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


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.


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.


Minimum Viable Product – just get out there!


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.


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.


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?


Perth, two degrees of separation


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.


Nothing beats real passion


Some passionate speakers

Clockwise from top left: Andrew Forrest, me with Dan Gregory, Chris Baudia, and David Lock, Richard Poulson and George Kailis.

At this time of year many of us are invited to a multitude of events, be they business breakfasts, lunches, sundowners or full scale conferences. This week I’ve attended all formats, and next week looks to be no different.

In what was a high quality week, I was privileged to hear Fortescue Metals Group Chair and one of Australia’s billionaires Andrew Forrest speak passionately about his work with indigenous groups, particularly in implementing systems that provide real training and guaranteed jobs. “The way out of the cycle of drugs and alcohol is through a real paying job“, he implored. Facing 460 packed into the Hyatt, you could have heard a pin drop, it was electric. This was no ‘show for the cameras’, you could tell through the crackle in his voice, the fact he needed no notes, through the stories he told, the obvious deep connection he has with the community, that this came from the heart. Powerful stuff.

A day earlier I’d been at the CPA Congress and was one of the speakers. I had the ‘graveyard shift’ just after lunch on the last day. Timed to go on after me was Dan Gregory, he of Gruen Transfer fame. As we spoke for a while in the presenter’s room beforehand, I learned he had been a stand up comedian for a few years, so that explained his quick wit. Bounding onto stage at 3pm on the last afternoon of a 4-day accountants conference, he made the audience instantly come alive with his infectious enthusiasm, snappy one liners and sharp, strong and simple slides. Images, not words. Bright yellow background. Designed to be catchy, clear and be exactly what slides should be – a visual aid, not a crutch for the performer. A seasoned professional Dan.

During the week I heard corporate adviser and Westpac Chair John Langoulant speak to a breakfast audience, Chris Baudia CEO of local startup GeoMoby speak of his journey to a tech audience and then a panel of successful business leaders speak to an exclusive club of 40 under 40 winners at KPMG at lunchtime. I can tell you there was not one dud speaker all week, but each had their own style. George Kailis was superb at the lunchtime function, becoming so impassioned at one stage that his pen shot out of his hand and across the stage.

It’s important I think to be able to talk in public, especially if you want to be a business leader. I had 13 years as a school teacher, so learned my craft at the chalkface. Fail, and you were eaten alive. It felt that way anyway. Probably a bit like stand up. I had some shockers I can tell you.

For those who aspire to hone their craft, go to as many networking events as you can. You can learn so much from the skilled practitioner. Passion is often the key communication tool. It’s hard to fake, and makes that emotional connection with the audience that is nearly always lacking in someone reading a script, or relying on powerpoint bullet points. As I’ve said before, tell stories. They are great conveyors of meaning.


What did you learn today?

Today we learned

About 15 years ago, I remember watching a real bad Bruce Willis movie – I mean really bad – The Story of Us, don’t watch it, it’s dreadful . But it had one saving grace. The family depicted always sat down for an evening meal together, and every night the Dad (Willis) made his kids tell everyone one thing they learned at school that day. Just one thing that they didn’t know yesterday.

Watching this (before I had kids of my own) a nerve struck me about this as an idea. ‘How was school today?‘ gets the normal grunt and “OK‘” from the teens. Making them come up with something they actually learned today to the evening dinner table does not allow them to get away with a throw away line. They have to explain something they learned today that they didn’t know yesterday. Try it, kids love it.

Not only does this keep the conversation going around the dinner table, it sends an important signal to your children – as their parents you are interested in their education, and they can explain something that maybe even their parents did not know. On all sorts of levels, this is fabulous.

When our kids began school, we started doing this every night. It works a treat. We’ve been at it for years now. It’s automatic. They are now clamouring to the be the first one to tell us something they learned today. We take an active, real interest in our kids’ education, and we learn something ourselves. The signal this gives off is very powerful.

I was a teacher for 13 years, and now I’ve been a parent of 13 years. I can say that the whole education system can be boiled down into one strong premise: it’s not the fancy school you send your kids to, it’s the fact that education works as a triangle: the school is one corner of that triangle, the child is the other, and a supportive home life/parents is the other. All have to work together. Each is as important as each other. You cannot default learning (or parenting for that matter) to the school, it’s a triumvirate. If one (or two) corners are weak, education is weakened. One element cannot do all the heavy lifting – it’s a team game.

The simple act of asking your kids what they learned today closes the loop perfectly.

Don’t just take my word for it. This is steeped in educational research. In fact, a new online service has been developed in Perth that looks to promote just this – an app that updates parents in 60 seconds about what their kids learned today – simply called ‘Today We Learned‘, it won the RAC Seed Spark accelerator top prize of $25,000 (as the best new tech idea in WA) and the team are currently being mentored and are looking to commercialise the idea.

