Left to their own devices

I could leave you, say good-bye. I could love you if I try, and I could, and left to my own devices I probably would,” sang The Pet Shop Boys in 1988.

It’s not one of the best songs ever written, but the ‘left to my own devices’ stuck in my mind, and, these days we are often left to our devices, of a different kind. We all have various (mobile) devices, and we reach for them with increasing alacrity these days. That’s fine, I assume, as long as we are performing our main functions, such as conversing with our fellow human beings, giving attention to our friends and family, doing some meaningful work and getting out and about in the sunshine every now and again.

The question is, how much is the next generation on their devices, and is that good, or bad? As parents, it can be easy to plonk the iPad in front of the children to entertain them at the restaurant, or when we want some peace. But what message does this send? That, when eating out, we don’t want them to converse across the table? That their needs and questions are of no import? What kind of parenting is that?

A few years ago, Taiwan introduced a law restricting the amount of time children should have on screens and devices. Apart from the obvious issue of how on earth do you police such a thing, was Taiwan correct in doing so, and if so, why? Juveniles, so said the new law, “may not constantly use electronic products for a period of time that is not reasonable,”  which begs the question, how much time is “not reasonable“? Parents and guardians could be fined up to A$2,000 or so if found in breach of the law.

I expect the answer is somehow in a happy medium. 6 to 9 hours a day glued to a screen, I think we all can agree, is not healthy. Kids need to get out and run about, climb trees, play sport, ride bikes, interact, and get up to all kinds of nuisance. Is it that we (helicopter) parents are buzzing around too much these days, not allowing kids to be kids? Local comedian Griff Longley certainly thinks so, and he has set up a not for profit organisation Nature Play that encourages parents and their kids to get out doors and do stuff. Like make cubbies. Whatever, just get out there and do things. Together. Unstructured. Like we used to. “It’s OK to stuff up and have stuffups”, says Longley. Dang right. It builds resilience, it’s how we learn.

I wonder if the screens are just an easy babysitter option, or actually serve some positive purpose for the children? Simply taking them away is not the answer. The devices are out there, everyone has them, and to deprive children of them is to hold them back compared to their peers. Certainly, there needs to be some happy balance between active play and iPad consumption. Certain hours of ‘screen time’ can be negotiated, depending if it’s a school night, weekend or holiday. Screen time can include all screens, TV, play stations, Wii and mobile devices.

For younger kids, I’m a fan of the Family Zone service, which can be set up on every device, and provides screening of everything the child does online, limiting access to questionable sites, and allowing the parent to set times when devices can be used, and when they can’t, anywhere. I’ve found children are fine with rules, as long as they are clearly explained, and consistently enforced.

In this digital age, we shouldn’t ban our kids from being online, or becoming confident with technology. It is going to be a huge part of their living and working lives. They should certainly understand there is a place for devices, and certain times when they are put away. The precise rules, I reckon, like everything, are up to the parent and child themselves to negotiate and enact.

Leaving them to their own devices, I certainly would not.

Go jump off a ledge!

A few weeks ago, I gave the address at the UWA graduation, 18 years after I had graduated there in the same hall. Here’s my speech… and here’s a link to watch (from the 16 minute mark of the night)

Well, what an occasion.

For those of you graduating tonight, smile, take selfies in your gown and finetune your snapchat stories.

You deserve it, it’s your night. Well done.

Parents and friends, you should feel justifiably proud of your charges spread out in their finery before us.

For UWA is a top university, already firmly placed in the top 100 globally, and as if that is not enough, has set out its stall to break into the top 50.

No one will be able to take away this degree they have earned, and strived for, and shed frustrating tears for.

It’s there, letters after their name, forever. Well done.

And for those of you robed professors behind me, I haven’t forgotten about you either.
I know you’ve sat through these interminable things for more years than you dare to count.
You deserve a self-satisfied Cheshire cat smile, and so please, in your amazing extravagant felt & silly hats borne of a different era, sit back, kick off and relax, because I will only be 7 minutes.

If there’s a theme for my brief talk this evening, it’s go jump off a ledge.

Every now and again I implore you to look about, smell the air, nod knowingly to the safe well-trodden path and simply go jump off a ledge.

