriend/girlfriend and re-establishing contact. Seems a lot of wasted energy!


One of the best ways to ensure that the echo chamber approach doesn’t adversely permeate the workplace is to create trust. Trust is an essential element of the internet. We have needed to suspend our natural suspicion to make large swathes of the internet work. We have moved pretty comfortably from buying clothing or other items in a bricks and mortar store where generally, due to geographical proximity, we can go back and demand our money back, to a cloud-based store where we seem to have few means to get redress if things are not to our satisfaction. Try finding a contact phone number on a website nowadays. And yet internet shopping is increasing year by year. Trust therefore has become an essential element in allowing this to happen. As Rachel Botsman explains, trust is the basis upon which the share economy rests. You allow strangers to stay at your house when you are not there based on a rating system that shows you how dependable they are. Similarly, you buy goods from people you’ve never seen – eBay – based on the ratings system of other buyers. So the internet is capable of having transactional relationships that work very well without the layer of ideology to get in the way. All you need to know is that both parties in the equation are safe, reliable and responsible and have been able to demonstrate this on a number of previous occasions. Sales might be quite different though if in your selling profile you had to answer a quick ‘fast five’ on where you stand on a range of social issues.


In the world of work trust is established in a much more sophisticated way. We don’t have a third party star rating to guide us, we have our own sets of beliefs, experience, biases and ideologies to assist with that. We also have structures of acceptable behavior in the form of policies and procedures and we have the underlying culture of the organization, most often set by the leadership. Brene Brown outlines seven elements of trust in her book Dare to Lead. These are worth repeating here:

Boundaries -You respect my boundaries and when you’re not clear about what’s okay and what’s not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no.

Reliability – You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t over promise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.

Vault – You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be kept confidential.

Integrity – You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.

Nonjudgment – I can ask for what I need and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.

Generosity – You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others.

These sound lofty, but elements of all these need to be in place to make the world of work actually…work! Imagine if the same set of principles could be amplified into the dealing of people on the social media. If we are to de-polarise the world we need to bring more understanding, compassion, kindness and forgiveness to our interactions on social media. If we could, the impact would be amazing. It all starts with what Ellen said in her monologue. Being nice is more than just being nice to people you like. And YES it is possible to be friends with people whose views you don’t necessarily share. If we could just stretch to this, as Ellen is want to say on her show, ‘Everyone gets a prize!’


Is raeling Against Your Employer a Good Idea?



There’s been an awful lot written of late about Israel Folau and his right to express his views versus the rights of the employer. A recent case lost in the High Court by Michaela Banerji, who under the pseudonym “LaLegale”, lambasted the policies of her employer, while not directly comparable, will have certainly have given Folau’s legal team pause for thought. Still they’re going to get paid no matter what thanks to a highly publicized not so successful crowd-funding campaign and a subsequent white knight or perhaps more appropriately named ‘angel’ backer in the form of the Australian Christian Lobby. I’ve held off commenting because jumping in too quick can be polarizing and I think we need more reasoned approaches where nuance can prevail rather than a flight to opposing ideology.

prayer room

First up the thorny question of religion in the workplace. We live in a predominantly secular-governed country that is majority Christian but a whole heap of other religions are represented in the multi racial society in which we live. The more culturally progressive (or those with high cultural quotients) employers embrace diversity and it’s pretty common in this cohort for this to be reflected in the workplace. Take us for instance;  we have a prayer room for Muslim staff and visitors. We host the annual Holi festival for the Guajarati community of Brisbane which an ancient Hindu festival. Perhaps it’s this that riles the Christians [open disclosure I was raised a Catholic] – that the progressives embrace this cultural diversity and yet Christianity doesn’t get the same heft put behind it?


I’d like to think that good employers create a culture of acceptance and this includes acceptance of differing views. Recently this has been put to the test up and down the country with marriage equality, euthanasia and the de-criminalisation of abortion all potential heated water cooler conversations. And there’s no less suitable place to get into hot water than at the water cooler! Management’s role in all this is to create a culture where expressed views, no matter where they sit on the spectrum across these issues, are conducted in a mindful and respectful way.


This is particularly true given how harmful words can be. There is immense power in words and we should never underestimate this. The poorly constructed sentence at a performance review can wreak havoc. A rashly typed email responding to a perceived unreasonable comment can do similar damage. So when Israel Folau made his injudicious comments about the fate of a range of ‘sinners’ who don’t repent, this was always going to cause upset. To my mind the upset is warranted by those particularly singled out and this is primarily those struggling with their sexuality. This struggle exists at home and at work – there is no miraculous hermetically sealed barrier between the two. Gay people have to come out at least twice – once at home and once at work.  Where I feel less sympathy is for those outraged on behalf of the affected (the progressives) or for the attack on free speech (the conservatives). This ‘war of words’ is fueled by the moral and I think confected outrage by both groups who delight in the polarization of their polemic. It’s strangely like answering the referee back. As every Australian kid knows, complaining at the referee never gets the decision reversed. The same is true of outraged arguments for either side of this debate. No-one is likely to jump ship to the other camp based on the diatribe of the opposing party – especially since it’s normally presented in such a salty fashion.

So how does the leadership in an organisation bring some semblance of balance and order when increasingly we are being told that organisations need to ‘live and breathe’ their values and that recruiting millennials is contingent upon ‘standing for something’?  I think there is a way and that is by explaining the absolute and unalienable right of management (or ownership) within an organization to set the culture. Culture is both espoused (the way we want to do things around here) and given meaning (the way we actually do things around here). It is management’s right to do both and to ensure they align. We can choose to leave or remain but at the very least we should never work against the culture as expressed in the workplace. Subtlety this doesn’t mean we can’t speak out if we find it clashes with our own views.


So in the case of Rugby Australia they have quite clearly stated their culture as being a diverse and inclusive organization. What Israel Folau did is try to undermine this by speaking out with his views that run contrary to this. Where I think Rugby Australia missed a trick is that they should have stated quite categorically after the first infraction, when Folau was apparently put on notice about future social media postings, that they as employer would reserve the right to speak in defense of their culture.  For each posting by Folau should have come a reasoned re-articulation of the values and culture of what diversity and inclusivity actually means, as a riposte through an err.. repost.


It’s a bit more complex than this of course, because Folau is (or was) a role model to many young people, especially in the Pacifika community. Rugby Australia is also custodian of a sporting code steeped in history that is desperate to maintain ‘market share’ in a country overrun almost by sporting codes for Mums and Dad to enroll their daughters and sons into. With this in mind then, getting on social media and other platforms would have been an appropriate vehicle to say ‘hey this player has the right to his views but we don’t agree.’ Then they could have come out and said how such views can be made without causing undue offence – a tall task I know. But as I said earlier, words can cause great harm which means things worded differently can cause less harm if crafted. The damning to ‘hell’ of the unrepentant is not a shining example of wordsmithing let’s be honest! What Folau needed was someone to help him express (temper) his views in a way that didn’t cause the fallout that followed.


