Leadership means leading, not turning a blind eye

A leader asks not commands, says ‘let’s go’ not ‘go’, develops people rather than orders people… a leader sets the tone, the culture, demonstrates the core values, which begets behaviour.

A leader can’t be everywhere, do everything. So it’s crucial that they communicate clearly what they want the organisation or team to do, what the goals are, how we are going to get there, while also listening and learning.

Perhaps their most important job is to select the best people and let them get on with it. Which does not mean you turn a blind eye to things, nor have no control. Quite the opposite.

Effective leaders know what’s going on, what’s happening, and how to judge and analyze. They walk around and listen. They engage. They are open and approachable. They ask good questions.

Bad culture

So when analyzing the recent failure of leadership among the Australian cricket team, one might ask how did it come to the point that they felt cheating was the answer?

When the “leadership group” (which seemed to be code for David Warner) decided to cheat, gets his young opening batsman colleague to cheat; when the captain asks ‘what are you two up to?’ (knowing its nefarious) and then says ‘I don’t wanna know’ then the culture has become one where winning (or the fear and perceived humiliation of losing) seems greater than the importance of playing the game within the rules.

There’s never any disgrace in playing hard and fair, and knowing you’ve done your best, yet always have things to improve on. Sometimes the opposition plays better as a team. You can’t win everything. No one does. Losing provides valuable lessons. Failure is knowing you could have performed better, and didn’t. That’s when you go away and put in the hard work.

Events like we have seen recently are not one off isolated incidents. It’s the result of a build up of an organizational and team culture. Many have argued that it stems from a humiliating defeat in Nov 2016 in Hobart against South Africa. Incidents and issues have grown since. The snarling and sledging have been on the rise.

Pushing the line between right and wrong, bending the rules as far as they can go, to get an edge, means that, unchecked, an event like this becomes inevitable.

When the leadership is so bereft of ideas that they resort to cheating to turn around a game, then the leadership has given up on leading.

Reap what you sow

And so the leaders and those directly involved have been stepped down. National disgrace has resulted. Tears of shame have been shed. The public humiliation has perhaps been far worse than losing a game of cricket. They have lost lucrative overseas contracts including the riches of the IPL. They will forever be known as cheats. It’s been a very public, global story.

Something tells me they are more ashamed of being caught out, than the actual things they did. This speaks volumes in itself.

Naturally, there’s been a backlash from supporters and those who cannot accept the sentences handed down. Or feel it’s a bit over the top. Mainly this has come from former players. QED.

No doubt, authorities wanted to stamp down on this and be seen to do so. They had to be seen to be doing something dramatic. A 12 month ban seems harsh, except there is little international cricket in the next 6 months anyway, and so all they miss is next summer’s home internationals. They will all be available for next year’s World Cup and Ashes in England. If they’d been made to miss that as well, then perhaps you could argue it was a strong punishment. But something tells me, Cricket Australia would like to be competitive in what are the two major prizes that only come around every 4 years – a world cup and winning the Ashes in England (the latter being something they’ve not done for what will be 18 years).

‘A little cheating’ is still cheating

While part of me sympathizes with the players involved, and the situation that drove them to take this action, I am someone who firmly believes that when you know you’ve edged the balled to the keeper, you walk. In the same way if you knocked the ball to any other fielder and they caught it, you’d walk.

I was stooped in the spirit of the game being as important as the laws of the game. HOW you played the game was the appeal, as much as winning or losing. Losing graciously, and winning graciously for that matter, was a life lesson.

I think everyone would agree that you’d look a bit stupid standing your ground if you smacked the ball directly to a fielder, who caught it, so why is a little nick (that you know happened) any different? Because you might get away with the latter, that’s why.

Exactly.

Push the boundaries between fairness, justice and law and you will then look to push them a little more, and a little more. The end result is sandpaper being taken onto the ground and being used to tamper with the ball to effect that damned illusive reverse swing, and who knows what else happened in the lead up to this that we don’t know about?

To me, not walking and ball tampering are both cheating, plain and simple. You are trying to get an illegal edge over the opposition, and cheat. It’s got nothing to do with how skillful you are with bat and ball.

A little cheating is still cheating. In the same way you can’t be ‘a little pregnant’ (you are either pregnant or not) it’s no defence to say it’s just a ‘little cheating’.

I also loathe sledging (repeated personal abuse of the opposition). Let the bat and ball do the talking. If you’re not winning with that, acknowledge the opposition played better. Shake their hand and have a beer with them after the game. Then go away and learn how to get better.

Aussie cricketing friends of mine cannot fathom my belief on walking (or sledging). They never walk, and if you do walk, you are weak. It’s part of the culture.

Precisely.

~~

“The Spirit of Cricket (from the MCC)

Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game.

Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself.

The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains…”

(Emphasis added.)

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The fake fake news debate

Rather than put up an informed debate, all you need now do is roar ‘fake news!’ at anything you don’t like. How has it come to this?