Not in actuality, just figuratively. I have only once (actually) jumped off a ledge.

It was many years ago. 1981.

I was painting the roof on my parent’s 2-storey house back in the west of England where I grew up.
I was 18, between school and university, what I laughingly referred to as my gap year.

The Ashes was on the radio, Ian Botham was singlehandedly toying with the Australian cricket team, and I was somewhat distracted.

Balancing on the moss-covered tiles, I felt myself slowly slipping downwards and had but a few seconds to examine my predicament.

As my feet came to the edge of the building, I leapt and somehow made it onto the driveway without injury.

So NO, dear parents and friends, I am not urging your newly bestowed to throw themselves off the nearest actual ledge they can find, but I am asking them to have a think about doing so, when, metaphorically, they have a choice.

Leap at certain times in your life, and often when you feel most comfortable. In fact, especially when you feel most comfortable.

It’s perhaps the best advice I can give you.

For it’s when you push yourself that you perform at your best, discover what’s new, achieve the most and have more fun.

In Easter 1999 I was sitting where you are today, a freshly minted graduate, top of my class indeed, with an MBA from this very university.

I’d never topped anything in my life, as my Dad seemed amused enough to remind me on countless occasions.

A few weeks later I was walking down a beach in Esperance with my wife Lisa. I had been quiet for a few days, something you may gather is rare for me, so Lisa knew something was up.
I’d been thinking.

I stopped in the pristine white sand, turned to her and said: “I know I have to use this MBA. I have to use this and do something else, but the trouble is, I have no idea what I should do. I’m a school teacher, I’ve never been in business…”

Before I had barely said any of that, Lisa said “Go for it.”

You know you’ve married the right person when you get a response like that. Well of course I knew that many years before, but you know what I mean.

I was Head of Commerce at Hale School, and had an MBA.

Now I was arguing to throw that all away, and for what? To do what?

I had no clue. Should I leap out in management consulting as so many MBA grads do? How could I do that, without any business experience? Should I start up a company? How is that possible? Get a job – if so what? What jobs are there for ex school teachers?

All these things ran around my troubled mind for many weeks after.

Then, the idea that became aussiehome.com appeared. The world’s first map-based real estate website, launched here in Nedlands, a stone’s throw from this very hall, by 2 UWA grads.

It was very tough convincing real estate agents to post properties on our website back in 1999, let alone keep them updated and then pay for the privilege.

I know you don’t remember 1999, most of you were not even 5 years old, but stay with me.

Over time, our little internet business grew. Real estate agents were getting enquiries, and after a few years, we were profitable, paying dividends to our plucky shareholders and then after 10 years, we sold the business, lock stock and barrel, to REIWA.

REIWA took on all our staff as employees, and shareholders received a cash exit.

None of this would have happened without me jumping off that comfortable ledge I had at Hale School.

After 3 years at REIWA, I jumped again, this time into Business News to help them with their digital transformation. A few years later I was made CEO.

After 4 more years and just a few WEEKS ago, I jumped yet again, and finally I did get to set up my own consulting business.

I simply don’t know this will go, I’m only in week two, but have already secured my first paying customer, which has me flying to Cambodia next week, and a second client as of this morning.
So, you get the picture.

Your 20s are for experimentation – with your career I mean – you may move a few times and that’s fine. You have bucket loads of time on your side.

Even if a few moves don’t work out, you have plenty of time to recover. You may be embarking on a 50-year career.

So don’t settle, keep moving forward.

And when a ledge presents itself, take a leap.

If it does not appear, create one, and jump anyway.

Because that’s how WA built its sizeable resources industry, through a pioneering spirit, and that’s how we will build our future economy, in health, tourism, education, agriculture, technology and all the rest.

In fact, with the rapid rate of change these days, we don’t even have an option. UWA should be handing out parachutes with those fancy gowns you’re all wearing, or maybe they really are a parachute after all?

When I was a kid, a favourite west country insult was: “Go take a long walk off a short pier”.

In other words, UWA graduates, go jump off a ledge!

The $10 challenge

making the most of your resources

As a team exercise, you are given $10 and told to turn that into as much money as you can in a month. What would you do?