Where I think Folau was at his most vulnerable, in a mindful social media re-balance (pushback) by Rugby Australia, was his actual interpretation of the Bible. Surely there are some Christians within the broader rugby community (it’s played in lots of Catholic Schools – I went to one) who could have fielded (pun intended) Rugby Australia with some scriptural quotes that could have shown the Folau statements for what they were…heartless and ill-founded. The concept here is one of discernment – one that could have shown Rugby Australia in a good light and thereby Folau in a bad one. Matthew 7:1 (judge not lest you be judged) is a prime example and I would certainly have led with this. The irony of the statement made by Folau is that those who he believes might end up in hell for un-repented behavior, might be his bedfellows given judging is something the bible forbids. Love, actually (not the movie), is the proper motivation for not judging and for deploying good judgment and the failure to love his fellow man (or woman) is where Folau came unstuck and where his scholarly interpretation of biblical quotations started to unravel. In fact, this area alone could have been a rich seam to mine to show that the Rugby Australia culture is very much aligned to the fundamental beliefs of many of its members.

It’s a shame that Folau lost his place in both the Wallabies and NSW Warratahs squads over this. No-one wants to see someone lose their job. He has – perhaps guided by others – decided that he will pursue the financially beleaguered Rugby Australia through the courts to get compensation for unfair dismissal on the basis of his right to freedom of speech. I’ve also read where he wants back into the Wallabies and Warratahs to keep playing. My approach would have been to keep him there but not play him if his alignment was out of whack. Teams are successful when they gel as players so those who can’t adopt the team ethos are more than likely to de-select themselves. And that’s fair. The fellow players see to this themselves. That’s culture being lived.


Should Falou be successful then Rugby Australia will be in all sorts of strife and one can’t but hope that the’ thugs game played by gentlemen’ can survive this. If Rugby Australia wins then there will be a backlash and a diminution of freedom of speech which might be used as a smokescreen to justify other erosions of our freedoms, especially press freedom and the rights of whistleblowers. If they do win Israel Folau is morally obliged to ‘forgive and forget’. Whatever happens, Israel Folau is not at risk of being a pauper, but Rugby Australia is. Perhaps if they do lose they can at least salve their wounds knowing that it is ‘harder for a wealthy man to get into heaven than a camel to pass through the eye of a needle’ (Mark 10:24). Knowing this, Izzy may well be hanging out with the outcasts for eternity anyway. My bible knowledge has faded a bit over the years, but excuse me, didn’t Jesus hang out with the outcasts when he was here on earth? I reckon he may well have played rugby too! Let’s hope this gets resolved without too much more rancour. After all we have a World Cup to win!

Time to Press (Club) Home the Truth



We live in complicated times. Donald Trump, ostensibly the leader of the free world (and somewhere implied in that moniker is the concept to some extent of moral leader) has made an art out of the half-truth, distortion and out and out lie. Boris Johnson, his UK analogue is cut from a similar cloth. He’s just become the new occupant of number 10 Downing Street.


Holding aloft a smoked kipper recently, to rail against the petty and burdensome regulations imposed by the EU he declared that an unshackled Great Britain would be able to avoid such bureaucratic nonsense when it wrestled back sovereignty from Brussels. Ever fluid with the truth, it took fact checkers a nano second to discover that the very regulations that were the basis of Boris’ confected outrage were, in fact, imposed by the UK government without any involvement of the EU. Never one to be overly burdened with the concept of truth he has shamelessly pushed on with his public pronouncements without feeling the need to make any correction. Such untruths might seem, on the face of it, no ‘biggie’ but reflecting on the Brexit vote many floating voters were persuaded by the fact that the NHS was, according to the Brexiteers,  likely to face an attack from the EU. That lie was exposed after the referendum and as we now know, too late in the day to save the country from the three years of stagnation that has occurred since. Even little half-truths and distortions can erode at our ability to root our right from wrong. As Gandhi said “truth never damages a cause that is just”. An untruth on the other hand is highly corrosive.


From a neuroscience perspective we are hard-wired to accept truth and sometimes hold onto a belief even when we find out subsequently that we were not told the truth in the first place. An experiment by Tali Sharot and Micha Edlson of University College London proved this point. They got a group of volunteers together and fed them misinformation. They then called them back and ‘fessed up’ as it were. What was perhaps surprising in this study was the fact that around half the time even when knowing they were fed misinformation, the volunteers continued believing the first false information they were fed. There are a couple of explanations for this. The most obvious and perhaps crudest is that fact that first impressions are lasting impressions. The more sophisticated explanation is that neuroscience has shown that if the amygdala (i.e. our emotional centre) is aroused with the first lot of misinformation it is much harder to actually change the mind of a person when the truth is finally revealed.


Boris, Kipper in hand, and the undermining of the NHS were both examples designed to arouse emotions. The NHS is such a dramatic case in point as it has consistently been voted the most trusted of the UK’s public services in surveys. Clearly those putting together the election campaign were across the neuroscience. Put like that the presentation of lies and distortions sprinkled like confetti by Trump and Johnson are sinister in a Machiavellian way.  Trump’s recent, highly calculated, tirade against the ‘Squad’ is another stark example. A chorus of ‘send them back’ at a recent Trump rally were clearly not perturbed by the awkward truth that three of the four protagonists were indeed born in the good ole USA.

But should we be surprised by the verisimilitude of truth in the stead of actual truth? Trump and Johnson didn’t invent this stuff. They had good forebears. Tony Blair massaged the truth of weapons of mass destruction to take the UK to war in the Middle East. He did a good job of it too. I had the ‘privilege’ of actually being in the Press Gallery of the House of Commons to observe him debate joining forces with George W, despite having already declared war. He convinced me! Across the pond Donald Rumsfeld introduced into the modern lexicon the notion of ‘known knowns and unknown knowns’ etc. which, as Richard Cohen of the Washington Post observed, was a way of frog marching us into ‘a semantic quagmire in which there is no such thing as truth’.

So the truth matters. It’s not only getting eroded in politics though. In business the exposure of malady at the Banking Royal Commission revealed a deep fissure in the culture of companies where lies and the promotion of deliberately adverse recommendations to customers have been a common feature. These have all been done in the interests of the corporation. There weren’t the ‘ratbags’ you see every night of the week on ‘A Current Affair’ ripping off old grannies. These were publicly listed companies, the bedrock of our superannuation funds with finely manicured value statements.

