Walking a Mile in the Shoes of an Old(er) Person

At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet
— Plato

One of the great challenges of age is empathy. As a child, I viewed my father not as the young, vigorous man that he was, but as an old man. A keeper of knowledge and secrets.

As a young man I saw my elders as fixed barriers. As red traffic lights that would never turn green.

But as many of us do, I was using the lens of my youth to view the world. I saw slowness where there was none. I wore my impatience like a badge of honour. And I favoured action over strategy.

But worse.

I reined in my imagination. I conformed thought to structure. I shrank at the point that I should have expanded. And I did so out of a paucity of love.

But it was in my impoverishment that I received the greatest gift. Time and attention was bestowed upon me without expectation of return. And I learned, to my surprise, that my learning was far from at an end. And that the road ahead was built on the generosity and efforts of my elders and my peers.

To this day I seek mentorship and insight not only from my elders but the young people I come in contact with, my peers – and even strangers. It doesn’t always make for an easy path, but the rewards cannot be measured.

Find and give love in any and all its forms today. You’ll amaze someone (and it may be yourself).

How Do We Do More? CityTalks Inspires Questions

Sitting in the audience of the City of Sydney’s #SydCityTalk event featuring human rights advocate and former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, it was clear that she was preaching to the choir. The message of “people first” deeply resonated with the audience and spread out like a shock wave from the stalls back. It wasn’t that we haven’t heard discussions about the importance of human-centred policy and action before – it’s just apparent that this style of conversation has been missing from our public discourse for some time.

After all, we live in an age where our sense of humanity has taken a backseat on our roadtrip to the future, and we’ve packed off the difficult issues like climate change, asylum seekers and refugees to live with the relatives.

So hearing a discussion of how governments, business and citizens can work together seems strangely foreign and wildly exciting.

Mary Robinson packed plenty into a short presentation – sustainable development goals, global focus, Nelson Mandela, Richard Branson and Bill Gates and global recognition for the programs and actions of the City of Sydney. Be sure to watch her speech in the video below.

Debunking Trickle Down Economics

One of the most interesting talks of the evening was Richard Denniss, Chief Economist from The Australia Institute. Not only was he able to make economics sound interesting and entertaining, he was able to do so in a way that illustrated his main point – that trickle down economics does not work. While we have seen this for ourselves in the widening gap between rich and poor – and the accelerating distance between the poor and the poorest – the raw numbers from the IMF tell an altogether more compelling story.

The research from five IMF economists, drew attention to the issue of global inequality, dismissed “trickle-down” economics and urged governments to target policies toward the bottom 20 percent of their citizens.

The problem with inequality is that it actually cripples growth. If we invest in the top 20% of our population, then GDP declines over the medium term. While a 1% increase in the income share of the poorest 20% of the population results in a 0.38% increase in GDP.

Where to from here?

Each of the speakers told a compelling and vital story. But the facts and figures from Richard Denniss’ speech coupled with Mary Robinson’s urgent insistence on change made me wonder. In fact, it made many of us in the audience wonder – where do we go from here? The levers of change are being applied to the UN’s sustainable development goals – and Australia is a willing signatory. But there is a yawning gulf between intention and policy, signature and action. Where do we go from here? How do we take these good intentions and make change happen? And precisely who is this WE?

I would dearly love to hear an update on progress at the next City Talks event.

Perhaps it is too soon to expect change to take place – or maybe – just maybe, we need more impatience in the mix of government, business and citizen policy making.

You can watch the full replay of the event below.

Creating New Business Patterns for Social Impact

I have always believed that a sense of purpose would drive change, no matter whether that change was behavioural, economic or cultural. And as such, my work in marketing has always been driven by an interest in psychology, behaviour and action. The reality is, is that I am curiously interested in people and what makes them tick – not in the things that they tell you when prompted, but in the millions of tiny actions that create our personalities. For example, I love the way that vegans wear leather, or doctors smoke cigarettes. I adore the inconsistencies that defeat algorithms and confound logic.

But I also love the way that these apparent inconsistencies can also create opportunities.