I used to give my management and marketing class (Year 10s) this challenge in their first lesson, and see what they would come up with. They’d be given some basic rules (no gambling, no begging, nothing illegal or immoral) and they’d have to work as a team to come up with a hypothetical solution. I wouldn’t actually give them $10 and they wouldn’t have to go through with it.

I’d sit back and watch. Some formed teams quite well, a natural leader emerged. A few ideas were thrown around, tested and they quite quickly came up with a few that needed further exploring.  Some groups saw it as an easy ‘doss’ lesson, sat back and did little. The noise rose. Other flicked pencils. It was quite different to how they’d been used to be taught, and they probably thought I was a little bit wacko.

I checked in from time to time, circulated around the groups, but other than that pretty much let them get on with it. For a double lesson a week they could work on this, plus some homework, and after 4 weeks they had to prepare their written plan, and a presentation with visual aids. They could decide who did the writing, who did the speaking, who did the visuals. In their other weekly lessons I taught some skills that might be useful, but did not make the link too blatant. The brightest realised I was helping them along, some others thought this was a proper lesson and took notes, but did not apply it to the $10 challenge.

When the day for presentations arrived, the groups that had slacked off relied on bravado and ad libbing to get them through. Their presentations were faulty, minimal, there was little thought and they mainly limbered along to an end, usually well before time. The others that had taken it more seriously went through some of the possible solutions, before building up a case for their best options. I gave a trophy to the best solution.

I did not care which solution they came up with, it was more the process I was interested in. From it, I could see their beginning level on leadership, team work, resourcing, budgetting, planning, risk taking, scenario planning, costs and benefit analysis, culture … pretty much anything relating to business and management really. During the year, the exercise became a rich vein of examples to refer back to. Later, some would tell me, ‘I wish I’d taken that more seriously, Mr G.’ Right.

I was at another one of those innovation breakfasts the other day (it is the topic du jour  after all) and I heard Shaun Gregory (Senior Vice President at Woodside) talk about a similar $10 challenge given to final year Stanford University students. ‘Turn $10 into as much as you can in a month, and come back and tell us how much you made and how.’

One group bought a few bike pumps and pumped up student bikes for money around campus, and had made $100 or so by the time of the presentations. Smart. Industrious. 10x return (less labour costs.)

Another took reservations in popular Silicon Valley restaurants and then sold these off for money to the highest bidders. They did not even spend their $10, but had a few hundred dollars by the end of it. Clever.

The winning group thought quite laterally. They sold off their own presentation spot to the company that wanted to present to the Stanford Uni graduating students. Top Valley companies compete for the best and brightest talent, and pay huge fees to research companies, sign on bonuses and countless internal hours in search. Here was a golden chance to pitch their business to the elite grads. The winning company paid many thousands for the chance.

We don’t even need to teach entrepreneurship to 15 year olds (or even under grads), we just need to give them the opportunity to have a go. We need to tell them it’s OK to have a go, to fail, to set up a company, to try to solve a problem, to look at things differently. We learn by doing. We need to say it’s OK to have the aspiration to be a lawyer or a doctor or a plumber or a singer or a social worker or a teacher, but also an entrepreneur. We need to celebrate entrepreneurship and success. Those that have a go. Those that take a quantified risk.

Here’s a final thought. If the $10 was ‘your life’, how are you going to make the most of it…?

How can I be a better…?

Marshall Goldsmith in action

Marshall Goldsmith in action at the Hyatt on Tuesday. Photo: Attila Csaszar

On Monday, I had the privilege to spend an hour with Marshall Goldsmith, one of the leading executive coaches on the planet and 3 times NYT best selling author.

I was struck by his humility, sense of purpose and joyfulness. As someone once wrote about him, in the dictionary against the word ‘Joy’ is a picture of Marshall. His smile lit up the room and convulsed his whole face.

He was in in town courtesy of AIM WA for a one day conference, and I had a precious hour the afternoon before to interview him for a Business News article.


Me and Marshall

His central point was that to become a better leader, manager, CEO or even person, you have to do the simple things well everyday. “Becoming better involves doing some easy things, which in essence are very straightforward; but actually doing them consistently, every day, that’s hard.”

