Falling off a cliff


There’s no doubt that most of business, sport and life generally is played in the mind. What fascinates me are those moments of madness, when what has gone before is seemingly irrelevant, and pressure leads to craziness.

Take the incredible implosion of French golfer Jean van de Velde at the last hole of the British Open in 1999 at Carnoustie. He’d played the hole brilliantly on the 3 previous days. The only difference now was he was playing the last of 72 holes for a major golf crown, and he was 3 shots ahead of all rivals. On a par 4, he could have taken a 6 and still won the title. Maybe that thought crept into his mind as he took a driver on the tee. (A simple 5 iron might have been a better option.) As he put his driver off into the semi rough, the sensible 2nd shot would have been to chip back onto the fairway, chip again onto the green and (at worst) 2 putt for a 5, to win by 2 shots. He chose instead to go for the green over the rough, a pond and various bunkers. His second roared up into the grandstand and ricocheted nastily into some heavy rough, still short of the green. The pond was now directly in front, and those nasty bunkers lay between it and the sanctity of the dance floor. Again, the wiser choice would be to chip to safety, chip on, 2 putt and still win. Sadly, again, he went for an almost impossible flop chip and put it in the pond. Dropping out, and with a penalty shot he was now playing his fifth shot and put it in the green side bunker. He chipped out from there, and putted in for a 7, to go into a 3-way playoff which he duly lost.

What makes someone collapse like this, right at a crucial moment? Why do sporting sides suddenly collapse, in near panic, seemingly snatching defeats from the jaws of victory? On Friday night I watched live as English keeper-batsman Jos Buttler went almost trance like to a hundred off 46 balls, the fastest ever one day 100 (beating his own record by 15 shots). Try as they might the Pakistan bowlers could not put the ball anywhere into a position from which he could not score a boundary, and the harder they tried, the further the ball sailed over the boundary. ‘The wheels have fallen off’, remarked a commentator.

Many a sports psychologist has analysed these situations, and offered expensive advice. Sport is mainly played ‘between the ears’, and those that can get through these crucial, tough moments can be in high demand in a sporting and (post sporting) business life. For in business, calmness when under fire, deftness of touch when all those about you are simply losing it, is perhaps the greatness skill. No one makes sales in a blind panic. Just as the junior cricket team will look to their coach when things are going badly, and the wickets are clattering, so staff will look to the executives and management for guidance and reassurance when things are getting difficult. It’s when the real leaders come to the fore.

Catastrophe theory (which came to prominence in the 1970s) tried to explain how some systems could dissolve to nothing from a seemingly serene equilibrium. How could stock market contagion suddenly take hold, wiping billions of shareholder value in a few hours? How could a building suddenly collapse, having been standing for years? How could Roberto Baggio miss that world cup final penalty goal (as in, miss the goal completely, kicking it into the crowd?)

In these days of fast communications, you can see how economic or business events can take hold quickly, like a wind swept forest fire. The dotcom crash in Easter 2000 or the GFC of Sept 2008 felt like there was free fall in stock markets around the world. Whatever logic had been holding them up had simply vanished in seconds. Some bad piece of news (in the GFC’s case, the Lehman Brothers collapse) had been the final straw that led to a new reality suddenly appearing and everyone running for the door. In the dotcoms’ case it was the popping of the reality bubble that had surmised that all these businesses had to do was grow their visitor traffic and revenues (no worries over losses) and all would be well. As revenues slowed and no profits appeared, the previous wisdom was now thought to be akin to the Emperor’s New Clothes. So many had been naked all along.

When things are collapsing, it is easy to get caught out in all the wreckage. Often we go too far, and markets over correct on the down side. When things are exuberant, they go too high on the upside (catastrophe in reverse). During the recent (2005-2012) mining boom in Western Australia, things got a little crazy for a while, and people got used to the crazy. 18 year olds earned 6-figure salaries right out of school driving a truck on a mine site, while you couldn’t get a tradie for love nor money in the capital city of Perth (they’d all gone up north). House prices trebled. The “cashed up bogan” (CUB) became a worn out cliche. WA people did not like to call it a boom, for bust follows boom, and liked to refer to the situation as the “new reality”. It was not. It was a super cycle of immense power, from which we are still reaping the benefits and will do for some time. Even as the mining growth slows, we are left with an industry in WA three times the size of 10 years ago. It’s not going away. People should not desert mining any more so than when they did during the 1st dotcom boom. You should look in all directions in an economy, because it is wide and varied and complex. But you should also look ahead, not get too involved in the overly short term analysis of those that over shoot one way and the next (blinded by that screaming headline).

Lest you fall foul of the next catastrophe – be in on the golf course, the cricket pitch or in business.