Over the last couple of years, businesses have started to pay closer attention to millennials – that generation born between 1982 and 2004. And while the span is open to debate, it is clear that this generation have a substantially different mindset from those that came before. I notice this in the work that I do with youth entrepreneurship organisation, Vibewire – where I am regularly confronted by behaviours, actions and expectations that, on the surface, appear completely alien. And I notice it in my work with corporations and clients, and in the research I do for various public speaking events. But as this generation begins to reach into management and executive ranks of government and business, it is something that we are all having to come to grips with.

Deloitte’s Millennial Survey is a recent example of the research which serves to reinforce what we have long suspected – that a sense of values and purpose is at the core of the millennial mindset. Thus far we have seen this play out in the consumer landscape, with a significant reduction in leading indicators of personal consumption – consider:

  • The fall in the number of driving licenses issued and the downstream impact on car sales
  • The rise in preference for public transport and the increasing pressure on inner city housing
  • The interest in entrepreneurship opportunities and skills and the downstream disinterest in professional careers and career paths.

The Deloitte report indicated that while millennials are “pro-business”, they are also particularly interested in business’ potential to “do good”:

Millennials continue to express positive views of business, and their opinions regarding businesses’ motivations and ethics showed stark improvement in this survey. However, much skepticism remains, driven by the majority-held belief that businesses have no ambition beyond profit. Almost nine in 10 (87 percent) believe that “the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.”



However, while there is an alignment of values between business and millennials, there is a substantial gap in the alignment of purpose. The report concludes: “Millennials would prioritize the sense of purpose around people rather than growth or profit maximization”.


This, of course, suggests unsettling economic, cultural and social futures while the mis-match is sorted out. But as in most things, the most negative impacts will be felt by those businesses that respond too late or fail to plan strategically.

How to plan ahead for generational change

Whether your business has felt the winds of generational change or not, make no mistake, it is coming. From 2015, the Baby Boomer generations began retiring from the global workforce, taking their years of experience and expertise and substantial spending power with them. This trend will accelerate in the coming years. And as those experienced business leaders trade suits and ties for no ties and sun-filled beaches, enterprises from downtown Chicago to dusky Beijing will be restocked with ambitious, values focused millennials seeking to make their mark on the world. And this shift will force substantial change to what has been “business as usual”, with values and purpose taking centre stage.

Anecdotally, we are already seeing this play out. Financial services organisations are softening their positioning and message to the market. Utilities and resources companies are speaking of values, and professional services firms proclaim purpose and social impact. It’s out with conspicuous consumption and in with the sharing economy.

But this is just the beginning. Real change must be embedded deep in the hearts and souls of these organisations. It must be lived in the brand experience. And the “old ways” – the “business as usual” approaches must be re-made for this changing age.

Innovating for social impact

Often when we talk of innovation, we focus on something new or novel that is introduced to the public. It could be technology or an experience. It could combine the two. But we will begin to find that our efforts at innovation trip and stumble as they reach the market if we fail to take into account the changing nature of our buyer’s values and purpose. It won’t be good enough to put “lipstick on a pig” and serve it up on a bed of kale. We will need to begin the challenging task of creating shared value outcomes that don’t just serve our markets, stakeholders and management. We will need to address social impact too.

Over the last year or so, I have been working to create powerful business innovation frameworks that help entrepreneurs bring their products and services to market faster. My very first of these was an adaptation of the Lean Canvas used by startups for the purposes of social impact. I called it the Shared Value Canvas. Recently I have turned my attention to workshop and facilitation formats that use the same lean and agile methods employed by the world’s most innovative companies, tweaked to incorporate a social impact or social innovation outcome.


In the coming days, I expect to release a comprehensive handbook that guides facilitators and teams through a Five Day Social Sprint. Designed for not-for-profits and for-purpose organisations, it’s a deep dive into the tools and techniques that rapidly move from idea to product within a week’s worth of effort. It has been inspired by the Google Ventures, five day sprint process – but revised and refocused for social impact.

And while I hope it finds favour with charities and not-for-profit organisations around the world, I also hope it inspires more traditional businesses to find tangible ways to bring purpose and values to life within their organisations, one innovation at a time.

Does Your Personal Brand Make You Look Like an Idiot?

I can remember advertising for new employees a few years back and being overwhelmed by the number of resumes that would be delivered. We had one job opening and there would be hundreds of applications. It was daunting and depressing. Somewhere in that massive pile of paper was my next team member. I just didn’t know where.