Right off the bat let’s be clear what ‘fake news‘ is. It’s pure fabrication, invention and lies dressed up as a news story. It is intended to deceive. Anyone doing rudimentary fact-checking could expose the lies fairly easily.

Two things fake news is NOT…

  1. It’s not a new phenomenon. There are examples stretching back to Roman times and before. It is said Mark Anthony killed himself due misinformation spread about him by his opponents.
  2. It’s not news you don’t like. News you don’t like may make you feel uncomfortable. That’s OK. That’s how you learn new things. But that don’t make it fake.

New vs Opinion

It’s also important to distinguish between news and opinion.

The mainstream media publishes news (well researched and balanced facts) as well as opinion pieces (the author’s viewpoint).

Basically put, anyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to their own facts.

Facts are facts.

Put it another way, opinions are cheap, facts are expensive. Facts need checking. The truth is not always obvious.

Thank goodness for real journalists. I have worked with them. I know one when I see one. I can also spot a charlatan, dressing up their opinions as facts.

When we employ journalists, we are not interested in their opinion. We are interested in consuming a well thought out, clear statement of fact. The story. The main headline, the actors involved, and how it might impact on us and others.

At the same time, we are entertained by opinion writers. We are interested in their views. They present facts, but line up an argument, usually one way or the other. We may disagree, we may be convinced, we may already concur. But we should be made to think.

In life, we need facts in order to make decisions: where and whether to buy or sell a property and what type, or whether to start or sell or invest in a certain type of business or even who to vote for… perhaps our most important act.

Fundamentally, we need to distinguish what is fact, and what is opinion. In order to trust our media organisations, on which we base these decisions, we need to be comfortable that they are telling us the truth, as best they see it.

If we are reading opinion, this needs to be clear. We need to know the difference between this and news.

Authors should also provide disclaimers if their ‘news’ story was paid for by an interest group. That makes it an advertisement, not a news story. Not even an opinion.

Writers should also declare a personal interest. If they are writing about Telstra, they should mention they own Telstra shares if they do.

Why publish fake news?

Due to the long standing ‘trust’ in our mainstream news organisations, and their behaviour hitherto (exposing lying politicians, or scandals in the Church, or whatever) we take information written about someone or some issue in an editorial context as being more powerful than advertising (that is known to be ‘paid-for’ communication).

News has the whiff of gravitas (‘it’s there in black and white‘). It has been considered considered, prudent, weighty. Certain laws exist to protect someone being libelled in the press, and news organisations are careful to check facts before committing to pushing the publish button.

So, if you can dress up biassed opinion – or even downright lies – as news, you might be able to persuade people. If a story says something bad about a politician you don’t like, it can confirm your opinion. If it’s about someone you don’t like, you may find a way to ignore it, or even attack the source.

What if that story was totally bogus? A few years ago, the self-defense mechanisms in our democracy may have corrected the situation. The media organisation could be sued, or challenged to print a retraction, or provide compensation.

Times have changed. Fundamentally, and possibly irrevocably.

Over the past decade or so, journalism has been under attack. The business model of the news media companies has been disrupted. Many editors, journalists, sub editors and photo journalists have lost their jobs. A whole industry has been run almost to ground.

Few media organisations have found “the way” forward.

Maybe NY Times (which has put on 1M+ new subscribers since the last election), Financial Times and, locally, Business News have found a way forward by persuading subscribers to pay for their news and data content through paywalls. In this way they have aligned their information with their readers.

It’s a brave path forward, but perhaps the only one if we are to protect good journalism. If people value it, they’ll pay, If they pay, the media businesses survive. Trust is paramount. If paying subscribers feel they are being dished rubbish, they’ll not pay.

By the same token, if we expect news to be free, then that’s what we’ll end up with –  opinionistas who tell us what we want to hear. I’m a blogger, after all – this is my opinion. It ain’t news!

Faced with depleting revenues, some ad-model news media have had to run sensationalist headlines to cut through and make money. It’s a race to the bottom. Clickbait. A mug’s game. They are failing. It’s not the way forward. (In my opinion!)

Meanwhile, people get their news in all kinds of ways, many of them highly dubious. Few of them are actual news organisations.

Taking advantage of the situation

Among all this maelstrom you have politicians who now seem to get away with telling lies, knowingly, for effect. (‘He/she tell sit like it is. Says what we’re thinking.‘) I’m not going to name them, but you can guess to whom this refers.

[By the way, since when should we only listen to people who tell us what we are thinking? What’s the blooming point of that?!!]

Debate has now been dumbed down to Twitter rants and trolling. Sound bytes. Pre-staged photo opps and ‘door stops’. Lies, exposed fairly quickly by an exasperated media, are ignored as the entertainment moves on to the next distraction. No one takes responsibility, and political discourse has been damaged.

Worse still, our democracy is weakened. For if the people cannot gauge easily what is fact and what is plainly made up, as it whizzes past them on their Facebook feed (which itself is manipulated based on what you already like to see) then those same people can’t make informed decisions. People get elected on lies. And worse, the worst people could get elected to high office.

