0

Willing on the minnows

minnows
Like many, I have been willing on the ‘minnows’ in the current World Cup of cricket.
Of the 14 nations participating, 8 have full test playing status and so half the initial pool games involve an ‘Associations’ nation playing against their ilk or a much better resourced and experienced full time professional team. Already we’ve seen Ireland beat the West Indies (who seem to blow hot and cold almost at will). Afghanistan played a close game against Sri Lanka. My bet is England will be downed by either Bangladesh or Afghanistan, having lost all their 3 games so far to test playing nations.
18 years ago, I played for the Singapore team in the ICC Trophy 1997. Back then, the Association playing nations were all grouped together in their own competition (with Bangladesh, Ireland, Scotland, Holland, Canada, USA, etc…) with the top 2 teams then gaining a berth to the 1999 World Cup in England.
I was but a very average league cricketer, and only sneaked into the team by virtue of an ICC ruling – players had to be either born nationals or residents of 5+ years standing. (Allegedly, in a previous competition, UAE had stacked their team with former Pakistan test players, having given them PR status only weeks before.) Not many cricketers in Singapore had been there 5 years or more.
We were all amateurs (in the truest sense of the word) and in game 2, we were up against a well trained, athletic Kenyan team who had beaten West Indies the year before, were to be runners up in this tournament and go on to play in that 1999 World Cup in England.

We batted first, and I was in at number 3 in the first over. Somehow I clung on and made a very ugly 13 in an hour (I did not know it at the time but my bat was breaking – in the next but one game against Ireland it completely snapped), and we were bowled out for a hopeless 89. Our opening bowlers then tore into the top order and at one stage we had them 52 for 7, only for them to crawl over the line with 2 wickets left. Almost an upset.

We even made it onto the sports broadcast of that night’s BBC World Service sports roundup. What might have been.  2 years later I’m watching Alec Stewart smash Kenyan opener Martin Suji all over Taunton, making him look like a medium pace trundler. To me he was searing pace and could make it move late almost at will.

The gulf between professional sport and amateur is a chasm, but for a moment we glimpsed into the light… go the minnows! 

0

English cricket sinks to another low

Rooted

The long English suffering cricket fan had another reason to shake their head and shrug a saddening smile yesterday as their one day side subsided to their equal worst ever defeat, and in an important World Cup game, against New Zealand (population 3 million, lest we forget England & Wales’ combined population of 56 million, plus a few imported Irish and South African players).

I had this post half ready to go last week, in which I predicted a loss to the Kiwis (but even I could not imagine the annihilation they were to suffer), and further probable losses to Bangladesh, a close scare against Scotland, a win against Afghanistan and a possible win against Sri Lanka (… now I’m not so sure). The week got away with me, so here I sit with another anemic performance. Let’s not forget England are one of the highest paid, best supported teams in history. Legions of support staff, thousands of lines of computer code and a 7 month diet of one dayers in the lead up to this World Cup were all designed to prepare the team for their best chance in decades. An Ashes test series was cleared away to give the one day team the chance to concentrate on this format. After non performances in all world cups since 1992 (where they made the final, as they did in 1987), this was going to be their best chance to shine.

Instead, we witness a shattered team lumbering about 10 years behind other sides in thought and deed, despite having some exciting new players in Ali, Buttler, Taylor and Root. It’s all come to naught, and by my reckoning they will do extremely well from here to even qualify for the quarter finals, where they will probably lose to South Africa anyway. Last week I had them as 3 or maybe 4 wins from their 8 pool matches, now it looks like 2 or 3 wins and that won’t be good enough to make progress.

None of this need be the case. So much cricket is played by England now (around 300 playing/travelling days a year) that coaching and playing squads are simply worn out. In the chase for the almighty Indian and Australian TV dollar, Ashes series are now run every 2 years, rather than 4, and even back to back. India, England and Australia have carved up the game to take the spoils, but the impact is (for England, the only northern hemisphere test team) of all year round cricket, and players not coping. They don’t have any chance to go back to country cricket to repair, or take any time off. It’s a continuous merry go round in the gold fish bowl (to mix my metaphors).