Corporate mistruth is pernicious. Failure to advise the market of vital information, or misrepresenting your accounts like presenting short-term debt as long term debt on the balance sheet are all too common examples and lies that have dire consequences for the unenlightened – normally mum and dad shareholders. Corporations don’t live in isolation. They reflect society as a whole. Even our nightly television is littered with distortion and half-truth. No wonder there is a culture of disbelief and willingness to be scant with the truth. Trailers for reality TV shows are littered with distortion. This may seem like a long bow connection between the ‘sins’ of Trump and Johnson but the slippery slope has to start somewhere.


How often are we shown a snippet to tease us into watching a show segment only to find out that the editing created a certain predicted tension that doesn’t eventuate, or if it does, is far less dramatic than telegraphed. If I had a dollar for every time ‘The Voice’ judges, for example, were about to go into total meltdown I wouldn’t be so badly under-superannuated. How often are we led to believe that there is spontaneity only to find out the whole thing was scripted?


Take under-siege celebrity chef and Master Chef presenter George Calombaris. His failure to pay the appropriate entitlement to his workers (by the staggering sum of around $8m) would indicate that he is perhaps not as up front as he should be. Watching his cooking performance last Sunday night based on a role reversal where contestants became judges and vice versa, he and fellow Judges were given a ‘mystery box’ and had to cook something inventive in 60 minutes. Now I’m no cook but a record turntable isn’t a staple cooking utensil, at least not in the establishments I frequent. George, confronted by a range of ingredients he had to whisk up on spec, without prior knowledge, duly produced the record turntable from beneath his bench where, supposedly one would store their blender. This was all in the aid of producing  a spiral pattern with his ganache, or was it his jus, or whatever you call that sort of tangy swirl on the plate. Not in the same league as short paying your staff, or using racial slurs to incite divisions in society, I’ll warrant, but at what point does manipulation of the truth start to become an issue?

Much more malleable minds than mine are being exposed to untruths, lies, distortions, exaggerations and we just accept it now as the way things are done on TV. We have a duty to protect the innocent and the truth as well. It’s time we started to press (club) home the truth in society, politics, corporations and, yes, even reality tv for all our sakes.

Ardern’s Leadership Given a Sporting Chance


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Something remarkable has been seen to happen in the world of management and leadership. It’s called New Zealand. I’m biased – I’m also a Kiwi. That said I can, I think, look at NZ in a dispassionate way not having lived or worked there since the 1990s. Much of my time has been spent in the northern hemisphere where things are done quite differently and more recently in Australia, where on the face of its things are similar, but on deeper scrutiny aren’t really.

In the wake of the terrible Christchurch mosque killings we have seen wave after wave of leadership on the big and small scale. Prime Minister Ardern’s role as leader and comforter to the nation is vital and how well she has stepped up to the plate. The three main NZ telcos (Spark, Vodafone and 2Degrees) open letter to the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter and Google is another fine example. Then there are the smaller, but in some ways more poignant, demonstrations of leadership within the community where schools have broken into a spontaneous hakas. The all-conquering Crusaders, the undisputed most successful franchise in Super Rugby history have decided to review their brand name. The list goes on.

Adversity often brings out the best in people, but this tends to be at the level of compassion. This event appears to be bringing forth both the right amount of compassion AND great leadership. Why then has such great leadership bubbled to the surface? What is it about the green unspoiled environment of NZ that seems to provide such clarity of thinking in times when clear leadership is necessary? Why does, Aotearoa, the ‘land of the long white cloud’ produce great leaders?


Not convinced that they do? In recent days President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has demonstrated his own style of poor Leadership with his inflammatory comments about sending NZ’ers and Australians back in a box from the ANZAC ceremonies in the Dardanelles. Not surprisingly, given there are important elections due in Turkey, he is playing to his base with his hyperventilated comments. Because he didn’t limit his comments to one country, we get a rare opportunity to see how two world leaders respond to a common jibe.

Bigger brother, Australia, through Prime Minister Scott Morrison issues a robust rebuke indicating that without a withdrawal and apology for the outrageous comments then there would be further consequences. The suggestion is a recall of ambassadors and asking the Ambassador of Turkey to leave. Good chest pumping stuff at a diplomatic level! Just what Erdogan wants. He’d love that so he could say “look they killed Muslims and now they kick Turkey’s ambassador out”. As he has a tight grip on media in Turkey it’s a message he can pretty much control for his own people.

NZ a much smaller brother, or should we say sister, has sent its Foreign Minister Winston Peters directly to Istanbul for face to face talks. Erdogan would respect that; two bull-headed men plainly talking behind closed doors.  The difference is in touch and diplomacy. Such differences stem from a different perspective on leadership. While NZ arguably has a more genuine case for being upset at the Erdogan comments, because the bloodshed of the Mosque attack happened on their shores, they have nevertheless taken a less sabre-rattling approach.  Better leadership all round.

So, having made the case what might be the reason for this surfeit of leadership skills? While it’s tempting to say it’s the crystal-clear rivers and lakes and un-spoilt wilderness, clearly this isn’t the underlying cause. I think it’s because NZ as a small country has had long-term exposure to a number of really inspiring leaders and this role-modelling has rubbed off on the population at large. Given sporting heroes are an easily accessible role model for sports-crazy young men and women, its fortunate that Kiwis have had such a great run of those that have excelled and done so with a real humility and dignity over the years.


Reflecting on leadership I often think of the example of Edmund Hillary. He was the first to scale Everest but never revealed who got there first – him or his sherpa, Tenzing Norgay. He even refused to have his photo taken on the summit! That’s a story that every NZ’er of my generation, and probably since, has imprinted in their marrow. He then went on to other feats of daring-do and spent a lifetime helping the people of Nepal. Humility – a cornerstone of good leadership.


I also recall John Walker, the athlete who won a 1500m gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and broke the world mile and 1500m records on a number of occasions. He kept running for years, even when his age meant he could no longer win. He just ran for the pure love of it. Perseverance – a cornerstone of good leadership.


Peter Blake was a world-renowned yachtie and someone who inspired the nation through his round the world maxi races and America’s Cup leadership.  He inspired a generation of sports persons through the removal of hierarchy and the ability to instill a single sense of focus. He was tragically killed defending his crew when pirates boarded his yacht off the coast of Brazil in 2001. Selflessness – a cornerstone of leadership.


Richie McCaw, possibly the greatest All Black to play the game (which means the best player ever) continues to inspire those who follow in his footsteps. He played through pain from injuries and battled the emotional ‘scars’ of losing a World Cup final. His preparation was meticulous and his ability to inspire without compare. Leading by example – a cornerstone of good leadership.

So Jacinda is an inheritor of a fine leadership tradition. She has the strong leadership gene that is engrained in NZ’ers, especially Maori. There is a word in Maori called ‘mana’ that has no easy English translation. As a Kiwi when you see someone with ‘mana’ you just know it. Mana to me is ‘leadership in motion’ and Jacinda Ardern has it in abundance. Now it’s time for young NZ’ers to learn from her example as the baton shifts to the next generation. Given we live in this age of the 24 hour news cycle, assisted by the connectedness of the internet, the whole world now gets to see an emerging great leader in motion, inspiring well beyond the shores of the shaky isles!