It’s so easy to let things distract us, let the day or the week or month get away from us, and we never really do the things we should be doing, the things we set out to do. Losing weight is easy in itself, it means do more of the right exercise and eat the right diet, but this invariably involves tremendous discipline, and that is really, really hard.

Read about all this interview in my article, but one thing I did not write about was something he said to me at the very end of my time with him … and it was immensely powerful, in a personal ‘smack you in the chest’ way:


“Now, I bet your company listens to your customers right? You survey them? Maybe hold focus groups, listen to what they say about you?” he asked.

I nodded, and he went on quickly …

“… You think that’s important to give them great service? To find out what they want, so you can act on what they say? ”

Obviously, I thought, but I had an feeling this was leading me somewhere uncomfortable, into a trap …

“… you realise it’s important for your business to be responsive to your customers?”

“Yeah, ” I said, “critically important, we’ve implemented NPS scores, which I send around the team, and we have an NPS wall which gets updated on the latest feedback.”

“Right,” he said, “Now, are you married, with kids?” he asked me.

Interesting change in direction, I thought.

“Yes, 21 years, and we have 2 lovely kids, a girl aged 14 and boy 12”, I replied.

“Great!”, he said, “now when was the last time you asked your wife how you can be a better husband?”

Ouch! This is where he was heading.

“Errrr… not sure I have ever actually said that in so many words,” I blathered.

“…Or asked your kids how you can be a better Dad?”

Hmmmm, nope, probably not done that either.

“So, ” he went on, “how about asking your wife later today that question, and your kids? Do you think you’d know what they’d say?”

“Errr… “, I was still recovering from this direct question to the solar plexus, “I reckon my kids would say they want more time with me, and I have no idea what my wife would say – probably, again more ‘her and me’ alone time, going out together, etc.”

“Try it tonight” said Marshall, “it’s funny isn’t it that we ask questions to our customers, who, let’s be honest, we don’t really care about one to one, but to those we love most, we don’t ask these questions?”

“I only say it to make the point – doing these things is not hard in and of themselves, but it’s hard to actually implement, and we don’t tend to do it.”

I asked him how many people say they have asked their kids and wife this, and what replies he gets.

“Most have not asked it, but some have. Once you get past the kids saying ‘more toys or money’, what they really want it is for you to turn off your devices and give them more attention. Be careful asking your wife though, as sometimes it makes you look guilty, like you’re having an affair or something! Why otherwise would you ask such a guilt-laden question?!”

So, I went back that night and asked my wife and kids about how I could be a better Dad/husband. Once we chatted, the kids definitely spoke about attention. My wife, bless her, is still getting back to me … it could be a long list!


BTW, it’s Marshall Goldsmith’s birthday today – happy birthday Marshall! 

Top Photo – Attila Csaszar, Business News.

Sexism’s about power, not sex

sexist headlines

Sexism is about power: guess which way George Clooney’s marriage was reported?

A sleazy chat-up line live on TV from T20 cricketer Chris Gayle to a female sports reporter was all the news this week, but in all the analysis, defensive and offensive, something seemed to be missing: a clear definition of the crime he was committing… Sexism.

Sexism is prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination against women, on the basis of sex.

What is missing from this definition is the background: power usually rests with the men, and they use this power to keep women down (whether deliberately, accidentally or by design). They do it in the workplace, and across many industries, and have done so since time immemorial. It does not make it right, but it’s still happening. For the past two decades, women have been paid about 83% of what men earn across the nation. Women tend to be pushed into the lower paid, usually temporary or casual ‘caring’ industries, find it difficult to climb the corporate ladder (only 17% of CEOs are women) and make up a small minority of senior management and Boards. They rarely find positions of power. And when they do, they can be subject to further torrents of abuse. Think Julia Gillard.

In the same way ageism is not about age, it’s about power, and racism is not about race, it’s about power, so sexism is all about power, and not about sex.