The solution is fairly simple, but probably a stretch for the ECB to imagine. Just as rugby players do not play the sevens format as well as the full XV game (it’s a different game!), so cricketers should specialise in the full or one day format. Different players, different coaches, different formats. Split it down the middle and never the twain shall meet.

Simple.

You still have all the TV spoils, still have wall to wall cricket, but the test players take a break when the one dayers and T20s are on, and vice versa. Importantly, the one day players are all automatically available for the Indian Premier League (where the best one day players learn their trade in the ultimate T20 cauldron). As Adam Smith once said (in 1776!), “division and specialisation of labour” is key.

T20 has revolutionised one day cricket in the last few years. Teams now think nothing to hitting (or chasing down) 120 in the last 10 overs. 180 off the last 20 is a doddle (it’s just a reasonable T20 score). They simply take the batting power play from 15 overs out and then ride it all the way home to the finish at 10+ an over. They have effectively put at T20 game inside a 50 over format in the last 40% of the innings. Just as Sri Lankan openers and then Adam Gilchrist revolutionised the first 15 overs in the 1990s regularly blasting 100+, now teams are playing cautiously in the first 30 knowing they can get almost anything in the last 20 because that is the format they all know (and come from).

While England looks at one dayers from the test team down, all other teams look at it from T20 up, which is the right approach.

It means teams can be 160 off 30 overs (just over 5 an over) and chase down (or post) 340. 300 is no longer the Rubicon. It’s the new minimum, and not easily defendable. The plucky Irish chased down 300 on Monday against the once all conquering West Indies (who are now almost as shambolic as the English and will probably join them in leaving this tournament early).

Imagine having 2 coaches, 2 teams and complete separation of test from one dayers/T20s. Imagine the specialisation and increase in quality that will go on. Tell Cook, Ballance, Bell, Anderson and Broad to play test cricket only and let them go and score 10,000 runs each and take 500 wickets. Give them huge swathes of time off. Even with this idea, England play no less than 17 tests in the next 10 months. Yes, 17!

How on earth can Ali, Buttler, Root et al play all this and the one dayers? Get Carberry (playing in one of the most successful T20 sides ever, the Perth Scorchers) and KP into the one day format. They have 3 years left in them. Make KP captain.

The one day game is now far removed from the test cricket as you can imagine, and that’s due to T20 and the IPL. We can bemoan it (I don’t actually), or we can just live with it and adapt. Be innovative, “think different” as Apple one said. The crusty old establishment that is the English Cricket Board will not do this of course. Or maybe they will, sometime in 2025, but by then the world would have moved on… again.

For the record, here are my 2 teams:

England One Day and T20 team         

1. Hales
2. Carberry
3. Taylor
4. Pietersen
5. Morgan
6. Bopara
7. Kieswetter
8. Jordan
9. Woakes
10. Tredwell
11. Rankin

Test side

1. Cook
2. Robson
3. Ballance
4. Bell
5. Root
6. Ali
7. Buttler
8. Stokes
9. Broad
10. Finn
11. Anderson

0

Perth’s startup scene

start ups in perth I’ve met a few people this year interested in getting into Perth’s startup scene… so here’s a humble overview as I see it. Go to a few of the events below, meet some of the folks and quite quickly you’ll be at the centre of the action. Why not help out and get involved?

Perth Morning Startup (meet up)
http://www.meetup.com/Morning-Startup-Perth/
- run by Justin Strharsky (@JustinStrharsky) and Stef Pienaar (@sfpienaar)
– set up 4 years ago, a free fortnightly meetup held at Spacecubed, Weds 7.30am-9am, now with over 1000 members. The beating heart of Perth’s startup community. Many sessions have been video’d.

Spacecubed (co-working space)
– founder Brodie McCulloch (@brodiemcculloch) http://spacecubed.com/
– the first, and largest co-working space in Perth, now on two floors at 45 St George’s Terrace in the city
– the place where entrepreneurs and coders meet, hire deskspace; and where most startup events take place. Head down here to get right into Perth’s startup community.

Startup Weekend (event/hackathon)
http://spacecubed.com/2014/08/26/startup-weekend-perth-announcement/
- held 2x a year, leader is Sam Birmingham (@sambirmingham)
– the essence of startupland; 100 attendees, 40 one-minute pitches on a Friday night begets 15 or so teams with products (and even revenue) by Sunday afternoon. Triplify, Simply Wall St and others have been born at one of the 5 weekends held so far.