How should we respond?

The media has to call lies out, shine the light and expose lies when they are there. It’s their job, in a democracy, to do so. They speak truth to power. They clarify and explain.

But that’s not enoogh. They also have do a better job of getting people to pay for news. To subscribe. To make the case for this. And we, the consumers, need to front up and pay. Yes, I know you can get free news anywhere, but in the same way you have to pay for your shoes, food, water and shelter, you need to pay for your news.

The alternative? We’re living it everyday.

I’d prefer ‘power to the people’. Which is literally what the Greek word ‘democracy’ means.

The most important skill? Perception switch.

You’re rushing to a city meeting. You hate being late. The traffic lining up to enter the freeway this morning is particularly heavy, and cars are inching their way, preserving their position, as you all shuffle forwards.

At a traffic light, on red, you all stop. To your left side is a petrol station, from which some people are trying to exit and join the queue cityward or cross our lane to travel in the other direction. You pull up allowing plenty of space in front for the line of cars to cross over your two lanes or to move in front. The car on your inside lane decides to jump forward and claim its position ahead, lest anyone get in front, presumably. This actually gets the car no closer in time, as the light is still on red. All it does is make it harder for the line of cars trying to get out of the garage. Some of them manage to sneak around carefully, and then out past you to the other side, and away. A few minutes later, you are on green, and you all move forward together.

After traversing the city and finding the last available nearby car park spot, you realise why it’s still free – two tradie vans on each side of the spot have parked near or over the white line, leaving a sliver of space for your car.

‘Can I get my car in there?‘ you ponder, as you size it up. ‘If I don’t take this one, I’ll be late for my meeting.‘ So you try very carefully to squeeze in, and make it. Getting out of the car is hard. The driver door just about opens enough to extricate yourself, and as you rush to the ticketing machine you glance back and wonder if it was such a good idea taking that spot in the first place.

‘Will one of those vans scratch my car getting out? What if they leave and then someone else comes along and presumes I’m the guilty party in the way I parked?’

The sun is shining off the grey ticket machine window making it really hard to read the instructions. You see that it’s $4/hour, and the meeting is going to be 2 hours. The maximum for the day is $13, so you flick the time forward to the end of the meeting, plus 10 minutes or so, and the reading shows $21. This does not make sense, the maximum should be $13. ‘Agh well‘, you think, ‘No time to argue with a machine’. You tap the credit card, get out of there and up to the meeting. You make it just in time. Next time, leave earlier!

A few minutes into the meeting you realise you must have paid til 10.40pm at night, not morning, and that’s probably why you’ve overpaid. In a rush, and with the sun glare, you’d not noticed the PM on the display. And anyway, you made the meeting on time. Next time, breathe.

The meeting is now in full swing. 15 minutes in, the doors open and a latecomer enters. With a mumbled apology and sympathetic smiles around the room, they sit down, and the meeting continues. A few people have laptops open, but can be seen reading the agenda or relevant papers on them. Our latecomer fires up their laptop, and with cursory acknowledgement of the meeting itself and those speaking, begins to tap loudly on the keyboard. Why the tapping? Surely they are not just replying to emails or scanning social media. This same person continues to interject, talk at every opportunity, too long in most cases, and certainly too often. When they are not talking, they are tapping away loudly. It’s as if they are the only important person in the room, and only their time is valuable.

Towards the end of the meeting, in which 20 or so are in attendance, this person has probably spoken for about 40% of total airtime. They are oblivious to the chair who is trying to give everyone a turn, or the few with their fingers up looking to talk next. The latecomer butts in whenever they like ignoring the hints and quiet reprimands over their ever growing answers. Everyone else is too nice or self controlled to behave like this, and endures it. In a 2-hour meeting, each person speaks once, or maybe twice. You know who has spoken about 20 times.

The meeting ends, and you escape back to your car and a busy day of catch up. The car is unscathed. You had paid til 10.40pm after all. ‘Stupid boy‘, you think. Smiling ruefully you drive away, amazed at some peoples’ lack of self awareness, and inability to put themselves into the shoes of others.

The trend is your friend

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932, and took eight years to build.

In 1926, you could see the large pillars on either side of the harbour, from which the famous steel arches would start to appear a few years later. By the end of 1928, the entry roads were clearly visible leading up to these pillars, but other than that there was no ‘bridge’ (yet), and ships and ferries could pass by through the opening as they had done for decades. [In fact, if you look at the photo above, you can see exactly that in 1930 and 1931.]

By 1931 most of the arch had been completed, and the future bridge could be imagined. A year later, in March 1932, the bridge was officially opened by the then Premier of NSW, Jack Lang.

In a film clip of the event, you can hear the cheers of the onlookers and the commentator saying “Can you hear those boats? Can you hear those sirens? What a great day this is…”

Not so merry for the ferry

Many Sydneysiders know the saying ‘Seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care‘. This slogan was coined by the Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Company in the 1920s to promote its ferries on the Manly run. Without a bridge, a ferry was the only way to get from one side of the harbour to the other.