Celebrating local business success


I get to go to many business awards these days, many functions, and often (let me confess dear reader) they can rather blend into each other. But not the one I attended last Friday, the annual Wanneroo Business Association Awards.

It was clear from the outset people were in a celebratory mood. The surrounds, the Bridgeleigh Function Centre, popular for weddings/receptions, was well decked out in the black and white theme, and the excellent local band Proof, sensing the mood, got people up on the dance floor (well there wasn’t a floor, so people just danced around the tables) well before the night was even half way through.


View from the stage – give us a wave everyone!

13 local businesses were recognised for their achievements.

Big Brew Coffee Roasters had an exceptional evening as they took home 2015 Business of the Year and Best Tourism and Hospitality Business titles, John Young from The Pickled Herring and IGA in Two Rocks won Mayor’s Visionary Person 2015 for his contribution to the business community.

Burning Fruit were delighted to take Best New Business and Most Innovative Business after their first year in business and Oliver Kay Photography topped the Marketing Excellence category. Greenes Tyre and Brake Service won Customer Service Excellence, PSS Distributors were winners of Best Business: Over 5 and Under 15 employees and Talent Co Dance and Entertainment took away the Best Business: Small and Home Based title.

Hampers by Design won Online and Digital Excellence (the event Business News sponsored and you can see me in the photo above selfie-ing with the happy winners), and an almost speechless Jamielee Peary from Yanchep Central Dental was crowned Employee of the Year Award for 2015, closely followed by Gino Quilligotti from Chippy’s Beach Shack.

There were some running jokes as the web developers Burning Fruit mentioned that a tree was now connected to the internet. How? they asked. It logged on. (boom boom!) A few awards later Burning Fruit won again, and mentioned how a fish was now connected to the web. How? it got caught in the net. (owwww!).

It made me concoct a few others. How did a spider get on the Net? It just crawled onto the web. And dry clothes? They went on line.

Maybe I’ll stop there…

It’s important to keep supporting and celebrating local businesses, the back bone of the economy in our wonderful State. Well done Bev, Lauren and all at WBA; and thanks to all the sponsors, of which we were happy to be one.


TEDxPerth – food for the brain

For the fourth time, TED has come to town, or rather ‘TEDx’ – the independently organised TED event run by volunteers. As always, it was a sell out.

I made it down by tea time to hear the last 3 speakers, and the chat around the Concert Hall was of another terrific day, full of eclectic talks on all manner of subjects.

TED talks were established in 1984 and usually involve a single speaker. Talks can be no longer than 18 minutes and must be under the umbrella theme of ‘Ideas worth spreading’. What a great tag line – says it all.

The subject matter can be as broad as the presenter’s imagination, with topics ranging from mental health to astrophysics to experimental music to rock formations.

TED itself is a not-for-profit organisation and, now in its fourth decade, has become a global phenomenon. Beyond the official TED conferences, with ticket prices reaching $US6,000 or more, there are the independently run TEDx events, organised by volunteers and priced under $100, and thousands of talks shown for free on the TED.com website.

The first official TEDxPerth event ran at the Octagon Theatre in 2012, and was a sell out. Attendees received 12 talks on a variety of subjects from 12 Perth locals, including meals. It’s like food for the brain.

TEDxPerth has sold out every year since (tickets are usually gone inside a day), prompting the move to the larger Perth Concert Hall in 2014, which is where TEDxPerth was held again this year. The audience was a mix, but I’d say the vast majority were 20-somethings.

All TEDx presenters are carefully coached beforehand, with the talks being filmed live on stage. Some are then selected for main TED.com website. The first TEDxPerth talk to garner global recognition in this way was from former Business News 40under40 winner Hamish Jolly with his 2013 ‘Shark Suit deterrent wet suit’ presentation, which has attracted more than 2 million online views to date.

Some of the most popular TED talks of all time include Sir Ken Robertson’s 2006 talk, ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ with 35 million views, (spoiler alert, the answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’), and Simon Sinek’s 2009 presentation ‘How great leaders inspire action’ (24 million views and a must for anyone in a leadership position), which told organisations how to ‘find their why’.

My favourite talk I saw on Saturday was Callum Ormonde’s “How to unboil an egg” – see picture above – well, that was not the title, but it might as well have been. The  PhD student made his discovery in an expected way during a late night at a UWA lab. As far as I can understand it, his centrifugal (vortex fluid) device could unpack proteins so, for example,  a cooked egg would return to its previous liquous state. “Surely that’s impossible,” he mused, “you can no more uncook an egg as you can unring a bell.” But he did it, and he showed a video of the thing actually ‘uncooking’ before your eyes.

For this he won the Harvard ‘Ig Nobel Prize’, the light hearted (yet serious) award that “makes you smile then think”. His vortex device has a more noble goal of developing new cancer treatments, making nano-drugs deemed impossible to date using traditional methods. #GoCallum


Calling it ‘strategic’ does not make it important

What's the strategy?