Founder Institute (course)
http://www.fi.co
- intensive silicon valley startup course in Perth, with Claire McGregor (@clairesayshi) as Director
– in 2013 and 2014 eight companies were formed (from 20 that started each year); not for the faint hearted, it provides 2 years of learning crammed into 13 weeks. Will it run a course in 2015?

Venture Capital (money)
– Yuuwa Capital http://yuuwa.com.au/
– run by Matt McFarlane (@nullarki) and others
– there are other investors around, but at $40m this fund has been the largest and most active with investments in iCetana, Discovr and Agworld among others. Awaiting its first significant exit, the fund is fully committed mixing IT and health/biotech investments.

eGroup (forum) http://www.egroup.org.au
– internet entrepreneurs club (small fee), Evan Cunningham-Dunlop (@EvanCunninghamD), Rob Nathan, Greg Riebe are some of the current organisers
– been going the longest (since 2003, and in 2010 formally became incorporated as a not for profit association), a unique feature is its ‘what’s said in the room stays in the room‘ forum.
– meets at law firm Wrays in West Perth, first Tuesday of the month 6-8pm.

Atomic Sky / Tech Hub (incubator, investor / space)
– Andy Lamb (@andymlamb) http://atomicsky.com.au/
- part co working space, part incubator and investor, and also event space for startup launches. pitch nights (“Snap”) and gatherings, a funky new building (http://www.techhub.io) on the aptly named Money Street in Northbridge.

WA Angels Association (money)
– Greg Riebe http://www.waai.net.au/
- quarterly pitch nights are held at the BDO offices in Subiaco (invitation only) where startups go for money in front of high net worth individuals interested in investing in new businesses. No shark tank this, it’s a wholly supportive environment, and deals usually do happen.

Sync Labs (co-working)
– Leederville version of Spacecubed, mainly for techies http://synclabs.com.au/
– established by Marcus Tan (@drmarcustan) of Health Engine fame, and others

Silicon Beach (meet up)
– free techie meetup, Friday nights at Synch Labs http://www.meetup.com/Silicon-Beach-Perth/ – bring some beers

Sixty27 (co-working)
– Joondalup version of Spacecubed, although much smaller http://www.sixty27.com.au/
– run by Phil Kemp’s Business Foundations, and supported by the City of Joondalup 

//Startupnews.com.au (media)
http://www.startupnews.com.au/
– central blog, news and events site that maps the startup scene, run by Patrick Green and Marcus Holmes (@GentlemanTech),
– itself a startup, was launched just over a year ago and keeps everyone up to date with goings on.

Business News (media) http://www.businessnews.com.au/list/startups
– independent business media (disclaimer: I work here so this is a shameless plug!) that tries to cover tech sector regularly with an ‘app/tech business of the week’, a Startups List and regular startup/tech stories.

Universities

~ UWA : Tim Mazzarol (https://theconversation.com/profiles/tim-mazzarol-1526) professor at UWA Business School, leader in research and teaching in innovation and new ventures
~ Curtin : annual ‘Ignition’ week, intensive course, not to be confused with a 10-week incubator course (‘Incubate’, now called ‘Accelerate’) run by Jeremy Lu (@lu_jeremy)

Schools
~ CoderDoJo
: a wonderful innovation, bringing coding to school children, free of charge, supported by the Fogarty Foundation (https://zen.coderdojo.com/dojo/412)
~ Just StartIT
:  established in 2014, a dozen schools formed startup teams, have mentors and then pitch to a judging panel after a few months’ hard work in their own time. Run by Curtin’s School of Information Studies Lainey Weiser and others.  (http://juststartit.com.au/)

Award Programs
~ OzApps
: Feb every year, $100k up for grabs, includes apps from around Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Perth has had finalists in each of past 3 years. West Tech Festival. http://ozapp.com.au/ – there are a few other awards programs that feature emerging businesses or IT, such as Incite (WAITTA Awards), Rising Stars, Pinnacle Awards and others.