The profiles that stood out from the crowd were few and far between. If I asked for a cover letter I expected a cover letter. If I asked for examples of your work, then I expected to see them. Most of all, I expected that you would do your homework on my company. The vast majority of profiles simply did not cover the fundamentals.

These days it is both easier and harder to find good recruits. Sure LinkedIn makes it easy to discover great people – but for every amazing person out there, there’s a plethora of self-entitled, self-aggrandising idiots that you’d be crazy to employ. Or would you.

Here’s a trick.

Call up your LinkedIn profile.

Read it out aloud.

Now have a friend read it to you like they are standing on a stage, “living the moment”.

If you don’t burst out laughing, you’re on the money.

The Slow March of Digital Disruption

The editing work that started my career was laboriously done with pen and paper. Each day, I would literally cut and paste strips of text from one printed book over a new version, proofread and check the flow of the text, package it up in a large yellow envelope and send it “downstairs” for typesetting. That’s where the magic happened.

The typesetters, using specially-designed keyboards (not qwerty mind you), they would enter the changes into the publishing database and spit out “proofs” for proofreading. Those yellow envelopes would be sent back upstairs and, after another round of checking, I’d approve them and request “camera ready art”. I can still remember the smell and fell of those warm, thick, slightly sticky pages that would be carted off for photographing and printing.

Even in my earliest years, however, I could see the massive opportunities offered by what we now call “digital disruption”. I helped my company lead the digital charge – moving my products out of the production line and into online coding. This meant coding up changes on floppy disks and sending the disks down in the yellow envelopes.

From there, I pushed into desktop publishing, tapping directly into the data warehouse to edit and produce the proofs for printing. These changes produced massive changes in a highly competitive business. Our publishing cycles improved by 66%. Costs fell dramatically.

By 1995 I was hand-coding websites for clients. I had fallen in love with the speed of digital and the ease of online publishing. Sure it was still technical, but it was also democratising an ancient process that had been slow to change.

But that was 1995. Twenty years later, the forces of digital disruption are still playing out in the publishing and media industries, and it is not over yet.

Often when we talk about digital disruption, we do so from a point of fear. We fear for our jobs and our careers. We fear for the changes that we expect will overwhelm us.

But in reality, these massive changes take time to work through an economy. They take time to reach mainstream acceptance. And they take time for the legal system to catch, hold and support them.

Digital disruption is coming, but it’s a slow march for most of us. The question is, can you hear the drums?

How to Avoid Busy Brain

There is no doubt that we all feel overwhelmed from time to time. It’s natural. But a few years ago I noticed that the pace of change had markedly accelerated to the point where it was changing other things. It was changing our capacity to create and innovate. It was crippling our ability to effectively “spend time” with people that we care about. And it was skewing our sense of entitlement and investment.

What we all seemed to be suffering from as the state of “busy brain”.

Think, for example, how many times you have done the following in the last week:

  • Shared a link without checking it first
  • Stayed awake too late at night doing work
  • Relied on alcohol or drugs to slow your body rhythms
  • Avoided exercise because there is not enough time in the day
  • Were impatient with a child or a colleague

Because we are consistently rushing from meeting to meeting, task to task and tweet to tweet, we forget.

We forget the reason. The purpose. The force of the activity that drives us.

And we do so because we have given over to busyness rather than focusing on business. Sometimes it seems that we are barely in the business of living.

We are not just distracted but alerted. Buzzed and connected. We hurry between places, spaces and events not because we fear missing out but because our presence is marked on a hidden scale of check-ins, appointments and leaderboards. We have given over to the machine and it keeps its own counsel.

So what are we to do?

I like these simple suggestions from Deepak Chopra. And like everything simple, they require us to forego complication. Here’s to a less busy brain. Sleep well.

Improve Your Innovation Fitness: Make Yourself Redundant

“Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear.”
Buzzy Trent

When we talk about technology – and when we talk about change – we often talk about “waves”. Like surfers talk. Except it’s nowhere near as interesting or compelling. Except when we add a tinge of fear to it.

When I first started working in publishing, I realised that I was already redundant. Or was on the way to being redundant. I led the way in implementing online coding in a world full of typesetters, and I started using desktop publishing when it seemed like blasphemy. The change was coming and I was doing all I could to ride the wave was there before me.