On the 100th anniversary of the Perth-based conglomerate Wesfarmers last year, Chairman and former MD Michael Chaney was asked what measures he used to decide on acquiring another company.

“I use the Three S’s as a guide,” said Mr Chaney,”and they are: Synergy, Strategic and Someone else will do it. If anyone uses these words, then I am not buying!”

Management speak can make people lazy.

You know the sort. They sound and look good, but scratch away at the surface, and there’s no substance to the argument. It’s similar to the Emperor’s New Clothes parable – no one wants to be the first to call someone out on it, lest you look foolish. But call them out you must.

“Oh this is a terrific merger, the synergies are remarkable,” says someone postulating for the acquisition. Really? I rarely see ‘synergies’ play out in real life, with the larger issue of culture clash often ruining the potential benefits as the two organisations fail to play nicely together.

And as for ‘strategic’, I usually run for the hills if anyone plops ‘strategic’ in front of something. Strategic marketing, strategic HRM, a strategic decision, a strategic purchase, strategic management consultant …

Calling everything ‘strategic’ is the last bastion of those who will not actually do the work (the 3rd S above).

It all sounds so grandiose, but it’s usually just an excuse to not get something done in the immediate term (“we have to discuss our strategic plan!”), or is used to paper over the cracks of bad performance (“we’re not worrying about short term results, as we have to let the agreed strategy pan out!”).

If is often argued that the highest levels in business (the board level) is all about strategy, plotting the long term, charting the course. True enough, this is the job of the Board. They should be listening, watching and analysing the here and now, checking on the performance of the company while ensuring the current trajectory is the best. But with (often conflicting) information flying in from all angles and marketplaces, with rivals and technological change gathering pace, an organisation these days needs to be nimble, organic and fluid. True, they cannot lurch from side to side, but they can’t be stuck in their ways either.

‘Having a strategy’ is all good and fine, but the successful organisations of the future will be the ones that can adapt, stay close to the shifting needs of the consumer, and get ahead of the curve. An adaptive strategy, if you like.

Michael Chaney is speaking at a ‘Success & Leadership’ breakfast in Perth on 25th November.


Bootstrap yes, but don’t skimp on a good lawyer or accountant

Google don't like lawyers

Google “I like lawyers” and the top results are articles such as “Why do people hate lawyers so much?” and “People like lawyers less than you think”.

Even Google can’t find a positive result.

It might be easy to knock them, but finding a good lawyer or accountant is critical to the success of any business. I wonder why they get such a bad rap? Perhaps its the legalese and financialese that some find perplexing, or the $100’s per hour fees charged in 6-minute blocks that wrangle.

While it’s important to conserve cash when starting (and running) a business, as my wise business professor used to say: “Never skimp on a good lawyer or accountant; doing so will be a false economy. Find a good one, and these people will save you tens of thousands of dollars in the end.”

I can certainly attest to that…

When our fledgling online business was still in ‘bare survival mode’ in the early 2000s, I became aware of a relatively new government scheme called the ‘R&D Tax Rebate*’ (or ‘R&D Tax Incentive‘ as it’s now known). I remember asking our existing accountant (twice) whether we qualified, and being told unequivocably that we did not. At the networking function around this time, I got talking to a city accountant who had been at the same uni as me, and he mentioned that we would definitely qualify. I followed up with him, and not only did he manage to get us over $50,000 cash back that year, he backdated the process (as we’d missed out in its first year of operation, the year before) so we duly won two years worth of rebate, over $100,000 in cash. At the time, this was the difference between sink or swim.

We changed our accountant.

[* The scheme allows businesses investing heavily in R&D to convert a portion of their losses into cash back from the ATO. Once profitable, you can use it to minimise tax. I would estimate this scheme returned us half a million dollar benefit over the course of the subsequent 7 years.] 

Also around this time, we were made aware that a rival website was taking data from our site, and displaying it as if it was theirs. I became perplexed as to how this could be legal, but various lawyers I spoke to did not seem to know if we even had a case. Until I met a brilliant IP lawyer, who had used our site before (so he was a fan, which was nice), and seemed confident that we were in the right, and they were in the wrong. The upshot of his work was that other site shut themselves down.  You can read the ensuing media coverage of this case here.

I have used this same IP lawyer ever since.

I can tell you that both the accountant and lawyer mentioned above were extremely reasonable with their charges, and sensitive to the fact that we were but a small startup with limited funds. It felt good to have some experts on your side, and to get good outcomes as a result. I could not have done any of this alone.

So, do not skimp on a good accountant or lawyer. But bootstrap your startup. It sounds paradoxical, but it’s probably the best advice I can give you.