Tech Accelerators
~ RAC Seedspark : established in late 2014, 3 startups were selected to share in $50k in non equity money, and have access to mentors
~ KPMG Energise : announced Feb 2015, a free tech accelerator focusing on the resources industry, with no equity commitment, but access to mentors
~ Unearthed (RIIT) : announced late in 2014 a resource focused tech accelerator with ambitions to hold events around Australia and deliver over 50 funded startups over the next few years (http://unearthed.solutions)
~ Amcom Upstart : announced Feb 10th 2015, this looks like being Perth’s first pure tech accelerator, with $40k seed money in 8 successful startup applicants in return for a small equity stake, and access to a 3-month mentoring program starting 1st June 2015.
(http://www.amcomupstart.com.au)

An Overview of Perth’s Startup scene (Report)
In late 2013 there was a report done into Perth’s startup scene – some of the info is now out of date, but it is still interesting reading > http://www.boundlss.com/blog/perth-startup-ecosystem-report and full report here> http://48yo.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/5b756-perthstartupecosystem2013-infographic.pdf

There are many other meetups, some more active than others, some more techie than others, and various events. So I’m not trying to claim the above is an exhaustive list – however I can vouch for all the above, having been personally involved or having attended every one of them, and I know the people doing all the work. I don’t believe the community needs more events, but it needs more volunteers to help ‘do the heavy lifting‘. The ecosystem is alive and flourishing, but funding for startups is still hard to come by. Maybe 2015 will be a watershed year for deals?

0

In praise of the Big Bash

Perth Scorchers celebrating their back to back BBL win

Perth Scorchers celebrating their back to back BBL win

Many of us were on the edge of our seat last Wednesday when the Perth Scorchers won the 4th Big Bash Trophy off the last ball of the game, to successfully defend the league title they won last year, in what was their 4th successive grand final.

cg-ag

Me and the son at the BBL semi vs the Stars

Being a Scorchers fan, you would assume I would get all warm and fuzzy over Australia’s T20 (20 over) cricket competition. In fact, I had no expectation that the team I support would even make it to the final. A week ago I trundled along to the semi at the WACA with my 11 year old son. Perth were playing the much vaunted Melbourne Stars, laden with international players, who were on a 5-game winning streak having beaten the Scorchers the previous week. Somehow Perth got over the line, despite not scoring a single run in their last over and lurching to 144 (160 is seem as a bare minimum score at the WACA, where the average winning score is over 170.)

To be honest I did not care all that much about who won, I was just loving the tournament and everything about it. Even my 13 year old daughter was into the Big Bash, as was my wife, and we watched almost every game, no matter who was playing, throughout the summer holidays, even when we were on holiday. We went to three T20 games at the WACA, one game all 4 of us went along, and we all loved it.

backtoback

Perth win the semi so go onto the final where #back2back cup wins results

The Big Bash League was invented in 2010, after research showed that Australian cricket was in danger of losing an entire generation to the game. The young ones, and females of all ages, were simply not interested. Despite a T20 comp already in place, Cricket Australia, the governors the game, decided a major revamp was required and a franchised city-based T20 comp was designed, with the specific aims of bringing in spectators and fans who would otherwise not give cricket any attention at all. And boy how it has worked. This year, the 4th iteration of the BBL, has seen crowd attendances at games rise 20% year on year. Adelaide famously had 50,000 at its home games, in Sydney records were broken for all domestic game attendances with over 40,000 attending at the SCG (this beats the crowds that turned up to watch Don Bradman back in his heyday, well before TV made it easier to watch from home). Even over in Perth, the WACA creaked to 19,000+ in attendance last Sunday night, far more than turned out to see quality international teams like England play against India at the same ground 5 days later (the crowd there was a little over 7,000).

bb-trophy

Me with the Big Bash Trophy

This all reminds me of what Channel 9 and Packer did back in the 1970s – they took the game by the scruff of the neck, invented day/night cricket, coloured clothing, white balls and wall to wall marketing. 40 years on, if cricket is to survive, it simply has to make the most of the 20 over 3-hour format. It packs grounds out (a full house but with only 4 hours to serve rather than all day), brings in new spectators, new investors, new sponsors and a whole new audience. You can get down to the ground after work (they typically start around 7pm) and watch the game. It’s pumped out on free to air TV at prime time. There are colourful characters, great catches, huge sixes, frenetic running, skillful bowling. Even the commentators are more youthful, with open neck shirts and howls of laughter, a mile away from the besuitted Ch9 crew, who now look old and creaky in comparison. How the world turns.