Flying in the Face of Hayne


By all accounts there were some very smart people involved in the Hayne Financial Services Royal Commission. Now that it’s over and the final report has been in the public domain for some time, I can take a more reflective look at the Commission’s work and some of the fallout. It strikes me Royal Commission’s are strange beasts. They are overwhelmingly led by lawyers and are conducted in a manner that has a very legalistic and adversarial framework. Most often they are looking into matters that reflect systemic organizational or cultural issues that are failures of management and leadership. It would follow, I would have thought, therefore that while a solid legal foundation might be needed by the commissioner/s, the most essential skill set is management and leadership (and here I’m speaking of leadership of a company). This is seldom the case and proved true of the Royal Commission chaired by Justice Hayne.


So that had me thinking – what were the qualifications of the main belligerents? What made them uniquely qualified to sit in judgement of others? Let’s start at the top with Justice Kenneth Hayne. He’s an ex-University of Melbourne double major Arts and Law and did a Bachelor of Civil Law at Oxford. Topping that off he is a Rhodes Scholar. Then there was the stellar performance by his counsel assisting, the inimitable Rowena Orr QC. She’s endowed with a Bachelor of Economics and Hons Law Degree and a MPhil in Criminology.


Then let’s take a quick peek at some of the ‘defendants’. First off Dr Ken Henry, then Chair of NAB, with an economics degree from UNSW and a PhD in economics from University of Canterbury. He was Treasury Secretary for 10 years most importantly steering Australia through the GFC. Another is David Gonski, Chair of ANZ, who began life as a lawyer at Freehills becoming the youngest ever partner at the age of 25. He is equipped with a Bachelor of Commerce and a Bachelor of Law (winning the University Medal no less) both from UNSW.

What’s striking for me in this is that both sides – the Commission and those being grilled – both appear to have a yawning gap in the very skill area in which they are defending their position, or proffering their criticism. How can this be? I’d never knowingly fly in an aircraft where the person at the controls was not a qualified and experienced pilot.  I’d be willing to guess it has to do with hubris. To become a lawyer you need a great academic result in school that will set you above the less gifted, academically speaking, in what still is (despite increased use of A-i) a highly sought after and hotly competitive area of study. Very few lawyers seem to go on to study management through an MBA or other lifelong learning. Believe me economics and commerce are not a straight proxy for management. They are, off the bat, ill-equipped to speak on matters of management and leadership without bootstrapping some academic qualifications in the field of management.

The fact that the banks and other financial institutions got into trouble, I would argue, is because of lack of management expertise in the first place. Creating highly perverse outcomes from incentive schemes aimed at playing on greed and individualistic reward, was always likely to end badly. The schizophrenia between the advertising of the banks and their actual  behavior must have had many of their non-bonus earning staff shaking their heads in disbelief. The skill of management is about creating growth AND compliance and getting everyone ACTUALLY delivering against agreed values, not just nodding towards them at successive Board meetings. Skills as a Director, which really should be re-phrased as ‘experience’ as a Director, are no proxy for management, nor is it any indication as to how a company might be run.


I noted during the Royal Commission that the professional organization that represents managers and leaders, the peak body as it were, made the case for all senior execs in the finance sector to become Chartered Managers. This is the latest offering from the Institute of Managers and Leaders ANZ and to my mind should be a prerequisite for anyone looking to lead a company as part of the executive. How many take up the offer remains to be seen. You wouldn’t have your Chief Financial Officer without a professional accountancy qualification CA or CPA etc. so why would we expect companies to be run by someone without professional management qualifications?

So, what were the implications for us as consumers from this lack of managerial skills, experience and qualifications? Well, as already noted, consumers have been ‘dudded’ for some time by financial institutions. But at the Commission itself this lack of depth in management means the recommendations are unlikely to create a coherent plan for a re-structure that can create order out of the apparent paradox of serving the customer and the shareholder. Hayne hasn’t sorted this out. There was also a lost opportunity in addressing a long-existing flaw where the executive and Board lines get blurred. I have been of the belief for a long time that you can be on a Board, or in the executive, but you cannot simultaneously do both. If I was Hayne I would have banished the Managing Director position once and for all. How can the management be held to account if the chief officer of management, the CEO, also sits as one among equals on the Board of Directors in the role of Managing Director?


Hayne did collect some ‘scalps’ though, so you might think that the consumer at least had some sense of justice. But let’s look at who went. Ken Henry, saviour of the country from the GFC had a mere 3 years as Chair of NAB and much less time as Chair than his counterpart, Gonski, at ANZ. Henry’s gone and Gonski remains in place. This is as a direct result of Hayne and critical comments in his report based on the tone of the ‘cross examination’ during the Commission’s hearings. Had Hayne had more management expertise to draw upon, I suspect he might have understood the emotional intelligence (EI) issues at play and realized that his assessment of Henry was coloured partly by his performance style.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Hayne might have even had the fleeting thought of ‘how dare he’ a mere economist speaking like that to a lawyer! We will never know. What we do know is that those who are familiar with Henry say that when involved in such circumstances he gets very defensive. This, it can be argued, was also a fault of Henry’s own lack of EI. Henry, though, was only responsible for his performance, while Hayne was sitting in judgement where the bar is set higher (excusing the pun). I hypothesize that a Chartered Manager sitting in Hayne’s Chair would have had a better handle on EI and things might have worked differently for Henry and not at the detriment to the findings either. Gonski, a wily performer with more time in the corporate world, made a small target and came through the Commission pretty much unscathed. Was NAB that much worse than the ANZ…I’m not so convinced?


So I’m advocating for the corporate world to embrace the Institute of Managers and Leaders Chartered Management qualification. I’m suggesting that there be no dual roles as executive and Director for the same person on the same Board. I’m calling for a genuine focus on the customer and concern for the well-being of the workforce. All these things genuine managers do as part of their day jobs. I’m also calling for a more reasoned approach next time the Government decides to call a Royal Commission. By all means have a commissioner with some knowledge of the law so things can go well procedurally, but let’s have some people with genuine credentialed management qualifications and experience. After all if management is the core of the issue, managers need to sort the issues out. If both your pilots fall prey to food poisoning on your next flight, you are unlikely to hear a call out over the PA system asking for someone with experience in Torts!

Streaming Tears for our Entertainment Future


I was explaining to a youngster over the Christmas period, the old process of accessing entertainment, specifically films to watch, which required a visit to Blockbuster. It generally involved disappointment if you left the run too late to find that the new releases had all been rented by someone else. I was going to go further and talk about getting your camera film developed, but the incredulous look on their face gave me a hint that that might have been a bridge too far already!