Yet, once the bridge construction had been agreed on, and building commenced, you could literally see the thing being built above you and across the 1km+ span of the harbour.

Before the bridge was opened in March 1932, ferries took 30 million passengers a year. After, ferry patronage plummeted to 13 million.

I tell this story to remind all industries that disruption to their mainstay business is often dramatic, yet can be foreseen. But in this case, the disruption was clearly visible to the ferry companies as the bridge was literally being built above their heads!

Often disruption is not that visible. It’s slow and inexorable, eating away at your business like white ants under your floorboards. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away. Putting one’s head in the sand does not protect you from its inevitability.

You may as well assume disruption is the norm. The more safe you feel, the more worried you should be. Check for white ants. Do your research. Think.

The good news is that you may have time on your side. Sydney’s harbour bridge took 9 years to build. Google took about that time to really take hold and make an impact on local advertising revenues. Same with Facebook.

It may have been that one day you looked around and suddenly Facebook and Google was all pervasive, but they took years ‘pushing the flywheel’ before they were so impregnable.

So, what are you doing in your business, in your industry, to prepare for your inevitable disruption? How are you positioning yourself so you can take advantage of the changes that are coming? Are you researching the possibilities of AI, bots, drones, AR, VR or the blockchain? All these, and more, are visible right now and making their creeping impacts.

Don’t be the ferryman, ignoring the inevitable while the seed of your destruction is being built around you. Get on a trend, because the trend is your friend.

Why Startups are easy, hard and mostly fail

The romance of cycling into a co working space, armed with a skinny latte, tight jeans and hipster looks can draw many to the promise of giving a startup a go.

It could have been precipitated by being chucked out of that corporate job you always hated. Maybe you’ve struggled with an itch you just have to scratch. It might be the allure of untold riches that some startup founders accumulate.

Be forewarned, startups (and I mean a disruptive, scaleable tech startup here, not a Mum and Pop café business or some gardening franchise) are about the riskiest business you can set up.

Setting up your startup is the easy bit.

For some, raising money can be a breeze too. You either have some savings, can go a few months without earning anything or can convince some investors to pop some money in.

Spending that money, well, that’s easy too. We made this mistake when we set up our tech business many years ago. We raised money, quite quickly, and then we spent it. We had an office, some staff, a website… Ta Daaa, we had a startup!

Except we had no business. We had no clients. Well, none that would pay us anything. For a while at least. They were on free trials. And when they did pay, it was small bikkies compared to our monthly costs. Cash crises, sleepless nights and arguments ensued. We almost went under, a few times, but ultimately were saved by our investors, who propped us up (put more money in) while we shaved costs (me and my fellow cofounder took no salary for months) and worked out how to make it work. This was when the business really began.

Disrupting an industry, and the way it has been doing things, is hard. Change happens slowly.

But one thing is central, and never goes away, even when people forget this during the hype and excitement of a new business or disrupter.

You are only going to succeed in business if you find a big problem your customers will pay you to solve.

That’s it.

I have met so many (too many) startup founders who have forgotten this central truth – as I did, when I set out.

Because unless you solve a problem for your customers, they will not pay you, and if they won’t pay you, you haven’t got a business.

Too many founders like to tell me the wonderful features of their app or website, gushing about all the things it can do for its users. Too few tell me what problem they are solving, and how customers will pay them to solve it.

CB Insights have published a report into why startups fail, based on 101 post mortems.

What’s top of the list? No market need. 42% of failures cited this as their number 1 reason for failing.

In other words, the customers were telling them they weren’t going to pay for whatever service was being provided, in sufficient numbers.

The number 2 reason? Running out of cash. Which is the same reason as #1. You need to allocate funds wisely, and be sensible, but overall if you had enough customers willing to pay you to solve their problems, you’d find a way to stay in business.

#3 is “wrong team”. Businesses are run by humans after all, and if they can’t get on, or work together, or have complementary skills, then things can get tougher than otherwise. But you should be able to get rid of the bad people, and hire better ones.

#4 is “being outcompeted”. Someone else beat you to it. Their product is better made or sold or solved the customer problem better (there’s that customer problem again).

#5 was “pricing/costing issues”. Do you offer a free trial, for how long? What packages will then be on offer? How good is your onboarding, and conversion of free to paid? It’s a dark art, and also a science.

Most of these and other reasons are all versions of the same essential issue – not understanding the customer and their problem.

Interestingly, the venture capitalist Bill Gross gave a TED talk in 2015 on this subject. His research showed that the single biggest reason startups succeeded was timing.

Too late, and you’re dead. Too early is better than too late, but it can be hard. Getting the timing right, when the customers and industry are ripe for the disruption you bring, is gold.

Timing, says Gross, is more important than getting the right team together, or the brilliance of your idea, plan or business model, the execution of the strategy or adaptability and resilience.