I am a cricket tragic, a traditionalist (Test matches are still the thing for me) and yet absolutely love the T20 format. Invented by the British to revitalise the game over in the UK over 10 years ago, it’s been India and Australia (followed by South Africa, West Indies and New Zealand) who have developed their own leagues that attract players from around the world, showcasing yesterday’s heros and today’s up and comers. In the meantime, as is their wont, England have dropped the ball and put their T20 on successive Friday nights over a 3-month period. Guess what? 7,000 people show up at best (average attendances across Australia, with a far smaller population was three times this per game). England need to rethink things quickly, or become an afterthought.

So, all hail Cricket Australia, and Big Bash league, all power to you.

6

Digital disruption – bring it on!

Digital Disruption

I did a talk on digital disruption last year, and I asked those in the audience to raise their hands if they thought their industry had experienced, or will experience digital disruption (as in – a new digital solution enters their market and makes their products less worthwhile and/or totally shakes up the product offerings). Maybe 10 or 20% of hands went up.

I have news for you – you are ALL being (or have already been) digitally disrupted; no one is immune !” I said. A few people came up to me afterwards and agreed. A few probably went away thinking I was a nutter.

Digital disruption does not necessarily bring bad news; new digital platforms and services offer the ability to grow faster, enter new markets that would have been too expensive otherwise, save costs, build in efficiencies, etc. It’s not just about someone new coming in and eating your lunch. It could be about new opportunities for your business.

I think the people who should worry most are those who are not worrying. (My dad’s brain tumour 20 years ago is a strong analogy here – it was at its most dangerous when none of us, including Dad, knew it was there; once we knew what was there, it could be dealt with, and was).

Hence my advice would be:

  • Stay close to your customers – their needs are shifting (right now) – are you sure you know what they want, why they use you, how these needs are changing?
  • Always be on the lookout for new ways of getting to market, gaining efficiencies, growing new services… using digital (example – could you now offer services over east where before you needed a physical office there? Or even into SE Asia or Europe, but do it from Perth?)
  • Never assume you are safe from new entrants; assume your cash cow is under attack right now. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Industries are littered with players who were in seemingly impregnable positions, and fell over quite quickly (Kodak, Blockbuster, Post Offices, …)
  • How to do this? Get out to events and talk to those doing the disrupting; go to startup events, talk with programmers, talk with Gen Ys and even younger – there are many such things around Perth
  • Read, read, read – there’s no excuse these days; get an Audible.com account (first month is free, then it’s only $15/mth) and download business books so you can listen to them in the car, doing the gardening, sitting in the dentists’ waiting room, whatever…
  • Experiment with new tech, but on a small scale; learn by doing; encourage an innovative and ‘hackathons’ culture internally to get new solutions up quickly – don’t worry about the perfect product, have a ‘hackathon day’ when people attack a problem, and see what creativity ensues
    follow blogs, learn to comment and maybe start a blog yourself (wordpress is free); open a twitter account (meet loads of people that way, see what they are saying); great way to spread your message, listen and learn
  • As a leader, set the best example; present ideas to the team, encourage them to bring them forward and discuss them. Encourage them to do the above points as well.

This year, and for many more besides, may I wish you the best of fortune as you navigate the paths, travails and pitfalls of digital disruption…

Photo Credit: Attila Csaszar of Business News

2

The best education …

WA Schools table 2014OK, one of my favourite topics – education.

I was a classroom teacher for 13 years (3 jobs on 3 different continents) which gave me an insight into perhaps (along with health) the most important of all industries.

When I began my first teaching job way back in 1986 (almost 30 years ago, my goodness) I was a starry eyed freshly minted teacher set to change the world. Well, change the world of as many of those students I came into contact as possible, and change for the better I would hope. Provide them with opportunities, like a university education for example, open their eyes to how the economy or business worked. Maybe give them the confidence to go into business themselves (I taught business and economics).