Of course, nowadays the inconvenience of having to get your timing right to get to the ‘video store’ and possibly missing out on your desired movie of choice, is a thing of the past. Thank god you might say and to a degree I’m with you. But I still find now, with streaming and poor bandwidth, that if I don’t get my timing right I’ve left it too late for the movie to buffer enough to either watch the film in the first place, or watch it with a degree of fidelity that makes it an enjoyable experience. This is particularly true of Netflix, Stan and TV on demand.

This got me thinking about streaming and its impact on our lives, not only now but into the future. My first reflection is the impact streaming is having on our willingness to wait. This has pretty much been trashed by the always available on demand nature of streaming. In years gone by, the anticipation of the next episode of a TV show that would be on the same night, at the same time a week later, was half the fun. That’s why VCRs were invented – in case you had a function to go to and would otherwise miss your show. In days gone by the conversation next day at work or school etc. had everyone on the same page. Nowadays the conversation goes more like. “Have you been watching [insert programme] on Netflix?” If the answer is ‘no’ it’s generally followed with “well you should it’s great”. If the answer is ‘yes’ it’s followed by “what episode are you up to?” And there ends the conversation when you realise you are both out of sync. No-one wants a spoiler. Not really the in-depth conversation piece of a few years prior when you both were on the same page, as it were, episodically speaking.


The second by-product of this unwillingness to wait is its spill over into other areas of our life. We start demanding things now and our patience for the delivery of content whether it’s music, films or stuff from Amazon has been eroded to the point that customer fulfillment has become the supply chain issue of our generation. It also means though that there is precious little time planning. No big deal you might think but it has significant issues in the business world where last minute demands aren’t as easily fulfilled as a downloaded TV show. Take ordering concrete for a large pour on a block of apartments. You can’t just ring up and get that delivered within an hour or so. Planning they say “prevents piss poor performance” but this concept is fast achieving second cousin status in our work lives and especially our non-work lives. As any successful business person will tell you, planning, goal setting and evaluation are the three core underpinnings of business. The ability to do this, especially planning ahead is associated with the development of the third and most recent part of our brain the neocortex. To take this out of the equation of our lives will seriously impact our neurological health, not to mention our business.

My next concern and trend in streaming is curated content. I noticed this first in the early days of Amazon when doing an on-line CD (a disc upon which digital music was compiled) purchase. It went something like ‘other buyers who bought this also bought…’ Without realizing it I was getting my first taste of the echo-chamber. Nowadays Apple Music or Spotify can curate your musical content and with iTunes you can buy the songs you want to hear from a myriad of albums (originally a large piece of vinyl upon which a band recorded their latest content) without buying the whole thing. Great for your wallet not so good for expanding your horizons.


Netflix similarly – although I think with less precision – is sending similar content to me on the basis if I liked that, I’ll like this… The problem here is with neural pathways. New experiences that challenge and arouse create these new pathways expanding our brain and sometimes generate the neuro plasticity that has featured in recent years in neuroscience research. If we get fed the same content, without exposing ourselves to new ideas, our brains will actually shrink. We used to have a phrase for this – we become ‘narrow minded’. Funnily enough this is a reasonably accurate description of the physiological impact on our brain of not expanding our horizons and trying out new experiences or stimuli.


There’s a less significant but nonetheless important loss also from this and that is the delight in the unexpected. If you bought the song ‘Hotel California’ by the Eagles you will have missed the gem that is ‘The Last Resort’. If you bought ‘Werewolves of London’ by Warren Zevon that features on his album Excitable Boy, you would have missed the classic track ‘Lawyers, Guns and Money.’ If you watched say Daredevil by Marvel on Netflix, you will have been encouraged in the direction of Luke Cage, Iron Fist et al.



Chances are you would not be pushed in the direction of the excellent The Bureau (French) or Das Boot (German) television shows because curating doesn’t spread its net like that, plus it’s on the SBS on demand service not Netflix. Expanding your entertainment viewing boundaries is another way to expand your horizons and therefore develop new neural pathways. What we ingest for entertainment is like the food pyramid whereby ‘a little bit of everything’ and ‘everything in moderation’ holds true!

My third and final concern links to this last point. As bandwidth increases so does the size of the signal through your streaming service. I’ve been watching 4k lately (Westworld) and it’s hard to see how that fidelity can improve. I’ve been watching it on 4k blu ray in case you think this contradicts my earlier point. So what might add to the size of the signal hitting your TV or mobile viewing device? I think the next big step to come, and streaming technology makes it possible for the first time, is highly personalized mass customization (HPMC). My streaming service knows me precisely. For example if I bail early to get a good night’s sleep (a further casualty of our streaming fixation – but that’s a subject of a future blog) I pick up precisely where I left off next time I connect. Couple this with information online harvesters have on me and it’s highly likely that this will feature in content in the future.


We won’t tolerate advertisements in a Netflix show but would we tolerate advertisements within a Netflix show? With high processing power and bandwidth to spare it’s possible, I believe in the not too distant future, that when watching my show of choice (and they know what I’m watching and therefore can predict my future watching patterns), to have a direct appeal or reminder to me encapsulated in the show itself. Product placement will become old hat and viewer specific placements will take their place. Is having a Dell computer placed in a highly visible position in a cop show going to target me more effectively than a Dell monitor in the scene scrolling a message reminding me that my car insurance is up soon an and Budget Direct will offer me a 15% reduction on what my current insurer is offering?  I think not!


If my favourite basketball player in the world is Kevin Durant, how chuffed would I be to read off the front or back of his jersey a personalised message to me loaded onto the green screen patch affixed to that jersey. My neighbor watching the same game at his place would be getting a very different message targeted directly at him on that very same jersey. Highly effective, hugely valuable for the product and advertisers, but immensely annoying and potentially corruptive. If politicians got hold of this, or unscrupulous operators at state or corporate levels then the very fabric of our democracy and sanity might be at risk.

So next time a younger person is extolling the virtue of streaming and sympathizing with you about all those forlorn trips to Blockbuster, just beware that everything comes at a price. Streaming may turn out to be both detrimental to our health, as well as the democratic process. We might find the price we pay for convenience is too high. The intrusion into our lives of streaming services might well be akin to some dystopian 1984 vision and we need to take heed. But the younger generation won’t know this it was written well before they were born and with no Blockbuster it’s real hard to get your hands on the movie!

That Philiping ‘Sound-Bite Wisdom’


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I haven’t done a blog so far in August and yet I smashed out six in June and two in July. The reason? Well partly a dearth of material, but primarily because I have got into very short-form posts to LinkedIn. They are pithy (some might say pissy) little truisms or nuggets of wisdom that pop into my head from time to time; sometimes at the most random moments. I write them on a flipchart, take a photo, post it and Bob’s your Uncle. I call them #philiped chart – a play on the word ‘flip’ and my name ‘Philip’. Clever huh?