Rebekah Campbell, Hey You and Posse founder,  writing last week in the Fin Review argued that her startup mistake was raising money in the first place. Don’t raise money at all, she said, but get out there nice and lean, and be close to your customers.

You can argue and debate all this until the cows come home, but in the end, it’s all about the customer. Don’t even think of setting up a startup until you have cracked the big, hairy problem your customers are going to pay you to solve for them.

The rest will then follow naturally.

The full top 20 list is below

Freedom means a free press that you pay for

Have a look around the world at the less democratic countries, and there you will see a neutered or government-controlled press.

I was in a South-East Asian country last year on assignment, and the ruling government managed to put one of the main independent newspapers out of business declaring it had not paid its correct amount of tax. Within days, the owners had either fled the country or were in police hands. The paper was duly shut down. All staff were out of work. Within a few more weeks, the same government ruled the opposition party was illegal, and it was duly shut down. There are elections this year, it’s a slam dunk for the ruling party. It’s a sham for democracy and the people.

Having worked at a media company, I know what it is like to be inside a news operation, striving every day to ensure the correct facts are published. Readers have a right to know what is going on, which is why they are drawn to news media. Often the ‘truth’ is ambiguous, out of reach, fuzzy. It takes hard work and time to uncover it, especially when some people would prefer it left uncovered.

Opinion is cheap. Truth is expensive.

News media, run well, will hold the government and powerful of the day to account, lest they run amok. Politicians may not like the freedoms and protections of the press, the intrusions into their lives this entails, but they understand in their hearts that this is important in a democracy.

Great travesties of justice have been exposed by a free press, be it the Vietnam War (so beautifully portrayed in ‘The Post’ movie), or Catholic abuses of children (2015’s ‘Spotlight’ movie), or Watergate (‘All the Presidents’ Men’). In fact, it is interesting that these David and Goliath investigatory battles all make for dramatic movies.

In many ways, the press has it hard. Not only can information be blurry, but with the leach of classified ad income to the internet, the newspaper industry has also lost its ‘rivers of gold’ revenue. Faced with declining income, they have been forced to cut back on editorial staff, the very life blood of any upstanding news organisation. The rush to ‘click bait’ and hits has seen a rush to the bottom, allied to the polarisation of media such that viewers only switch on to – or read stuff – that affirms their preconceived ideas. The ‘truth’ is now not so important. Readership, and holding on to your readers come what may, is all that matters.

Thomas Jefferson once famously said:  “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Or, as the supreme court famously ruled on the Pentagon Papers case, “The press is to serve the governed, not the governors.”

No wonder dictactors and coup leaders take over the TV and news organisations first. Putin has Russia Today, and Trump has Fox News. Anything else, is fake news.

With a weakened press (around the world), the splintering of media and consumers just seeking what they want to hear, media is in about as weak position as it as ever been.

In order to grab attention, media organisations scream sensationalist headlines in order to cut through the noise. The rush to publish, by less trained and lower paid  juniors, means the ‘lie is half way around the world before the truth has got its pants on‘ (as Winston Churchill once opined).

As one Congressman said a few years ago, “You are welcome to your own opinion, but you are not welcome to your own facts.

Facts are facts. Proven. Scientific. Sourced. Part of history. Full stop.

People are switching off ‘The News’ as it’s always about bombs and deaths and disasters (fear). Fear sells. But it also puts the audience off, who want to be informed without being alarmed all the time.

In many ways, our world is safer than ever. There are less wars, less deaths, less die from disease and hunger, yet you would not know this from the TV news.

Something has to be done to save media (real media, one that seeks truth and holds truth to power) before it goes down the gurgler forever. For that’s where it’s heading. Slowly, but surely, the news industry is dying. Journalist jobs are disappearing, and once gone, are not coming back. It’s a race to extinction in ever decreasing circles.

One ray of hope is in the recent example the New York Times. Harangued by the US President (as the ‘failing NY Times’), the paper has actually put on an extra million paying subscribers over the past year. They now have more than 3.5M, that’s double the number of just 2 years ago. Thank goodness too, as their print ad revenue continues to decline.

What’s happened here is interesting, for the more the President rails against the ‘fake news’ media organisations it does not like, the more people flock to them and support and pay for the very same mastheads. The more the President is seen to be telling untruths (over 2000 in this first year alone, reportedly), the more people want to know the truth from a reputable source.

Asking people to PAY for news is incredibly brave, as there are thousands of web sites out there that give away news for free. So to see the NY Times do so spectacularly well behind a paywall is encouraging not only for their future, but also for the future of the medium overall.

I worked for a news organisation that made the bold step to put up a paywall way back in 2002, and erect an even stricter one in 2013. The result? Traffic to the site ROSE five-fold over the past 4 years and subscription income became the largest single revenue source (larger than advertising or events). So it can be done.