So many flearnings (my startup journey)!


Last week I did a talk to BloomLab, the university based co-working space for student startup folk here in Perth, WA. My slides are visible above (and also here).

Here is my 10 “flearnings” (learning from failures) – hard won advice from making the wrong decisions (many times), but learning from them.

  1. Startups are easy

Wrong, well actually, right – startups ARE easy, initially; as what you are mostly doing at the outset is “buying things”, and, as a board member once told me, “any fool can go out and buy something”. You raise some money, or maybe invest your own (along with friends, fools and family), and/or max out your credit card(s), and then go on a buying spree … buying programmers, office space, cool marketing campaigns, staff, …. It’s a buzz of excitement, and you’re wearing cool clothes, have ditched the jacket and tie, and are in a startup.


Businesses only survive if they are SELLING things, that is, collecting revenue. And that means someone ELSE is doing the buying, from you. Unless you are creating value by solving a problem for them (your clients), they will not buy from you. If they don’t, you ain’t got a business. Startups are hard. Selling is hard work. Not many startups are cut out for it. But everyone should be sales, including (and especially including) the fancy pancy founders and CEO.

  2. Build it, and they will come

Wrong! Although ultimately the service should sell itself, very few will do this from the get go.

Also, don’t fall into trap that the next release, the latest new functionality, will solve all your problems. ‘Once we add this feature we’ll be home and hosed’. Nope.

Having a great product is very important (as long as it solves a problem that people will pay to remove), but it’s a necessary, not sufficient, factor in your startup succeeding.

3. We’ve got a great product!

A related fallacy to #2 above. The worst sales person falls in love with their  product. The best fall in love with their clients’ problems.

We thought we were building the greatest map-based property web site (even if we were that was irrelevant). We thought we were solving home searching and making it easier. Well, yes we may have been, but they weren’t our clients. They were our users. Our clients were real estate agents, and paying a monthly subscription. We had to solve their problems. What was their problem? NOt selling properties. Properties sell. Buyers seek them out (buyers like to buy, remember? espeically property, especially in Australia.)

‘Getting listings’ is the real estate problem. Good listings. Ones that will sell. Ones that have nice owners. As soon as we realised this, we developed more and more features (including web development and even a magazine) that helped them get listings. ‘List and last’.

Who is paying you? They are your clients. Solve their problems. Full stop.

4. Spend loads of money on ads

If we’d had a bucket load of money for ads, we would have just used it. (There’s that buying itch again!) So what? We might have felt good watching our TV ads, hearing the radio commercials or watching the bus ads zoom by. So may our staff and investors. Would it have brought us revenue? Probably not. So many dotcoms spent huge amounts on advertising (or ‘brand’ as they euphemistically put it), so more people would come to the site, have a ‘meh’ experience, which meant you had to raise more money to get a different set of people to the site. And so on.

Have you ever seen an ad for Google? [Well, OK, I did see this one, and it was great, but it was not a traditional ad in any sense.] Promote the site through making it easy to spread, make it sticky (people stay on), make it elastic (draws people back). This could be about design, in built devices (such as Dropbox offering extra storage if you referred customers), encourage content sharing, etc. Use the free media; journo needs stories. Treat journos & influential bloggers as clients. Take them out for coffee. Don’t just do mass press releases; tailor your media approaches and provide exclusives.

5. Do regular, massive big upgrades

No; keep innovating, but not in a wholus bolus way, as that will ruin things for your users. Changing how the whole site works really annoys your loyal fans. Keep improving things, based on testing and feedback, in an iterative manner. Be fluid, add features, yes, but also think of ways to keeping it simple. UX (user experience) is all important these days. It’s a refined skill, and you will inch (not blast) your way there.

6. There’s either a tech solution or there isn’t

It’s not that cut and dried. The times I was told something was impossible, then the programmers would wander in all sheepishly and show me how they’d solved it (bless their little cotton socks). You get to learn what’s hard and what’s easy. I’ve found a simple truth in all this – it’s never the technology, it’s the people.

7. You’re on your own

Not true! There are multitudes of people out there, probably hammering away at similar type businesses solving similar problems, every day. Network, go to startup events, find people, ask questions, provide value yourself (give and it shall be returned). Years before Spacecubed, Perth Morning Startup, Startup Weekends and the rest, a few internet enterpreneurs still going in the mid 2000s formed ‘eGroup’, as much for the emotional support as anything.

There are now over 30 places and programs you can visit in Perth alone to find alike minded people and support…


View a full list here

8. SEO is a black art & expensive

I learned much of what I know by trial and error, but the importance of ‘title tags’ and ‘H1’ headings were not lost on me. Get these right and 80% of your search engine optimisation is done. Also, hire someone local who knows that they’re doing. (Direct message me if you want to be introduced to Perth people I have used and recommend.)