Later, at IBM, I learned about process re-engineering. And “restructuring”. And “outsourcing”. Everywhere I looked, I could see disruption, dislocation and relocation. There were people losing their jobs, careers being swept out from under them. It was a time of tremendous uncertainty.

The thing is, it is no different now than it was then. In many ways, we now live our lives in a constant state of disruption. Gone is the fabled “job for life”. Gone is the bond between employer and employee. And gone is the social contract that saw us all working towards a shared future where a “fair go” was on the table for anyone who stepped up. In its place is uncertainty, change and anxiety.

But disruption is not just about fear. It is also about opportunity.

One of the better lessons from my time at IBM was the need to treat a company like a living organism. Every year or two, there would be a restructure. While this was used as a way to reduce costs or shift them to another country, it was also amazingly invigorating. It challenged us to forge new networks in new parts of the business. It forced new and often unexpected ways of working. And it did so when all we wanted was to stay in our comfort zones.

Now, “restructuring” is not always the most pleasant of experiences. And it is emotionally bruising to find yourself out of work suddenly.

Disrupt yourself first

If you take your job seriously – and almost everyone I have ever met does – then the challenge is to make yourself redundant. The opportunity is to disruption yourself, your career and your industry before it happens from the outside in.

This is partly what we are doing with the Disruptor’s Handbook. Despite the name, it is not a “book”. It is a strategy and innovation firm. Our mission is to bring the innovation practices and methods used by startups to the enterprise. And yes, we have handbooks. We make them freely available on our website so that you can apply these practices to your own business. We also have thought leadership eBooks designed to help you make the case for innovation in your business. We also have a series of techniques and approaches that have not been published but are used in our client work. These are shared with clients so that they learn to do what we do – so they know what we know and grow in confidence and capability. We are effectively disrupting ourselves as we grow.

Challenging yourself

I believe that you must challenge yourself and your industry. Can you do better? Can you reinvent your business?

In challenging yourself this way, it keeps you thinking about the long game. It keeps you focused on the health of your skills and networks, your capabilities and your ability to deliver. And it keeps you focused on your customers and their needs, serving them as they shift and change.

And in a time of uncertainty, making yourself redundant puts you in the driver’s seat of your career. You can choose the timing of your next step and its direction. You can prepare yourself for the changes that are coming. It’s Darwinian. Survival of the fittest.

And this … “innovation fitness” means that you are giving yourself the best next chance possible. Don’t just see the next wave coming, ride it, baby. Ride it.

The Barrier to Entry is You

Everything makes sense in hindsight. If only you had taken a chance on that young startup, Microsoft. If only you had gone on that blind date. If only you had risked all like a young Richard Branson. And if only you had bought property when the prices were low(er).

The thing is, we are all, always, starting from today. We have at our disposal what we know, what we can do and what we are passionate about. But we also have networks, connections and friends. We have family. There are people we can rely upon and trust.

So the question about your next job, or business opportunity, partnership or date is “what is stopping you”?

Maybe it isn’t your boss that is stopping your progress at work. Maybe you are settling for the backseat of the bus without realising it. Maybe. Just maybe, the barrier to entry is you.

And that can change in the blink of an eye. What are you waiting for?

HT inspiration to Seth Godin on a cloudy Sydney day.

Five Lessons from a Year of Disruption

When you are head down working on projects, developing new business and just keeping it all together, it’s easy to miss business milestones – like your first year in business.

The initial idea for Disruptor’s Handbook came from a lunchtime meeting with my former colleagues at PwC. We were talking about the concept of “disruption” and how it could be managed. Used for innovation. Simon Gibbard suggested that we write a handbook – a disruptor’s handbook. Tim Lovitt and I had topic ideas and thought we could pull together a blog. Or an ebook. Or something.

Of course, it never happened. We were busy with projects and with life.

When my PwC contract ended, I launched Disruptor’s Handbook with the view that there was something to the concept. There were plenty of lessons from the world of startups that could be applied to corporates, and vice versa. I had also worked with communities and business networks and knew there was value in collaboration. The plan was to bring these things together – to help corporates, smaller businesses with the appetite for change, and innovative NFPs:

  • Reduce the risk of innovation
  • Innovate quickly by adopting proven frameworks
  • Be supported by experienced executives, mentors and teams.