So over the weekend I paused for breath and had a moment to reflect. This reflection time had me pondering the sort of nano-second world we now live in. Everything seems to be about speed and expediency, meaning activities that are more contemplative in nature tend to get relegated to the ‘too hard basket’ or ‘can’t find time basket’.  We’ve all seen examples of the glib sound bite wisdom, especially LinkedIn memes with some words of wisdom, be it for life and happiness, or how to manage our company or make a million in a week. I’m dismissive of such banality but over the weekend it dawned on me (somewhat late you might think) that I’m caught up in perpetuating the very thing I dislike.

So instead of just lamenting the near demise of long-form and considered written matter, I thought it might be worthwhile considering the implications of the new normal and how it came about.

It probably started before texting and Twitter. The beginnings of this demise can probably be charted back to the advent of television where entertainment was brought to us in a lazy fashion. At least with radio there is the engagement of the imagination. Less books began to be read and before long newspapers – a very good example of long-form journalism –  were flirting with the idea of shortening their pages. First cab off the rank were the tabloids in the belief that their readership wanted their news in more bite-sized chunks. You are hard-pressed today to find even the quality newspapers (broadsheets) produced in the old large format. Necessarily this means more considered long-form journalism is less evident.

Trump Twitter graphic_1486652050965.jpg_5815566_ver1.0_640_360

With texting came the expediency of getting a quick message off while the thought or conversation was hot. The days of the well-penned letter well and truly behind us at this stage. Then Twitter forced us to be deliberately succinct to the tune of 140 characters although 280 are available to some. In business there is a tendency to applaud such focus. No-one likes a meandering meeting with no real purpose right? Caution is needed though because not only can little thoughtful communication be conveyed in such a few characters, but the compunction to be brief can deliver dire consequences. The infamous Trump tweets have wreaked havoc across the globe with traditional allies often getting flamed by him. Were Trump to pen his thoughts in a broader manner and expound on his reasoning for the position he was taking, then no doubt the end result would be less inflammatory. As a result of the current trend to brevity, world tensions are now much higher.


Then came the memes and LinkedIn which was my starting point. A few words placed beneath a  picture of a tranquil lake, while on the face of it harmless enough, can often  be anything but calming for someone experiencing grave difficulties in their life. A glib line that pays no homage  to the travails, scars and complexities of difficult situations does little good and is patronising at best. Knowing that ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ for example  is not really that helpful. It kinda suggests to me that the person dispensing this ‘wisdom’ has actually got that sorted and is reaping all sorts of benefits from doing so…a certain smugness comes through. What would be more helpful is a detailed exploration as to how one might get strategy implementation through developing and nurturing a culture whereby everyone knew the strategy, and was clear in their role to achieve it and worked assiduously to make it happen. Sure longer words but, more importantly, a lot harder to make happen.


Recently I saw on LinkedIn the employability skills required to make us thrive in the age of digital disruption. Rather surreptitiously they all began with C. They were:

C – creativity;

C- critical thinking;

C- collaboration; and

C – communication.

That’s how this whole sound-bite wisdom works. There has to be some short sharp pattern. Like they all begin with ‘C’ for example. Life and management are much more complex than that, but perhaps that upsets the narrative and pattern too much. That had me thinking. Perhaps other letters of the alphabet might also be applied to the skills of the future. Here’s what a quick bit of procratiworking got me:


A  – agility (agile’s very much on trend right now!);

A – adaptability;

A – ambition; and

A – awareness.

I got on a roll and then thought ‘hey what about B’. Bit tougher this one but came up with:

B – bold;

B – businesslike;

B – big data; and

B – build partnerships.

C’s already been covered so what about ‘D’

D – diplomacy;

D – decision-making;

D – delegation; and

D –diligence.

So you see it’s not that hard to be glib. The fact of the matter is that the complex nature of managing in an organisation, or leading it, requires just three things (isn’t this me being reductionist?):

  • A complex battery of skills, competence and experience;
  • Self-awareness of your own shortcomings to be able to recruit to cover these; and
  • A mix of determination, sheer luck and creativity.

As suggested, this incorporates a huge array of skills and experience that cannot be contained within one letter of the alphabet.

If we are to achieve in improving our business delivery and leadership, it is unlikely that this will occur as a result of a nano-second eyeball capture on LinkedIn. In fact, most genuine entrepreneurs will talk about the hours of hard work and risks taken in order to become the ‘overnight success’ from their ‘genius’ idea. The same is true of effectively managing people and strategy. This can only be done effectively through life-long learning and having a raft of theoretical and practical skills that are constantly added to and updated. At times LinkedIn appears, in management terms, to be the equivalent of classified pages of old newspapers that carried remedies for everything from baldness to hearing loss. There are no simple one silver bullet fixes all ailments here. There ain’t no Rawleighs for management ailments!

The best solution to improving your business outcomes and managing your people for mutual advantage is to have a means by which best practice is available to you in long-form. Having peers with whom you can discuss issues and challenges with face to face, rather than a ‘like’ or ‘comment’ from one of your 800 odd connections, is much more enlightening. That’s why I have joined the Institute of Managers and Leaders and that’s why I sought the Chartered Manager status. The access to quality advice, peers, long-form research and insights provides a great opportunity to keep current in a world increasingly bombarded by little snippets of ‘wisdom’; not unlike what I contribute to most days that distract and dumb down the complexity of modern management. Sometimes too much condensed wisdom makes me want to ‘philip my lid’!

What to Eat and What Knot to Eat


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We’ve all been there. In fact its de rigueur for the first speaker after lunch at a conference or seminar to make a particularly threadbare comment about the graveyard shift’. The implication is you will all be nodding off after stuffing yourself on the hearty food gulped down during the lunch break. This is generally aided and abetted by those delicious and tempting pastries served at morning tea. The fact of the matter is the speaker is right on the money and sure enough the audience will be dotted with people whose bodies jerk awake as they have caught themselves nodding off. It doesn’t have to be like that though. Imagine then, this phenomenon happening in the workplace every day outside of the conference circuit. Imagine it happening when high risk plant is being used on a site, precision manufacturing, or air traffic control. Imagine trying to learn key life-saving information on a training course.

An interesting article appeared in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) this week on companies (NAB, Bupa and KPMG all got a mention) who are getting rid of sugar rich food in favour of healthy options. A big part of their rationale is productivity and wellness. If you think this is just high paid HR people running out of ideas think again. It has been estimated (AFR) that the cost of absenteeism and presenteeism (at work but not fully on the case) costs the Australian economy $44 billion per annum. Put that into perspective – Queensland spends $17.3 billion on its public healthcare system.