Gayle probably clumsily thought he was being ‘sexy’ (not sexist), and possibly funny. He laughed it off at the time (laughter probably through embarrassment at the way Mel Mclaughlin visibly recoiled to his unwanted advances) to which he then quickly followed with a “Don’t blush baby”, further demeaning his victim. Live on TV. She had the presence of mind to say strongly “I’m not blushing” and ended the interview as soon as she could. Within a few minutes, the three (always male) commentators in the box apologised to the audience for Gayle’s comments, and nobly stuck up for Ms Mclaughlin.

The following day Gayle was fined for “inappropriate comments” in what his club called a “one-off incident”. Yet within hours many other people (not only women, but also fellow male players) came forward recounting stories of similar, if not worse, behaviour from the West Indian, over many years. Others in the media felt he should be banned, at least for one game, never invited back to the Big Bash (due to the shame he brought on it) and that a $10,000 fine was immaterial to the multi millionaire player.

Gayle, rather begrudingly, apologised at a hastily arranged and very swift ‘doorstop’ at the airport that day, which Ms Mclaughlin accepted, yet he then posted an Instagram photo making light of the affair.

He clearly hadn’t learnt anything. If you want to judge the man, look at it his Instagram account… or rather don’t, as it’s just a stream of selfies of him beaming with shirt on, shirt off, in various locations around the world, bling shining. You get the picture.

Typically, a backlash then came from those who thought this was all too dramatic a reaction to what was a ‘joke’, a ‘lighthearted moment’. Are we becoming ‘too PC’ now, bleated some? Some other Gayle apologists even claimed the situation was ‘cultural’. Puhleeze. Gayle is a man of the world, and in any case, wherever you work, you have to be aware and sensitive to its own culture. You can’t impose your own.

Sadly, Ms Mclaughlin’s career will now be known for this incident, not for the work she does and the career she has carefully built to date. To be accosted in this way, live in front of hundreds of thousands, and then repeated for millions more, around the world, will define her. She did not ask for this, expect it, or deserve it. This was her place of work.

And this is where the ‘power’ bit comes in.

In demeaning her as interviewer, and someone who merely has ‘lovely eyes’ and maybe could ‘have a drink later’ with him, Gayle was treating her as someone in a pick up joint, a piece of fluff, not a serious journalist. This was not some sleazy night club. Yet he behaved as if it was. He was putting her down, he was in the position of power, and he was demonstrating that over her. It had connotations beyond the immediate situation. Context was everything. At best it was cringeworthy, at worst it was a totally irresponsible and clear sexist act, and a terrible example to set to those many hundreds of thousands of younger, impressionable cricket fans watching.

The central point is that if he’d done this to a male interviewer, it would not have had the same power dynamic. With the power context absent, there can be no sexism. Women cannot be sexist to men, unless they are in a position of power over them, and using their gender as an excuse to put them down. Sexism is usually inflicted on women, as it’s the men who usually hold the power.

People who refuse to hire or promote someone simply because they are female are abusing their power over them and discriminating on grounds of sex (= sexism), in the same way someone who refuses to hire someone merely because they are too young or old are being ageist (assuming age is irrelevant and the person is suitably qualified), or purely on racial background are being racist. This is illegal! And rightly so.

Gayle obviously doesn’t get this at all, even after all the reaction to the incident. In fact, although he will probably be more careful in interviews in future, I bet this has hardened his views, rather than taught him an important lesson. If I’d been his boss, I would have immediately banned him for a game, and put him through some training which clearly taught him what sexism was, and why people were outraged. If he’d then shown humility and understanding, I would then re-engage him for the rest of the season (although his team probably only has 2 more games left in any case). I doubt I’d ask him back the following year.

Context is King

It is clear that the women have been held back in almost entirely male orientated industry (female sports journalists are relatively few and far between) and a sport that has been almost completely male dominated for 150 years (women’s cricket is only now slowly gaining some acknowledgement). Women journalists and cricketers have to put up with incredibly oafish behaviour (again, demeaning, which is designed to keep them down) that their male counterparts would simply not have to endure.

For more excellent analysis of this situation and examples, read this from Marina Hyde or this from Russell Jackson in the Guardian this week, and this from Cricinfo’s Raf Nicholson (written in 2014).