The SEO and SEM (search engine marketing) ‘industry’, along with social media and web/app development, is not a regulated so anyone can hang up a shingle and claim they have knowledge. Beware of stupid ‘I can put you on the 1st page of Google’ claims, because no one can guarantee that (well, not before knowing what search phrase is important, and how competitive that is, and how your site is written/updated).

And don’t try to cheat the system. Do not engage in ‘black  hat’ tactics (hiding white text on white backgrounds, keyword stuffing, content automation and the like) to get a higher ranking. Anything that looks like a shortcut is a shortcut, and could get you blacklisted (removed) from search results. It’s hard work, done over time. It’s cumulative. Google is only trying to find the most appropriate site for the search terms entered, so be that site. Have interesting, fresh content. Change it up and keep posting.

9. Social media is all nonsense / waste of time

Really? How do you view the telephone, email or web sites in general?

Social media is just a communications tool. Use some or all of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram … to engage with your audience, build your brand, learn about your market/competitors and all the other things it can do. Use them as part of your overall strategy. You can’t do everything, so decide what makes sense for you and what you can execute on well. And keep doing it, and keep learning.

Allocate time for it, and who is going to do what. Best case is everyone does some of it, and lends a hand to some degree, in the same way everyone probably uses email or the phone to some degree. Don’t allow it to be addictive. Have a plan, train your staff, measure what you do, keep what works and ditch what doesn’t.

In promotional campaigns, mix traditional advertising and social, and watch the impact of your promotions make a larger impact and last longer.

Do not buy links, likes or followers. Build your social media presence organically (the occasional Facebook promoted post, OK), and watch your Klout score to gauge which activities work the best.

10. I will build for a PC 

Think mobile first, because that is now becoming the largest environment online. Build for mobile, and then PC. With a mobile responsive site, you can pretty much have your cake and eat it. 40% of Australian traffic is now on mobile during weekdays, and more than 50% in the evenings and at weekends.


So there you go, 10 flearnings, from 10 failed mistakes I have made (some of many, many more I could bore you with). Despite making loads of these errors, and learning the hard way, we did survive 10+ years, so we did OK…

All the best with your startup!

SLIDES AVAILABLE HERE >> http://www.slideshare.net/CharlieGunningham/so-many-flearnings-my-startup-journey


Gun control ~ surely time has come for something to be done?

gun control

I read a statistic recently that more people die around the world taking selfies than in shark attacks. Mashable reported than a Japanese tourist died after falling down stairs at the Taj Mahal while attempting to take a selfie. 12 selfie deaths in 2015 puts selfies as a more common killer than sharks (8).

It’s a bit like the stat that more people die in their toilet than due to a number of other causes, due to wet floors and other accidents. I fear to wonder how many were taking selfies (or “belfies” as they’re known, yes, that’s ‘bathroom selfies’) at the time.

No doubt selfie deaths will be used by those decrying the latest narcissistic craze as more evidence that the world is going to the dogs. We certainly take more interest in sharks (last year in our State of Western Australia the government paid people to go around baiting and shooting them off our coast); I am not suggesting we shoot selfie takers.

Some of those outraged at the calls for some increased gun control in the States have noted how car deaths amount for far more fatalities than gun deaths, and heart attacks still more again. ‘We’re not going to ban cars or burgers now are we?’ goes their argument.

Well no, but there are restrictions on car ownership, how fast you can go, the wearing of seatbelts and other safety measures installed in automobiles. Each one was derided as it came in (I remember the outcry over seatbelts), but each one has worked. Likewise, we are far more aware now of a healthy diet and the need for exercise than we ever were, and McDonalds has to display the kJs in each burger meal. Only a few decades ago, cigarettes were openly advertised on TV, with doctors (yes doctors!) smoking away saying how satisfying they were. In Australia, plain packaging has almost eradicated tobacco brands entirely.

And in any case, the calls are not to gun bans, just for gun control. Just knowing who has a gun and where they live would be a good start, and perhaps insisting on reasonable background checks on anyone buying a gun before they buy one, too.

Over time as more information comes to light, we learn, we think and then we act, in the public interest. Research and statistics, theories and evidence (shock horror!) guide our understanding over time, and we accept a little less freedom in order to enjoy a greater good. That is what a government’s job primarily is all about. That, and leadership.

The Port Arthur massacre of April 1996 shocked Australia (35 killed), and the newly elected conservative Prime Minister John Howard swiftly introduced strict gun controls by Act of Parliament. All States and territories concurred. 85% of Australians wanted gun control, and a few outspoken groups opposed the new laws. The government announced a ‘buy back’ of guns and 643,000 firearms were handed in. John Howard famously faced up to his critics (wearing a bullet proof vest no less) and argued passionately for the new laws.