The Three Principles

So I began with three principles that applied not only to collaborators but also to clients:

  • Intention: When working with clients and with collaborators, I needed to understand their intention. Did they truly, deeply have an intention to work together? Or was it a “lipstick on a pig” project designed to give the appearance of innovation?
  • Commitment: Was there a commitment to make a difference with innovation? Would clients and collaborators commit to a problem, wrestle with politics, budgets and organisational apathy?
  • Gavin is not always right: I can be passionate and easily convinced of the power of my own ideas, but I challenged myself to be open to alternatives of all kinds.

Five Lessons from Disruption

Like any fledgling business, there’s a lot required to build, learn and grow. You need work. Case studies. Cash flow. But these are the same for any business. What follows, however, are the more hidden lessons that I have taken out of the last 12 months:

  1. Your greatest strength is speed – but only if you use it. There is plenty of competition out there. But being a small business means that you can change the way you DO business quickly. But you have to commit to doing so. If you take a week to change your website, you’re too late. If you need to delay a project you may lose it. The challenge is to actually use your nimbleness to respond to project, client or market changes faster than everyone else.
  2. You aren’t what you sell. After creating a dozen or more disruptor’s handbooks on various topics from “using the lean canvas” to “how to run a hackathon”, I realised that I needed to bring things together. Potential clients could see the value but not the offer. I needed to quickly change the way that I explained Disruptor’s Handbook to make it more tangible. Remember to sell the sizzle as well as the steak.
  3. What you have isn’t necessarily what clients want. This is a hard one. Sometimes people “want” disruption but they’re not “ready” for it (yet). Like most innovation, it’s a journey. You’ve got to both educate your clients and lead them on a journey. You’ve got to support them in selling the concepts into their own teams and management. It may be that your offerings are too early for the market. In which case, it’s time for Lesson 4.
  4. Ditch your beautiful ideas. Ideas in your disruptive business are worth nothing. What counts is traction. If a proposal is successful, analyse it for what worked. Keep refining it. But if you proposals are not succeeding, you need to move on quickly (see Lesson 1). No one will love your idea more than you, and that’s what makes it hard to let go. Be honest with yourself, ask for feedback and figure out where to go next. After all, you need to eat.
  5. Ride the horse all the way to “yes”. In our minds we are often saying yes but our words, presentations, proposals and actions indicate “no”. Keep practising saying “yes” out loud so that your clients and collaborators can hear it. Be open (as per Principle 3 above) as a project can often veer into unexpected and exciting territory. It may start out simply but can become truly disruptive and exciting. Ride that horse all the way to yes.
  6. A note of thanks. I know this is Lesson 6 … but it’s also important to be thankful. In the first year I have been fortunate to work with and learn from many people. We’ve done some great work together – from the innovative Qantas Hackathon to StudyNSW digital strategy. We’ve run workshops, spoken at conferences, mentored startups and incubated a few new businesses that are yet to launch (more to come). Every project took commitment and intention from the business and the business sponsors. And I was not always right. But I am truly thankful for the opportunity and experience.

With one year down, I’m excited to be looking further ahead. Plans are being considered. Collaborators cultivated. If you have a project you like to discuss, I’d love to hear from you. If you’d like to be a collaborator, hit me up.

“Receiving the knowledge” and other youthful fancies

I recently met with an old colleague to catch up after many years apart. While we settled very quickly into an easy conversation – almost like the time had never passed – it also gave me cause to reflect. It made me think about my business behaviour and some of the decisions I made on the way to achieving various things. It made me think about my own expectations and approaches – the things I wanted and how I thought my future might play out.

For example, I thought that at some point that I would:

  • “Receive the knowledge” – that sense of understanding of how the world works and why
  • Work less and earn more – I know. I can hear you laughing from here
  • Work on more meaningful projects – sometimes you strike it lucky, but I look to my work with Vibewire for this
  • Know what I’m doing – the truth is, I’m constantly creating new knowledge and new ways of working. And I think you should too.

The interesting thing, is that I am not alone in these youthful delusions. It seems that the much more self-aware Ann Handley rowed that same boat. Here are five things that she thought she knew at 22 that turned out to be totally wrong. Of course, it doesn’t make her any less awesome.