Behaviours are set early

Dickensian pick pocketers

The passing of Alan Bond this week has made many think back to the decade of the ’80s with its big hair and even bigger, brasher entrepreneurs. It was the decade that saw a new generation of leaders in Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Richard Branson come into their own (their companies still hold sway to this day), and downunder it was Bondy, Skasey, Murdoch & Packer.

Reading Paul Barry’s book, The Rise and Fall of Alan Bond (pub. 1991), made you realise that Bondy had been up to his old tricks way back when he was a sign writer and wannabee businessman. Legend has it that having seen For Sale/Sold signs go and up and down on various developments around Perth, Alan realised he was in the wrong game. The serious money was being made in property development, not in sign boards. Allegedly, the various deals he started making back then were just as risky, as he flew close to the wind many, many times, and made enemies and riches in equal measure. He was the consummate salesman, a bit loud, full of himself and convincing, and every now and again struck gold.

In 1983 I visited Australia for the first time. The bright sun, land of opportunity and, yes, brashness, appealed to this 20 year old back packing uni student. I lobbed up in Brisbane where my brother had been working for a year (he’s still there, 30 years on). The Commonwealth Games had just happened, and of course it was the time of the famous America’s Cup win (which did wonders for WA, Fremantle and Bond Corporation in particular). The USA had won the Cup continuously since 1851. No more. Bondy bankrolled this fourth attempt at resting it from their hands, and won. He made sure he cashed in too, and all went well (Bond Towers, 6X Brewery, Channel 9 and van Gogh’s Irises among some notable deals) until the stock market crash of 1987 exposed the problems within his vast empire. To keep things going he had illegally taken $1.3 billion in cash from one business to prop up another, an action that would land him up in jail for 3-4 years.

4 years in jail is what another sometime Perth businessman ended up with this week. A Perth court found that Bill Ardrey had faked $394,000 of consultants’ fees paid by a company he was a non-executive director of. The money was going to him. He had put up an elaborate web of deceit to cover his tracks, even faking a stroke in an attempt to stay out of court. (As with Mubarak of Egypt, Milosevic of Serbia and Alan Bond, an imminent court appearance can often herald sudden illness). It was sad to hear of his misdeeds. I had met Bill at UWA when he was completing a PhD. He sometimes subbed for lecturers if they were away, and he was an odd looking but amusing presenter, with a mix of humour and what seemed a little like shyness. I remember once he rushed through a 3-hour lecture to have it all done in 75 minutes. He wanted to get off early, and I suppose so did we. I met him a few times years later, in Singapore, where he and I did some occasional lecturing for UWA. He was good company, but had those ‘shifty eyes’, which I put down to shyness, but perhaps hid something he was up to. On the night I won a 40under40 Award in 2003, so did he. Whatever the ins and outs of the case, it’s sad to see someone fall so badly, and make the mistakes he must have made that led him to the court last week.

I feel sorry for the families of those affected by these deeds, the companies and people defrauded. I never met Bond, but I bet he was charming company. Great salespeople (and great fraudsters, and Bondy was Australia’s biggest fraudster) always are. These behaviours are often set in stone early in life.

In a footnote, it seems odd though that Bill gets 4 years in jail for $400k, the same as Alan for $1.3billion. If jail time was linked to dollars, Bondy would have had 13,000 years. Or Bill would have had half a day. Maybe he’ll get out early with good behaviour.

The best education …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Other States are now seriously looking at the IPS system.

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

Stones keep rollin on


Stones in full flight last Wednesday night


The famous logo shining out from Perth Arena

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

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


Jagger strutting as Jagger does

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

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

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


Keif slow-mo’g a chord


Charlie purse lipped


Ronnie being Ronnie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roll on.

The Night we dined with Dame Edna

{ Lisa and I with the Grand Dame, on stage, March 1999 }

{ Lisa and I with the Grand Dame, on stage, March 1999 }

Fifteen years ago, Lisa and I attended an unforgettable ‘Night with Barry Humphries‘ at the Regal Theatre with a few friends. Having just graduated with my MBA I was back teaching full time and for some reason I was not enjoying it anymore. I didn’t know why, but I was getting around to the notion that a career change might be in order. A night out with Dame Edna and other characters would be the levity I needed.