A Fox News anchor in the States, recently called these same laws “childish”, claiming Aussies “have no freedom”.

But the fact is that there has been not one mass shooting in Australia since these ‘childish freedom-hating’ laws have been put in place. By comparison, there have been over 50 mass school shootings in the US this year alone, the latest one in Roseberg, Oregon where 10 were killed and another 9 injured. There’s even a Wikipedia page that lists them all. (In fact, there have been 2 more mass shootings at schools since, that’s 3 this month already.)

Australia is not the US. I get that.

In the US, 350 million people own about 300 million firearms. On average, every man, woman and child has a gun, pretty much.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), probably the most misnamed pressure group in history (we’re talking handguns, semi automatic weapons here, not quaint 19th century rifles) campaigns strongly against gun control and “for freedom” (such as the freedom to get shot, supposedly?). They argue the “only thing that can stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun”.

If we are talking about the wild west of the 1870s, then I concede this point. But I think we’ve moved on haven’t we? And in any case, pretty much everyone does have a gun – is this making things safer? How many more guns are required before everyone feels really, really safe then?

In the US, there are 10 firearm related deaths per 100,000 people every year. 1.3% of ALL deaths in the States are due to firearms. And this does not count the number of non fatal injuries, which outnumber deaths 8 to 1. Gun violence alone costs the US taxpayer over $500m in hospital costs a year.

In the UK, the figure is 0.26 deaths per 100,000 people; or put it another way, you are 40 times more likely to be shot dead in the US as you are in the UK by a gun. In Australia, it’s 0.86 deaths per 100,000.

Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore (in some countries in Asia the death penalty exists for even owning part of a gun) there are 0.03, 0.06 and 0.16 deaths per 100,000 people a year.

When you look at developed nations, the US simply has more guns and more gun deaths than anyone else. Only places like Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia have more per 100,000 population. Does anyone seriously not believe there is a link between access to firearms and the number of firearm related deaths, plus all the associated grief and costs that result?

So the weight of evidence is clearly for tighter gun control, but it’s the emotional argument (not rational) that holds sway. ‘Don’t take away our 2nd amendment rights / freedom’ chime the proponents of gun ownership. No, I’m not taking away your 2nd amendments rights to hold a gun or your freedom. In the same way you are free to smoke, eat burgers and drive cars, you have to accept there must be reasonable restrictions on what you can and cannot do with what is (by definition) a lethal weapon. We are about protecting the innocent (50 mass school shootings a year – are you serious?!) and the greater good, while still allowing you to own a gun, go down the rifle range, keep it under lock and key in a safe place.

By the way, I like guns. I enjoyed shooting at a rifle range when I was a teenager. I grew up in the English countryside. Farmers and friends had guns. My Dad had an air rifle at home, and regularly went on shoots. I practised shooting the air rifle with my brothers, at cardboard pigeon targets out back when I was a kid. I loved it.

But don’t listen to me. Listen to Steve Elliott from the States, who, 6 days ago, posted on his Facebook how he destroyed his own gun page to remove 1 gun from the millions circulating in the US…

None of us individually can stop gun violence in America, but as a responsible gun owner, I will no longer be used as a justification for doing nothing about it. Today I did what I could. Today there is ‪#‎ONELESSGUN‬.

It’s had 36,000 shares, and has been picked up my major media outlets around the world. Will something happen this time?


Innovation, the new buzz word

Einstein thinking

Since new PM Malcolm Turnbull, in his first address to the nation, challenged Australians to embrace change and innovate, everyone seems to be talking about ‘innovation.’

But what does it mean, and why’s it so important?

Technically, ‘innovation’ means ‘new’, as in a new method, a new way of doing something, or a new invention. It’s synonymous with being clever, successful and on the cutting edge. Turnbull, a successful businessman in his own right, has experience in these things. He went from lawyer to investment banker to IT entrepreneur and made multi millions in the process.

Rabbiting on about innovation is not enough, but grasping the challenge, seeing the positive and actually doing some different things, is important. As Albert Einstein reminded us – “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” He also famously said that the definition of ‘madness’ was trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

We have to try new things. You get points for trying. Seriously, you do. Because you learn, and no one will forsake you if you give something new a try. The Finnish company Rovio Entertainment spent 6 years and laboured over 51 failed games before their smash app hit Angry Birds came out in late 2009. Since then, its been downloaded 3 billion times – 3 billion! – plus various spin offs such as multiple versions, merchandise, a TV series, a movie and several theme parks. From an app. From a multiple-failed game developer. In Finland. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.