So, why not ask your kids what they learned today at school? This simple act, done regularly over many years, could be the single most important thing you do to improve your childrens’ educational outcomes.


Stones keep rollin on


Stones in full flight last Wednesday night


The famous logo shining out from Perth Arena

I have been fortunate (twice) to see the best rock and roll band that ever strutted the planet, the Rolling Stones, in concert.

The first time, 16th July 1990, at Cardiff Arms Park, was possible only because the band had to cancel a few Wembley gigs due to Keith Richards’s injured hand, meaning they threw on the Cardiff gigs. I happened to be back in the UK and jumped at the chance.


Jagger strutting as Jagger does

The second time, last Weds, only happened because their initial date in March was postponed due to the sudden death of Mick Jagger’s partner.

I had tickets but had sold them to a friend as the date clashed with something I could not get out of. The rescheduling allowed me to see them for a second time last week.

No more Bill Wyman, but they did bring on Mick Taylor (at 65, the youngest of them, although he did not look it, having been their guitarist before Wood from the death of Brian Jones in 1969 up to 1974). Some say Taylor was the best guitarist to have ever played with them. Judging by this performance, his effortless blues riffs were incredible, and a stand out of the night.


Keif slow-mo’g a chord


Charlie purse lipped


Ronnie being Ronnie

Considering they were fantastic 24 years ago (when they were each in their mid to late 40s), I was not expecting too much this time around, now they are in the 70’s.

But Jagger stole the show, as always, with his trademark walk-skip as he moved around the stage, running around the elongated tongue extension stage all night.

Richards sort of played in slow motion, emphasising each chord, like a modern day blacksmith.

Ronnie Wood, too cool for school with a trademark ciggie perpetually struck out to one side rebel style, slung his axe to the side making faces at the crowd.

Charlie Watts, pursed lips, thwacked away with minimal of flourish, and maximum effect. Being a drummer, I watched Watts closely.

But you couldn’t keep your eyes off Jagger. A consummate showman.

He was off for 2 songs (note to all: Keith Richards, bless his little cotton socks, is one of the worst singers you will ever pay to listen to), but when Jagger came back on, the show soared again.

How 70 year olds can be so nimble, so cool, so professional… it was inspiring stuff.

If I have half their agility at their age, I’ll be more than happy.

Roll on.


Just get out there


I’ve just concluded an annual series of eBusiness lectures I’ve been presenting at UWA Business School for the MBA program since 2005. ‘Getting away from the day job‘ to concentrate on the more academic side of ebusiness has always allowed me to think through what I am doing, as well as try to present some practical advice to the students taking the course. As a former teacher, I still enjoy the dynamic of the classroom.

The best bits are inviting local ebusiness leaders into the class to tell their stories. This year, they represented small and large ebusinesses, private and public, old and new. There were some gems of advice from these fellow practitioners, and the class really appreciated their insights.

The Chetty brothers, Craig and Jeremy, made for popular presenters – their infectious enthusiasm for their Student Edge business (now in its 11th year) was plain to see. “Just get out there, if you have an idea” implored CEO Craig, “you have nothing to lose.

Sam Birmingham (he of Startup weekend, Pollenizer, PhDo and CoderDojo) said of startups looking to pitch “most of them should be pitching to clients, not investors“, making the point that by just getting out there, you learn from your early customers, and don’t have to bet the bank (or other peoples’ money) to do so. In fact, you may not need investors til later, if at all. This gets around the current funding problem that seems to exist among the Perth startup community. It also echoes Amir Bhide’s Bootstrap Financing paper of the early 1990s (by far the best thing I ever read on my MBA) about just getting out there, because only by being out there will you be able to take advantage of the opportunities that exist (which you would have no idea of knowing were out there til you get out there!).

Becky Lee, of startup Virtualiis, and Chris Baudia, GeoMoby, wowed the class with their innovation. Stephen Langsford of Quickflix, Graeme Speak of GoPC and Mark Woschnak of rent.com.au, impressed with their perennial good nature and positive attitude, pitted as they are against major competitors with deep pockets. Marcus Tan of HealthEngine, and Claire McGregor (formerly of Agworld), both shared their experience in ebusiness, and everyone was incredibly giving of their time. These people also give back in huge amounts to the startup community in Perth, running events, talking with startups, having various cups of coffee and being the leaders they are.

Let’s watch their futures with interest. All of them have ‘got out there and done it’. The other road was easier, but they all choose the one they’re on. They, and many like them, are an inspiration. Thank you.