I would therefore argue that a free press is essential in a democracy (the so-called ‘Fourth Estate’), and that the only way to ensure its survival is to create content that readers value and pay for. In this way democracy flourishes. For without an informed public, how are we going to know who to elect? The US are discovering this the hard way right now it would seem…

Take it from Eddie Izzard – Quality is more important than Speed

Over the break I read Eddie Izzard’s excellent ‘Believe Me, a memoir of love, death and jazz chickens‘. Bill Gates, of all people, had recommended it as a top read, and I thought ‘now why would a serious bloke like Mr Gates be into the autobiography of an English cross-dressing comedian?’

Then I reached page 306, which I quote from heavily below.

Eddie Izzard was born a year before me, and was packed off to an English  private boarding school aged 6 after his mother died suddenly of cancer. He grew up with the same TV shows and music as I remember from the early 70s, and went to uni around the same time (although he dropped out to pursue his dream of performing).

As a teenager, while still at school, he decided one day to take a bus and a pay a visit – uninvited – to Pinewood Studios, just west of London (where they made James Bond movies and the like) walking right through the side door and exploring around all day pretending to be busy and part of things.

During his ‘lost decade’ of the 1980s he took various failed shows up to Edinburgh Fringe, then spent a few years as a street performer before finally getting into stand up. He explored and created, and slowly honed his craft. He put on shows himself, producing them from scratch and co-writing inventive nonsense with friends. Most of it simply did not work, but slowly he found his own voice and style and confidence and audience.

From the 1990s his stand up act took off and then he made it into films and TV. Now, in his mid 50s, looking back, his advice for creating new business is crystal clear …

“When I was 25, the direction of my career suddenly became shaped by my ‘Field of Dreams’ rule – if you build it, they will come. ‘It’ being quality and imaginative shows.

“Previously, this had not been my thinking. Quality was not high on my list. Speed was. But who the hell cares if you get somewhere fast? The only person who cares is you. 

“If you could get somewhere faster, then you’d just have a lot of money, a big house, a fast car and a big cat. The individual is the one who wants to get somewhere quickly. It’s what you want when you’re young. At nineteen I thought I would begin to cut through within a few years, but this was not the case. At 25 I was racing to get somewhere fast but getting nowhere.

“So I turned the plan upside down: don’t get somewhere as fast as possible. Get somewhere as good as possible.

“No one ever says, ‘This piece of creative work is crap, but it was made in a couple of weeks, so let’s go check it out.’ Contrariwise, no one ever says, ‘Now, this piece of creative work took 10 years to make and a lot of care and attention – so I must check it out because it took so long to make.’

“There is something fun about a fast trajectory, someone’s career taking off quickly. It’s all about the wind in their sails. But in the end, you want your work to last. And to do that, your work must be good…

“(My career) took 12 years to appear, and to me it felt like a bloody eternity… there was something I had to learn. It was stamina. And it was also the idea of quality over speed.

There is an eternal truth in this passage.

Do your best work, not your quickest work. It might take time. In fact, if you’re doing something new, wacky and disruptive, it will definitely take time. More time than you’d like. But in the end, only the best work wins. Keep plugging away, find your audience, keep innovating.

This experience and advice has obvious crossover to business and particularly startups. I think I can see why Bill Gates admires Mr Izzard.

While at the buffet table

On holiday we gorge ourselves at the hotel buffet breakfast, something we do not partake of in our normal daily routine back home.

You can learn a lot about human nature, other people and perhaps yourself at the buffet table. Or rather tables, because arranged across 3 rooms are tables of food of all types and shapes and tastes. It is interesting to watch people’s behaviour when they are presented with an unlimited amount of food. More food than they can hope to consume. Food that would not other otherwise come within miles of one’s normal breakfast table. I rationalize this feast by arguing that this will last us til dinner. And often this is the case. After breakfast, we might strike out on a tour and eat nothing again til evening time. Yet, even with this defense, my 3 course breakkie is greed to the extreme. Someone cooking omelettes to my instruction? Great. Fruit juice, coffee, toast, cheese, salad, bacon, roast potatoes (for breakfast?), noodles and yoghurt. Wow, I’m stuffed.

Before all this though is the “wait to be seated” instruction. This is plainly written at the entrance, but in an otherwise open plan dining area, this is problematical as holiday weary families emerge from all parts and miss the sign. Although this morning you could not miss the meaning as there was a distinct queue, and I was in it. Despite this, a burly Russian waddled up with his family in tow and plonked his plastic credit card room “key” down in a table that just 30 seconds earlier had been allocated to another family, who were now at the juice counter. The Asian staff quietly informed him that the table was someone else’s and pointed him to our queue. He stalked off muttering something in a surly fashion. Later I saw him walking around looking for something. Rather than ask a kindly waitress, he took a marmalade pot from an empty table as his. He showed no compunction at this, it was the done thing. The same way he ignored the queue and tried to abscond a table for himself earlier. I do not blame the Russian necessarily, but one thing I have noticed on this island is the amount of Russian and Chinese tourists, something that simply had not existed last time I visited in the mid 1990s. Signs and menus in local restaurants and bars are all in English, Russian and Chinese (and nothing else – not even in Thai.) The opening of their countries and increasing wealth to a privileged emerging middle class has allowed more of them to become tourists. Every second family in our hotel is Russian it would appear. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just an observation. It might show changing times and increasing influence of these countries. I think I’ve heard but one American accent. The culture shock for them might be quite strong. The etiquette of queuing is not ingrained. Yet.