Six years on, even Rovio cannot rest and is having to innovate further. They’ve recently laid off a third of their workforce, mirroring staff cuts at Zynga (who make the Facebook game Farmville) and King (Candy Crush). The more successful you get, the more imitators and competitors try to knock you off your pedestal. You knocked others off to get there. That’s how the world works.

Nice though Australia’s resources base is (many countries would kill for this, and, often, do start wars over this stuff), we are not a cheap place to do business, and need to occupy the technological heights if we are to remain competitive and continue living the life we’ve had so good for so long. 23 years of uninterrupted economic growth is under threat. It’s no time to rest on our laurels, or pretend that new things aren’t changing how the world works, fast. As the PM says, we need to embrace technological change “as our friend“.

Consider the following:

  • In latest Global innovation rankings, Australia is 17th, no change from our 2014 position. Sweden, Switzerland and the UK occupy the top 3. The US is 5th, Singapore is 7th … Germany and New Zealand sit above Australia
  • According to a Deloitte Report (2015) one third of Australian companies face imminent and substantial disruption by digital technology and new business models
  • Another report from 2014 suggests 25% of Australian GDP is under attack in next 10 years
  • San Francisco-based Uber has taken 9% of Aus taxi industry ($450m of $5bn) from a standing start inside 2 years (~ consider how well entrenched, regulated and supported this industry thought it was pre-2013)
  • In the Crossroads’ economic complexity map, Australia ranked 74th in world – we are just too reliant on too few traditional industries. Sweden is one of the most diverse.
  • In 2014, $47bn was invested in Australian resources while $1.5bn was invested in tech
  • In the last 5 years, Australian startups added 1.5m jobs. Meanwhile, large businesses are culling staff numbers. In the US 80% of new jobs (in a run lasting now 67 consecutive months of net job creation) have come from new/small business.

Consider further…

  • Singapore has allocated $14bn over next 5 years for investment in startups/tech
    – funded 15 incubators
    – matching funds 85% to 15%
  • Israeli government supports 22 incubators, invests ~ 85% of their budgets
    – has led to 5x private investment in follow on funding
  • Meanwhile, our WA government invested $6.9bn in royalties for regions, and $20m into tech startups
  • Other States in Australia have a Minister for Innovation, but not WA

We’ve got a way to go to catch up, but perhaps the message will get through. To the innovative belongs the future. It’s always been thus.


Can someone develop a complete car parking app please?

traffic warden

I try not to drive my car around the city for meetings; often it’s much easier to walk, take a CAT bus or use Uber. But sometimes, an event may be on the other side of the city in the late afternoon or evening, from which I want to get home afterwards. My only option is the car, and finding a nearby car park or spot on a side road.

Which got me thinking the other day – why can’t I park, and an app tell me how much I have to pay, with payment taken at the end of my time based on how long I was there for? (The ‘Uber of car parking’, if you like.) The app would estimate the charge for the time. Even if overshoot my time (say, the event goes on longer than expected), it need not matter as I would be charged when leaving (the app could let me know the new total charge – and I could decide to stay on or leave). The phone would know where I was, when I arrived and left the parking spot and therefore how much to charge. The funds would then be taken automatically, and go to the local council, or Wilson, or whoever (private car bays could be used as well). The app would take a small % as a enabling fee.

It wouldn’t be that hard to develop. Most of the effort would be in getting all the car bays loaded on, and the permission of those that owned them. You’d get the larger car bay companies and councils on board first (explaining how this was going to save them costs and ensure all bays were paid for, making them more revenue). Private car bay owners could then have an uploading and admin system built for them.

No more overdue tickets, no more fines, no more paying more for what you use, no more fumbling around for coins at the nearest ticket meter in the rain. Indeed, no more parking meters or ticket inspectors. (There would be a transition period during which you’d still have the existing system but overtime the old would be phased out, and we’d wonder why we ever had them.) If you tried to park without paying, you’d get a warning, and if you did not agree to the ticket you would be fined. Appropriate warnings would come as notifications.

A central command would know where possible bays are, and could guide you to them. They’d know who’s parked where, who’s paid and who has not. Totally efficient, no one would get away with not paying, indeed no one need be be fined. All done on an app, every time.

Over time, an efficient use of all car bays would make for better use of vehicles on roads, less time wasted trawling around for car park spaces, less angst, and a better use of all space available.

There are many car parking apps out there, but none of them do this. Some find car bays that are on their system, some try to hook you up (AirBnB style) with private spaces for hire, and some know how many bays are available in real time in the larger city parking spots. But no one pulls it altogether. Someone will, one day.

P.S. No, I have not been fined recently (!); I’ve just been mulling this over. Now, over to you…

Photo: Dom Joly’s Traffic War


Leadership is about taking others with you


There’s a line in an old episode of The West Wing that goes : ‘What do you call a leader that no one follows?    Just someone walking around.’