That first year was momentous – there were teacher strikes in England (I taught in a government school), and although you might think this odd, it does take some prodding to get teachers to take action like this. Many were conflicted (what sort of example does this set, etc?). Teachers are, by their nature, humble and selfless people on the whole, doing a job they know is not highly paid, but a noble one nonetheless. Like nurses and other caring professions, people don’t go into them for money. However, after 2 university degrees and 18 years of education, I did feel my 6,500 pounds a year salary was a little on the low side. (Although compared to the 2,000 a year I had had to survive on at uni the 4 years preceding, I felt like a relative rich young thing.) Teachers were being blamed for everything by the government of the time, from high unemployment to soccer hooliganism. What the?

Wind on almost 30 years and now I am a parent, have recently sat on the board of our local primary school, and also lecture once a year in eBusiness at UWA Business School. I have seen education from all sides – as a student, teacher, administrator and parent. And my position has really not changed that much – I am an avid believer in the public education system, while totally understanding that a private system sits alongside (now worth about 30% of all students in Australia).

When it comes down to it, education is about three things – the school, the student and the home environment. It’s a triangle, and each corner has to do their bit. I fundamentally believe you cannot absolve yourself of your parenting duties and expect the school to do everything. Nor can the student do it alone. It takes all 3, acting together.

I also feel competition within schools and between schools is healthy, as are assessments, exams, trying out for orchestras, debating or sports teams. The pursuit of excellence is what it is about, finding out what you can do, where you can go. Developing your skills and confidence. Trying some new things. Stretching yourself. Being at school is a much a time of your life, as it is a preparation for life.

When we moved into our suburb 17 years ago it was before we had children. We chose it for the peacefulness, the lake opposite, and the excellent private and public schools on offer. I was teaching part time at a local private one (a boys school – even with my Uni of London teaching degree and 11 years of teaching experience I did not have the qualifications to work in the public sector in WA). Roll on a few years, and the time came to decide to send our own children to private or public schools. The choice was fairly easy – take advantage of the excellent local public schools, and roll our sleeves up and contribute to making them even better. Even before my 5 year old first born had joined kindy I was dragooned into trying to ‘save it’ as the building was subsiding and we had to raise money for a renovation. A few years later I ran for the Board of the primary school and then became Chair. By then the excellent IPS (independent public school) system had been introduced into Western Australia and our school was in the second year of intake. It meant we could hire staff directly rather than having them imposed on us without choice, and, critically, when the time came, appoint a new Principal (and boy, what a new Principal we got). The whole school lifted, we went through a rebrand, with a new logo and tag line, injected money into classrooms (every room with an interactive white board, at $6k a pop) thanks to an amazing P+C that raised $60k a year. It was the best example of the parents, community and staff all pulling together in a common goal. Last year the school turned 50 and a huge fete was organised with dozens of stalls, live bands and such. It raised $30k in a single day.

So, don’t tell me public schools can’t be excellent. Private schools have their place (I was sent to one myself and have taught in a couple), but public schools can be at least as good, and perhaps better in many respects. Secluding children of ‘those who can pay‘ off into a single sex environment for their most impressionable years does not make sense to me. Anyone who wants to go to a good uni can from get there from almost any school in the state. Private schools seem to be less critical in terms of determining career options. With 2 children, we simply could not justify dropping them off in single sex schools 5 kms apart, and paying $45k a year for the privilege.

Which brings us back to competition and those end of the year league tables (above). You’ll notice that 12 of the top 14 are private schools (“top” as measured by the average schools of the uni entrance year 12 exam results – a narrow and incomplete measure, of course). However, nearly all of these students would have had public education along the line, during their most formative years, primary school. Behaviours are learned early, and by aged 5 to 7 most of people’s behaviours are set in stone. (I’ve seen 50 year olds fly into tantrums – obviously they were not told ‘no‘ aged 5.) Certainly by the time students came to me aged 14-18 to learn economics or business, I found it hard to reach those that had switched off years ago and no longer saw the point. I wish I’d got to them aged 5, 6 or 7.