As many will know CTC has had a focus on worker well-being for some time. We are pretty proud of the initiatives we have introduced:

  • 24/7 gym;
  • Mindfulness training for staff and tenants;
  • Relaxation and sleep centre; and
  • Fitness classes.

In fact we were recognised for our efforts in 2016 winning the State Government’s Best Workplace Wellbeing Award. Our efforts have focused lately in the areas of nutrition and mental health and alertness. As I write this we are holding our very first Keto Klub where we will impart information and provide support to those wishing to explore the benefits of a new approach to diet (as opposed to dieting).

Brain food

There are those who will argue that obesity isn’t a workplace issue, but I’m not sure I can subscribe to that view. With respect to our own position we provide an on-site café and from here we feed our tenant staff, our CTC staff, students, visitors and course participants. We have a captive market on our Precinct. What we serve everyday has an on-going positive, or not so positive impact on people’s lives, depending on menu options we present. Things are getting worse at a population level for Australians.


The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare who know such things state that one quarter (26% to be exact) of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2014-15. Alarm bells not ringing yet? They also estimate that two thirds of adults are overweight or obese costing our economy an estimated $8.6 billion in 2011-12. At the very least this is a health and social policy issue of huge significance so it’s easy to see how this could impact on the business world and why the business world may wish to intervene. Regular readers of my blogs will be familiar with my argument of businesses and corporations acting ‘in loco parentis’, as it were, with respect to what used to be the sole domain of governments.

As it happened we have changed our Café operator recently. While we were sad to see our previous operators depart after a number of years running a successful enterprise, that did provide us with an opportunity to re-think our approach to what we offer. How can we sheet home responsibility to the government to fix the obesity epidemic if we keep providing food that runs counter to a healthy diet?

Before selecting a new operator we sat down and worked through an ethos. We sought opinions from our tenants and the main building and construction Union. Guess what? They reported that they we grappling with exactly the same issues of the need for healthy food options for a workforce that traditionally has been eating food of lower nutritional value. Our thoughts can be distilled as:

  • You are what you eat;
  • Providing a range of healthy food that is both nutritious and able to sustain those workers who have manual jobs and who burn off significant kilojoules of energy through manual labour;
  • Recognition of the fact that very few attendees at CTC actually undertake the physical work where they do the high burn of kilojoules. This occurs after they finish their course and leave the Precinct;
  • Students are with us to learn – in many cases to get tickets for high risk work. We want them focused while training not drowsy from stodgy food;
  • Offering healthier options may provide the customer with that ‘light bulb moment’ that may see them want to explore better diet options going forward;
  • Buying local is better from a sustainability point of view and supports local businesses;
  • Reducing food waste is a good thing (Australians waste nearly $10b per year with the average household chucking out 14% of food bought (Huffington Post Oct24 2017);
  • Fresh food is better than frozen;
  • Sugar is the hidden killer so less is more across the food and beverage range; and
  • Fair trade is preferable because we know the provenance. Many attendees on courses belong to companies who have reporting obligations in the very near future under upcoming Modern Slavery legislation currently going through Parliament.


I just want to dwell on sugar for a moment. Advocate group That Sugar Movement tested 291 employees recently who had no known health issues and found around half (52%) had blood sugar levels out of range. Clearly added sugar in our food is a major culprit and the area that needs most immediate attention. Even if you think you have pared back by having a healthy meal you may just find yourself trapped by a -on the face of it -healthy drink. Common place in our industry are energy and re-hydration drinks, many of which are loaded with sugar. Even pure fruit juice drinks will be high in sugar. The rule of thumb I use is 4 grams of sugar equals one teaspoon…round it to 5 if your maths is not great! Let’s take Powerade or Gaterade, two popular sports drinks. Both contain 21 grams of sugar in a 375ml (12 ounce bottle) around 5 teaspoons of sugar. That’s probably the value of your hard workout gone before even leaving the gym!

So if you do want to provide food at a function/seminar/conference/training session, or be attentive at a session, what works and what doesn’t?


  • Have breakfast. Certainly NOT the most important meal of the day but it is if you want to be alert after lunch;
  • Eat smaller quantities;
  • Colourful vegetables;
  • Whole grains;
  • Nuts and legumes;
  • If rice make it brown;
  • Blueberries and walnuts;
  • If providing a sweet option consider sugar-free slices e.g. paleo treats;
  • Lean proteins;
  • Smaller portions; and
  • Water – lots.


  • Turkey;
  • Soy;
  • Eggs;
  • Cheese;
  • Tofu;
  • Fish;
  • White bread;
  • Cherries – yeah go figure!
  • Starchy food;
  • Chips, wedges etc.;
  • White rice;
  • Pasta;
  • Sugar intensive sweets;
  • Too much coffee – might keep you alert at the cost of dehydration; and
  • Big portions.


 For longer-term alertness in your day job, outside of the conference circuit, there are a number of rules of thumb.

  • Don’t be pressured into having breakfast – being the most important meal of the day is propaganda – indeed intermittent fasting rather than being bad is good for you (seek medical advice first). It’s called autophagy and worth Googling.
  • Don’t eat el desko! You spend enough time there, your meal breaks should be just that; breaks from your immediate work environment. Employers are required by law to provide lunchtime amenity to enable you to escape your particular chicken coop!
  • Lots of water;
  • Moderate coffee intake.;
  • Green or other herbal teas;
  • Oily fish like salmon;
  • Citrus;
  • Eggs;
  • Beans;
  • Avocados;
  • Walnuts;
  • Berries especially blueberries;
  • Leafy greens – perhaps avoid Kale if not organic as this ‘super food’ has an uncanny ability to absorb bad toxins from the environment;
  • Bran cereal;
  • Dark chocolate – really? Yes but has to be real dark i.e. ultra-high cocoa component;
  • (this is my own particular addition to the list) left over food in your fridge at home. Depends of course what it is – a Domino’s pizza from Friday night may not do the trick – but we waste way too much food in Australia (see above).

Of course sometimes stress makes us less productive, so if you want to eat to combat stress add these to your list:

  • Asparagus;
  • Avocados (again!);
  • Blueberries (again -these babies are amazing!);
  • Cashews;
  • Camomile and green tea;
  • Garlic;
  • Dark chocolate (again!);
  • Oysters (not that practical unless you feel stress coming on in anticipation of how you might pay the bill);
  • Walnuts (again!);
  • Oatmeal; and
  • Oranges

The transition from a poor diet to a healthy one is not one that will occur over night. Drastically removing sugar out of the food chain is a similarly long road to haul, but the UK has already introduced a sugar tax on soft drinks. Alison Watkins, CEO of Coca Cola Amatil, has recently acknowledged (AFR June 7 2018) that this lies ahead for us in Australia too. Change is never easy; there will always be resistance to it because what we know is a great comfort to us. We get used to certain things like our diet and our chips at lunch time for example. It will take a while before our new offerings in our CTC café are fully accepted by all.