Back at the buffet table, I notice someone recognizable next to me. He’s taller than I imagined, looks fit and ripped, but the face is a give away. It’s Mason Crane, the newly tested English leggie who delivered the worst bowling analysis of any debutant in history just last week in Sydney. Despite this, analysts think he has something. Didn’t Warnie go for 1 fer loads in his first test?

So what do you do when a world class sportsman is standing next to you? Well, if you’re English like me, you smile and say nothing. After all, he’s on holiday poor lad, he’s only 20, has his girlfriend and parents and a mate with him. So I move on down the buffet and take my seat. Proof, should you need it dear reader, is in the photo (as taken by my dear wife) …

The buffet breakfast is convenient for the weary traveller, who can stoke up before a hard day battling the crowds at local tourist spots or around the pool. It’s also economic for the hotel, who don’t need to wait on tables besides ensuring the trays of food are replenished and helping people with some replacement cutlery or marmalade pot. Or, in one case, vegemite for a middle aged Aussie.

In this way, the holiday buffet contract is complete, and we can waddle off self satisfied to whatever the day has in store for us. Perhaps a game of squash can assuage the guilt of the 3-course breakkie? Maybe, just maybe.

Make Maths and Science compulsory!

Dear reader, before we forge headlong into another new year with all its promises and possibilities, let us extend the space and perspective gifted to us this time of year to ponder an unpleasant fact.

Your typical Year 11 and 12 in WA may not take a Maths or a Science subject.

Not only that, the trend is going in the wrong direction. But before I get to this, I need to take you back in time, and give you some international perspective…

The UK, Singapore and Australia

It is well proven that economic growth derives from investments in education, science and technology.

For 13 straight years, I taught Economics, Maths and Business subjects to IGCSE and A-Level (in the UK), then the International Baccalaureate (in an international school in Singapore) and finally Economics and Management (at TEE level, the forerunner of ATAR) in an independent boys’ PSA school in Western Australia.

I am now a parent of two secondary school age children.

This perhaps affords me a unique international and personal perspective on the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects to Year 11 and 12.

As for the IB Diploma, a full ATAR course requires 6 subjects, but does not stipulate any required subjects, beyond taking English. The best 4 results are then used for uni entrance, which means you can bomb out (or even drop altogether) 1 or 2 of your 6 subjects and it does not affect your ATAR score (which is a ranking of all the Year 12 results in WA in order – the top student(s) will score 99.95. In 2017, 16 students managed this).

Under the IB Diploma though you cannot drop any subjects and still graduate with a diploma. In the UK, you can’t drop an A-Level and still expect to go to a university.

Everything matters. An important lesson one might think.

IB’s all-round strength

Comparing the three systems I have taught in, I can state categorically that the IB diploma provides a far superior all-round education (as compared to someone doing 3 A Level subjects or ATAR). I am not alone in that view.

IB students have to choose a Language & Literature subject, a Maths, a Science, a Humanity, a second language and an Art subject… choosing 3 at a Higher Level, and 3 as Subsidiary for the full diploma. You might do 5 hours of study in a Higher subject a week, and 3 in a subsidiary, plus home work of course.

IB diploma students also take ‘Theory of Knowledge’, a fantastic grounding course in culture, psychology, ethics & law… how we know things to be true, or not. Plus, students write an extended essay (a research thesis) in one of the main higher subjects, and have to do a certain amount of recorded ‘Community, Action and Service’ activities – such as sport, travel and community work.

The end product is a highly well educated, holistic graduate, ready for what the world or university has to offer.

The school I taught at in Singapore produced some of the highest IB results in the world. Half the world’s IB diploma students that graduate with a perfect score (45/45) are from Singapore. The pass rate in Singapore is 98% (globally it’s 80%).

Coming from this to teaching TEE in WA, I felt the educational standards were lower than in Singapore, even though I was teaching at one of the top boys’ private schools in Perth, 80% of whom go on to study BComm at UWA.

STEM Decline

Wind on a few years, and I was shocked to discover that recent trends show a declining number of Maths and Science being studied in WA, with a significant proportion of students studying neither subject area. This something I’ve blogged about before.

To recap: the average number of science subjects taken by Year 12 WA students declined from 1.41 to 0.66 between 1986 and 2012. (Report: Optimising STEM Education in WA Schools, TEAC/ECU, 2013). That’s halved!

The average number of maths subjects taken declined from 0.92 to 0.69 between 1992 and 2012. That’s 50% down.