As we took our seats (in the second row) a sinking feeling came upon me. Known for ripping into his audience and making them part of the ‘entertainment’, I was not sure I was in the mood for public humiliation. The first half proceeded without incident, although I do remember that Mr Humphries was looking in my direction every now and again – sizing up his prey no doubt for the second half?

My worst fears were realised as Dame Edna bounded out to the second half with the lights going UP on the first rows of the audience. We suddenly felt very exposed, and increasingly, warm. A few minutes in, the Dame went along our row asking whether we’d had anything for dinner. As it got to me I blurted out something or other and for some reason this got a laugh. Edna rounded on me, inviting me to give more details, and wondering aloud if we might still be hungry. “Oh, they really are a lovely couple, ladies and gentlemen, shall we order them a meal?”. This he promptly did, live on stage. A gold plated telephone was produced on a silver platter: “Oh hello? Is this the Subi hotel? Agh yes, this is Dame Edna Everidge here, and I would like to order a chicken pasta, with a nice bottle of white, and a salad for this charming couple …”.

‘You’re in for it now‘ my friends whispered. We sunk lower in our chairs. Dame Edna continued her routine. About 20 minutes later the meal arrived and was set up on a table to the right hand side of the stage, red and white checked table cloth and all. “Agh where’s the lovely couple?” asked the Dame, and we were enticed up onto the stage.

Now I was quite used to performing, and ‘sort of OK’ with this, but I was more worried about Lisa, who I knew might not be relishing what was about to happen. The old pro in Barry Humphries instinctively sensed this planting a huge lipstick kiss on her cheek (see photo) and making us both feel very much at home. He sat down with us at the table on stage, carried on with his act, and kept what I can only describe as a ‘motherly interest’ in how our meal was going over the next 40 minutes (I was too nervous to eat, but I enjoyed a few glasses of wine) .

We had the best seats in the house – on stage! He was masterful in his performance, and seeing it up close like this was a special treat. I don’t think Lisa or I will ever forget it.

What a pro.

What was even weirder was later that night, on returning home I listened to a message on the phone. It was Nick, someone I’d got to know on the MBA, who had had a business idea for an online map-based real estate business. “It’s a great idea Charlie“, the message went on, “you and I have gotta do it“.

Yes, the same night as being hauled on stage with Dame Edna, the ‘aussiehome.com’ idea was born. I was ready for the change, and as the Dame was used to saying, “That’s spooky darling”. Sometimes things just happen, and in the strangest ways.

Not here for a haircut

The Donald

The Donald – and that famous haircut

A cricket coach of mine used to turn up to training, survey the scene and pronounce “C’mon boys, get organised, we’re not here for a haircut!” We would all groan and start our stretches.

“Not here for a haircut” has become a favourite saying. I use it a lot. It’s quirky and punches through. It raises a smile, and it’s better than saying “come on guys, get your **** in gear” or stating the ‘bleedin obvious‘ Basil Fawlty style.

Traditional Pub Scene. Man asks other “want another beer mate?”. “Not here for a haircut” comes the response. Beers duly ordered. Scene ends.

Well travelled Aussie folk band ‘Rough Red‘ has just released their new album ‘Not Here for a Haircut’. Where did the name come for the album, asked the reporter? Steve Tyson, band member explains ~

We’ve had this saying floating around in the band for years. After a gig, or sitting on a canal in a café in Amsterdam, someone will say, “Are we going to have a drink?” And the response will usually be, “Well, we’re not here for a haircut.”

Traditional use.

I found this Youtube video showing another band playing their jazz ditty: Not Here for a Haircut – Elad Mileikowsky on tenor sax  is awesome.

My boy was bemoaning his new (tougher) basketball coach the other day. ‘He shouted at us and told us to get moving‘. “Well, you’re not there for a haircut” came my response. [Translation: suck it up lad, put more effort in and listen to your coach.]

Looking around business life, I see many people seemingly there for a haircut. Life is not going to hand it to you on a plate. Stop sitting around looking/sounding clever for effect. A haircut occurs every 2 to 3 months, the rest of the time, you are literally NOT there for a haircut.