We know one thing though and that is we are on the right side of history. Employers and those providing food into workplaces (as opposed to on the street food outlets where ultimately the free markets decides) have a duty of care to employees for their well-being. In fact, it’s a statutory requirement under our Work Health and Safety Act 2011. Everyone wants our workers to return safely to their families or friends each night. We should also want that they return home healthy so they are able to participate as fully as they wish physically, mentally and emotionally. A sound diet plays a key role in enabling this.

I also think, as a society, we want one more thing – that those who are attending courses to learn critical information, knowledge and skills to undertake high risk work activities have been alert all day and haven’t dozed off in that difficult first hour after lunch. Excessive secretion of insulin from starchy, sugar-rich food floods the brain with serotonin and melatonin and we inevitably succumb to that urge to join Noddy and the rest of his friends in la la land. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen to us as they are demonstrating tying that essential safety knot!

The Lyonhjelm, the Witch and the Wardrobe


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A couple of things have happened in the last two weeks that on some strange level seem linked to me. There was the outrageous slur by Senator David Lyonhjelm against fellow Senator and Green Party member Sarah Hanson-Young. Then the other day we woke up to the news that the World Cup qualifying basketball game between Australia and the Philippines had ended in farce after a massive on-court scrap. The link? Well both were asymmetric responses to a provocation.


That had me thinking about how drama -and those two events certainly were laden with drama.  It appears to be a much greater factor in society and the workplace right now. More than ever – and certainly not helped by The Donald – we are fixing our positions on subjects and then hanging on to that anchor point, often without much research to ground our position. Too bad for you if we aren’t in accord with some other person. Not only will they take issue with you on that issue, but they’re highly likely to write you off altogether. To some degree, I blame Facebook with the concept of ‘unfriending’.

Remember the same sex marriage debate? I listened to a podcast where the subject of unfriending somebody if you found they were on the opposite side of you in that particular debate, was the topic du jour. The ‘panel’ was millennials and their consensus was that you should unfriend without much regard and move on. Why waste time on people who don’t share your beliefs and attitudes was the commonly held opinion. It’s called tolerance that’s why!


I also blame reality TV. Let’s face it, the younger generation have had a pretty strict diet of reality shows as the backdrop to their upbringing. At least the dramas of my generation with the likes of ‘Lost in Space’ and High Chaparral were easily recognizable as fictional. A consistent feature in each and every reality show is the concept of drama – more often than not fabricated or confected. In some shows the drama gets resolved within the arc of the episode, but you can bet your bottom dollar it will be there again in the next episode. Add to the mix that we are told we need to create a brand for ourselves and constantly create a narrative – read as dramatic story – and you can see how drama is now a constant in our lives. Your chances of being successful on a music talent show appear to be lessened if you cannot magic some story to pluck the heartstrings of the audience – whose phone/text votes keep you in the competition. No wonder our younger generation is seeking drama. It’s like oxygen to them.


Back to the Senate. Without a doubt, both houses of Parliament are theatrical and all too often there are polarised viewpoints that are argued ad-nauseam at the expense of good policy, manners and tolerance. It’s as though, sometimes, we want to create the mayhem and havoc to belittle our opponent, or wind them up where their loss of control causes them to overstep the mark. Having watched a lot of sport, it is a tactic used in that arena sometimes to great effect to create provocation that results in a sanction against the provocatee and seldom any sanction for the provocateur. As we are currently in the midst of the World Cup football this brings to mind the response of Zinedine Zidane for France against Italy when he head-butted his opponent, Marco Materazzi in a World Cup final no less!  A classic example to prove my point. The provocation…. a racial slur, the response over the top and pretty much what everyone remembers from the event.


In the basketball match I’m advised that the aggression by the Pilipinno players was as a result of constant jibes about the loss of their ‘super hero’ boxing champion Manny Pacquiao to Aussie boxer Jeff Horn. The response by Daniel Kickert, leading with his forearm, when a fellow player was roughly dealt with was clearly inappropriate and fair play to him he has since said he regretted it. Heaps of drama though right? 1,069, 294 views of the fight on You Tube to be exact and climbing!

And so it was with Lyonhjelm, who delivered a metaphorical verbal forearm to Hanson-Young. Excessive, inappropriate and not at all helpful. Why he hasn’t expressed regret like Kickert is beyond most rational folks but he is a wily politician and perhaps he is thriving on the drama of it all? What he missed with his vulgar riposte was the opportunity to focus on the provocation by Hanson-Young which as a result of the furor he created in the media has slipped well and truly under the radar. To label ‘men’ or ‘all men as rapists’ is inflammatory and does not one jot of good in improving the lives of women who are subject to sexual harassment, family and intimate partner violence or inequality.


Hanson-Young may use in her defense that she was speaking her truth. She might argue she was raising awareness of issues of violence against women (especially in the immediate days after the death of Eurydice Dixon – read my previous blog). Raising awareness without taking action though is merely storytelling. It’s actions that really count. Caroline Myss put it really effectively at a seminar I attended a few years back. Someone asked her a question about their personal relationship and how the person could get their partner to listen when they were speaking their truth. Myss, in characteristic fashion, upbraided the person and commented that speaking your truth is pure BS. Concentrate rather, she bluntly stated, on living your truth. There is a great lesson here for our politicians.


In society, and therefore the workplace, we are in danger of letting polarized views taint relationships that should otherwise be based on mutual respect, valuing skill sets of others, team effort and the achievement of common goals for the benefit of the business and thereby everyone within it. It is possible to retain friendships with people whose values may have diverted from yours. The danger all too often is we take one ideological perspective and extrapolate it for that person entirely, without checking first their views on a range of other issues. For example, a less than liberal approach to say same sex marriage may well lead someone to believe their old school friend is also anti-assisted dying without actually ever finding out. I’m forever surprised by the rich tapestry that is people and finding that within conservative perspectives there are often flashes of liberalism and vice versa.  Case in point is George Brandis who recently departed from the Senate. His  politics are of the right but gave one of the most effective and moving speeches against One Nation leader and fellow senator when she wore a Burka into the Senate to make her race-laden point. Go figure!

Let’s have more good manners in our political arenas, work places and communities. Taking satisfaction from being victimized and amplifying it to create drama is not where our energies should be going. Let’s hear less of the S words (‘slut’ and ‘shag’) and more “let’s agree to disagree on that” Lets focus on addressing real concerns within both the world of women and of men. Let’s reach out. To quote C S Lewis:

‘Each day we are becoming a creature of splendid glory, or one of unthinkable horror’.’ If we could just give a bit more emphasis to the former, we are much less likely to become the latter! Less witch more lion please!