Self select students by the ability of their parents to pay, and no doubt you will gain a 30% cohort who, as a group (but not necessarily individually), will do better in Year 12 exams. Charge them $25k a year and rising, drum into them the importance of exam results (for the good PR of the school?) and you will secure what you want. Anyone who does not make the grade (even if their parents can pay for it) will be dropped along the way, either into non-TEE subjects or out of the school altogether. Those average end of Year 12 exam scores will be safe.

QED.

But that does not mean there is better education in these private enclaves, nor does it follow that that privately educated student has done any better than might have been the case going public. I remember one year the top  Year 12 student in the State was from one of those private schools, yet up to Year 11 had been at the public school that is #16 position. Was this result really the result of that private school?

We live in a society where many people have free choice to buy a nice car or not, to take time out for a family holiday or not, to give their money away to charitable causes or not, to pay for private education or not. That’s fine. I would argue that, given a well run public school down the road, the benefits of having both sexes in the school, from all demographics and walks of life, are real. It’s more normal. We do pay quite a lot of taxes and these schools are provided for us. The IPS system (now covering 55% of all students in Perth metro) allows the parents and communities to get involved and help lift the school higher, as I’ve seen at our local primary. It’s interesting that for the past 3 years, the % of students going to public schools in WA is on the rise, after a previous period of 30 years where it fell every year. Could this be post-mining boom blues, the impact of IPS or the realisation that public schools offer a great option? Maybe a mix of all three.

Other States are now seriously looking at the IPS system.

Meanwhile, I am proud that my first born is off to the #16th in the list, the #2 in terms of non selecting public schools. I am sure she will do well there, as will her brother who will join her next year.

0

Minimum Viable Product – just get out there!

MVP

In a previous post I lambasted bad project management (and really that means bad project managers) for taking interminable time to get projects done, without recourse to what the customer wants, what the organisation can deliver, yet with massive budget cost and time overruns. [How do these people still keep their jobs? … that’s for another day.]

Maybe it’s because I never had any budget for my IT projects that I naturally went the low cost route, building a simple solution that I thought solved a customer problem, and ‘just got out there’ because, well, I had no other option. It also came naturally to me. It made sense. If the customers didn’t like it, I heard quick enough (no visits, bad feedback) and I was able to mould the product or abandon it to start another. Fail fast, fail often. Once I got onto a winning thing, I’d do more of it. Simple really.

The graphic above has been one going around the social networks and encapsulates this methodology perfectly. Would you really invent a car from the wheels up? Of course not. You’d have no idea what you were doing until it was too late. Cars (and transport) evolved through the natural process of trial and error, from the first cave dweller fashioning a boulder into wheels through to the horse/bullock and cart before the motor vehicle  appeared first about 120 years ago. It was an iterative process, and many designs were abandoned.

And so it is with your IT project. Spent as much time as you can pitching to customers (not investors) solving their problems, and find elegant, cost effective ways to crank out something for them to try. Grow it from there, and you won’t be far wrong. The ways things are going these days, businesses that use product-led waterfall type project management will find they cannot compete anyway – they’ll be too slow, too expensive, too unresponsive and will have to go.

0

Customer Service Supreme – well done iiNet

iiNet totally gets customer service

Thanks iiNet for being a business that totally GETS customer service…

Rang up for a new nano SIM card today (… it’s Christmas Eve) – phone answered and I’m speaking to a real life person within 10 seconds. 10 minutes later I’m walking into their store, having parked right outside, I am greeted nicely and take a seat in the lounge area. During that few minutes wait I glance through some plate glass and see their NPS (net promoter score) screen displaying their up to date score. A friendly staff member comes over, sorts out my new SIM in about 30 seconds and does not want to charge me for it. I’m in and out in 3 minutes, and feel like a King.

And now I’m telling you.

Good, genuine attention to customers actually makes sense; wow them and they not only repeat buy, they become brand evangelists and spread the word. If you don’t know what NPS scores are and how they make customer service central to what a business does, Google it! or click here, or here.

More businesses could learn from this, and maybe enjoy more success in 2015.

Merry Christmas all and see you next year.