In the past week we’ve seen another change of political leadership at the top, our 5th Prime Minister in 5 years, which some refer to as “the new normal”, while others blame everything from the media, the 24 hour news cycle and even social media.

I see it differently. A leader is (by definition) someone that others follow. The art of leadership is to move other people in a direction, perhaps worked out together, that they would not have moved to on their own accord. They move en masse, as if led by an invisible force. A leader articulates the mission, where they want to get to, and why, and motivates and stirs the masses to action. Together, everyone achieves far more than they could on their own. It’s what Churchill did so well in the 1940s, what Lincoln did in the 1860s, and many others before and since.

Simply put, when a ‘leader’ (or someone in a leadership position) does not (or cannot) take the people with them, they are simply a person walking around. Leadership has disappeared, all but for a few rusted on acolytes. Ergo, Rudd, Gillard and now Abbott.

In 2007, and well into 2008 and 2009, Rudd took the Australian people with him. With his snappy freshness and Mandarin-speaking abilities, he looked like the ‘PM for the times’. A country weary of 11 years of the political machinations of John Howard, while still respectful of his achievements, cast the old aside and ushered in the new. Rudd had no real Labor stronghold, just his hold on the people, and when, after a few missteps, that waned in 2009/2010, his party unceremoniously threw him out before the end of this first term of office. How the mighty had fallen.

His replacement, Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female PM, was a feisty fighter, but the legitimacy (or lack of) her ascension and its anti-democratic nature (there was not even a caucus vote), plus her broken promise over the carbon tax (people do not like new taxes, as a rule, especially one you’ve promised on the eve of an election not to impose) saw her whittled away to an ultimately undignified exit. She never had the people, and never took them with her. After her minority government limped on through 2010-2013, the assassin turned PM was replaced by the PM she assassinated, and Rudd was back as PM, if but for a few months, as a damage limitation exercise to save the deck chairs as the ship sank to its inevitable defeat to Tony Abbott’s Coalition.

Two years on, for the third parliamentary term in a row, we witness another elected PM taken down before their first full term is up. Was Abbott more a Rudd or a Gillard? I would say the latter. He had the political apparatchiks behind him, but he never took the people with him. Pretty much anyone as leader of the Liberals would have won in 2013 after the disunity and tragi-comedy of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. The ‘I don’t like him but I’ll give a go’ nature of the Australian public allowed Abbott to sweep to power.

It turned sour pretty quickly. Never before had a 1st term elected government lost the popular support (as measured by polling) so fast. It took only 3 months. Three months! 30 polls in succession since bear witness to Abbott’s government falling behind in the popularity stakes to a rather blandly led Labor opposition with Bill Shorten as leader. Australians looked at both sides and switched off.

The situation lurched on for another 18 months before Abbott’s ultimate denouement. The Liberals did not want to be seen to take down a sitting PM in their first term, in stark contrast to what the Labor party had done in recent memory. Unity and steadfastness was promoted as strength, making the ‘tough decisions’ that had to be made after the ‘disaster Labor left us’. However bad Abbott got, and he was not all bad by any means, this argument was his strongest suit. Surely the Libs would not ‘do a Gillard’ on their own 1st term PM?

Back in February, some disenchanted Liberal MPs called for a leadership election. This became a double embarrassment for Abbott, in that not only was this a back bench revolt (neither heir apparent Turnbull or deputy and potential rival Bishop initiated it hence could not be neutered by defeat), Abbott only won 60% of the vote against nobody. 39 of the Liberal caucus voted for “no one” rather than their leader and Prime Minister. Ouch. Abbott was mortally wounded after that, given another 6 months and then it was all over fairly swiftly.

Abbott’s leadership could have worked if he took the country with him, but he didn’t. In truth, he never really had them. They gave him a go, they suspended their worries for a while, but they never loved him, never even liked him. Most breathe a sign of relief now he’s gone, and it’s Malcolm Turnbull’s job now to see if he can communicate better to the people, persuade them that his way is the best way, and take them with him.

For a digital/business person like myself, I applaud the positive argument Turnbull made in his victory speech Monday night, about the future that Australia needs to become as digital disruption and technology becomes more and more important….

“We have to recognise that the disruption that we see driven by technology, the volatility and change is our friend if we are agile and smart enough to take advantage of it.

“There has never been a more exciting time to be alive than today and there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian.

In that brief statement, he articulated his vision and the battleground for the economy, and how he will distance himself from Shorten. Not beholden to old ideas, he will seek to argue we need flexibility, resolve and intelligence to win the day. He clenched his fist as he spoke, his voice rose and you could see the passion and belief come through.

This looked like leadership, born of someone who’s actually been there and done it in business. Let’s see if he can take the people with him.