The reports also note that there is also a lack of STEM qualified teachers (too often teachers are teaching out of their training area just to get someone in front of a class), and we don’t even have a database of what qualifications STEM teachers currently have. If you don’t measure the problem, you can’t manage it.

Just think about this. The average year 12 student does not even take one maths or one science subject. If you randomly chose 3 students, perhaps you’d see 2 Maths and 2 Science subjects between them.

In other countries, such as one of our closest neighbours Singapore, students record among the best results in maths and science globally. There is serious investment in education and a drive (by students and parents) to get the best results. It’s embedded in the culture, and in many ways Singapore, with few natural resources (land, minerals, food, water…) to speak of, has had to invest in its people to survive, and thrive. Despite this disadvantage, Singapore’s GDP per capita is above Australia’s. In 1980, Australia’s GDP per capita was twice that of Singapore.

It’s a global marketplace… even in Perth

Our current and future year 12 graduates are moving into a globally connected, super competitive world of work. They will not only have to compete with each other, and unseen millions in other countries, but also with technology such as AI, that may be able to do their jobs quicker, cheaper and faster.

Of course, there will be well paid jobs in the future in our State, but these will go to the most-rounded, grounded, bright young things who can show that they can work in teams, show initiative on their own, handle complexity, communicate well and design and solve problems. From wherever they come from.

To think that many WA school graduates will not have a grounding in Maths or Science is worrying. STEM pervades everything, (or STEAM or ESTEAM or whatever you want to call it). It will be the building block. It will be necessary, but not sufficient.

Stop the Chicken!

As I have learnt in life, you get what you reward, so be careful what you reward.

If uni entrance is determined by the best 4 of pretty much any 6 ATAR subjects you can muster together, then you can bet parents and their children will pick whatever seems easiest to game the system. And they do.

We have to stop this short term ‘chickening out’ to less academic ATAR subjects at Years 11 and 12 to merely boost the ATAR score and ‘play the uni entrance game’. Everyone who goes through the last 2 years of schooling should spend at least 1/6th of their time on Maths, and 1/6th on at least one Science subject. That’s not a lot to ask is it?

I am amazed I even need to argue this. Other countries make it so, the IB makes it so. We will be left behind in the global marketplace, and we will not be doing the right thing for our children and our state either if we look the other way on this one.

Another disturbing factor is that those in lower socio-economic areas are even less likely to follow maths or science through to school end. We are developing a divide in society where the better off students will have access to more STEM subjects, will do better at them, all because of the postcode they were born and grew up in. This has to be wrong.

ONE Recommendation

Therefore, I make one simple proposal – make Maths and Science compulsory through Year 11 and 12. Parents, I am talking to you!

This is above politics. I am not criticising or proposing changes to government policy. Yes, some people will ignore my call. People don’t like change, especially if their little cherubs are involved. But sometimes, with right on your side, you can make the argument.

~~

Some Resources:

Answer to question posted above:

9   –   3  /   1/3  +   1

The division (BODMAS*) is done first, so 3 divided by 1/3 = 9

= 9   –  [ 3 /  1/3]   +   1

= 9 – 9 + 1

= 1

* brackets, operations, division, multiplication, addition, then finally subtraction

And the Cup? well, you got that right? I love Maths forever (as the square root of 16 is 4).

Giving

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” ~ Winston Churchill

I trust your Christmas was fine and dandy, spent relaxing and  re-energising, in the company of good friends and family.

When you get to a certain age, Christmas is less exciting than when you were a child. Yet it’s a wonderful time nonetheless: the time to rest after a long year, time when you can de-stress, sit back and put your feet up, read a book, down a nice bottle of wine in good company, crank up the barbie, get some odd jobs done, go places you’ve put off going to for months, walk the dog a few more times, go to an outdoor cinema, catch up with friends, watch some Big Bash, dip in the pool and laze at the beach. It’s pretty idyllic this time of year in Perth. I ain’t going anywhere.

To spend Christmas with children provides a glimpse back to your own childhood, as they get as excited as ever, counting down the days til the 25th and not being able to sleep the night before.

On the day itself, I am happy to receive a few gadgets (oww, I do love me gadgets me) and a couple of books to read. My favourite bit is to watch my family open each other’s presents . We don’t go at it hammer and tongs, we try to space it out in the two hours or so between waking up and starting the preparation of the traditional roast turkey lunch.

What was different this year was that my eldest (now 16) has her own money, and organised some gifts for her brother, parents and a few friends. It was fascinating to see the joy that giving gave her. She was genuinely delighted in seeing us love what she’d bought us. She put a lot of thought into what she’d get everyone. The fact that she’d planned it all out, used her own money, wrapped and delivered it meant something to her.

Anyone can receive, but to give is far more meaningful. As children grow up into young adults and branch out into the world, they will realise that to serve others – whether it’s friends, colleagues, bosses, clients or shareholders – requires a little giving up of self and thinking about the other person. The best team mates will be selfless, as will the best leaders.

It’s a life lesson. Perhaps one of the most important to learn.