2

The parental space race

It's not a graduation
Firstly let me say I was one proud parent the other day when my daughter was presented with the Principal’s Prize at her Year Seven “Graduation” ceremony. I never won any awards at school, and she’s gone and done it at the first opportunity. However, sitting through the 150 minute assembly the other got the mind whirring. As I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, it was not just the length of time that got to me, it was the word “graduation” (deliberately put in quotation marks) that got under my skin, and the creeping ‘over the top’ Americanisation that rankled.

This was not a graduation. These children are 12 and 13 years old, they are not graduates. They are moving from primary to secondary school. They are not leaving with any diplomas, certificates or degrees. They have only just completed their first year of the Australian curriculum. In five years’ time they won’t ‘graduate’ from high school either. You can only graduate from university. While at uni, you are under graduates. After that, assuming you pass through your degree you are graduands.

Before you ‘bar humbug’ me for being unseasonably cold and Scrooge-like, please consider where and when did this ‘graduation’ word come in. Where did the tradition of a ‘graduation’ dinner and dance that evening begin for that matter? And while I’m asking these questions, may I also ask when did lolly bags come in as a birthday party tradition? I believe all these questions are linked and have the same root cause.

I doubt many of you reading this had lolly bags at your parties when you were growing up. Back in the 1970s, the deal was you organised a simple little party, invited your 10 or so of your closest friends. They each brought pressies, your parents put on bob the apple, pass the parcel and lashes of jelly, orange squash and birthday cake. A great time was had by all. But sometime during the 1980s and 1990s I’m guessing, while I was in my pre-kids 20s and early 30s, giving lolly bags to those attending your child’s party entered and became the expectation. This was slowly followed by the lengthening and engrandisement of the parties themselves (with bouncy castles, hired clowns and balloon animal people, hiring fun rooms and the like). I doubt the kids these days have any more fun than we did. But the bar kept getting lifted.

Allied to this shift, the ‘leavers’ assembly (itself a borrowed item from secondary school) came into primary school. At one of my first board meetings at the local primary school four years ago, I remember listening to empassioned debate that parents wanted better acknowledgement of the year 6 leavers (who were off to private school) as the school only really tipped their hat to the year 7s (which up to this year has been the final year at primary school). Last year the year 6 leavers had their own party funded and organised by parents. This year, with both years 6 and 7 going off to high school together, an immense beast had been organised which involved two graduation ceremonies, with leaver’s shirts, signing ceremonies, throwing hats in the air, etc, American style. Teams of parents now run fund raisers throughout the year to pay for the graduation night (it’s NOT a graduation!).

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it. There was a tear in my eye. My little girl had grown up fast, had been taller than her mother now for over a year, and was already a sensible, dependable, conscientious person, admired by her peers and teachers. The school and staff had done a fine job. The effort put in by parents and community was amazing. That’s fine.

But somewhere behind the scenes, over the decades there has been a growing, ‘space race’ like “my kids’ will be bigger than your kids'” competition among parents seeking to outdo each other. However well intentioned, the lolly bag incursion won the day and became the norm, birthday parties have become bigger than Ben Hur (from aged 1 – the kid has no idea!) and the leavers assembly became a graduation ceremony of 2 and a half hours duration, along with graduation night dinners, dresses, make up and presents. Are we forgetting what this is supposed to be for? The kids right? Or is it more about how good the parents look?

3

Perth, two degrees of separation

image

As I drove off I noticed the paper tucked under the windscreen wiper. A note, never a good sign, I thought. Either someone wanted to give me a piece of their mind (why have you parked here?!) or they were a friend who recognized my car (Hi Charlie, fancy seeing you in these parts).

It was neither. At the red light I jumped out and took the note from the screen and gave it a quick scan. “I scratched your car while parking” it began. Oh cripes, I had not noticed. “Very sorry, please call me, etc etc”. I deciphered the surname, the same one as one of the players in my son’s cricket team. I googled the name, and found his LinkedIn page. I rang him. He was very apologetic. “I can’t imagine how it happened, I am very sorry, I’ll pay for it.” He said. It’s only a car, a small scratch, thanks for being so honest, I said.

And yes, his cousin’s son is in my son’s team.

Typical Perth, I thought. A random stranger bumps into you and you are connected by only two levels of separation. In fact, take any networking function and choose anyone in the room – you will know someone they know. It’s something I love about living here. 2 million people, but with a small town feel.