Wonder Women – fighting for those who cannot see the complexity for themsleves

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My daughter has been staying with us for a week and as a committed feminist has used her time somewhat mischievously to wind-up her brother. As an alpha male who is five years her junior he hasn’t accrued the wisdom yet to know that winning an argument is not the “be all and end all” in life. In fact it’s an argument that doesn’t find any middle ground given they are both coming at the issue from diametrically opposed positions. Seldom have I heard the words misogynist and misanthropist used so often in discussion/argument.  Life, and therefore the workplace, also contain persons for whom there are widely different perspectives. Gender politics is at play each and every day and is probably getting more heated.

Airing different perspectives and being open to hearing another’s viewpoint is important in a mature and welcoming workplace. The same applies in friendships, communities and families. There can be a fine line between tolerance for the sake of maintaining the status quo or keeping the tone light and calling out every issue you disagree with. This may come down to losing a friendship if you call someone out for a view you find that doesn’t accord with your own. It might be the “I’m not a racist” racist remark, the “I’m not homophobic” homophobic remark,  the”I’m not sexist” sexist remark, or the “I’m not Islamaphobic” islamaphobic remark. Tolerance of such statements can be tacit consent and soft encouragement. Calling it out possibly risks straining and ending a relationship whereas staying connected offers the opportunity, by example, to change behaviours; admittedly over a longer period of time. Seeing the perspective of the other party, regardless of avoiding appeasement, is an essential ingredient to being mindful and having a robust EQ.

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We were given some free movie tickets lately and chose to see Wonder Woman. Sensing that a scantily clad superhero might provoke a response e.g. objectification of women, stereotyping etc.I thought I would do some homework. It did strike me that Wonder Woman as a character sits in elevated company with Superman and Batman etc but would be quite lonely if she wanted to swap stories about gender equality. There aren’t any other top-tier female superheros from the Marvel or DC Comics stable. Imagine my surprise though to find that the feminist credentials behind Wonder Woman are actually quite substantial.

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The comics were written by a reasonably famous American psychologist, William Marston, using the nom-de-plume Charles Moulton, who, coincidentally invented the lie detector. Might explain Wonder Woman’s truth lasso! His inspiration for the character was Margaret Sanger a pioneering feminist and acknowledged founder of the modern birth control movement. Sanger just happened to be the aunt of Marston’s parnter in a rather bohemian polyamorist relationship. He had the opportunity to observe her close up. It’s not quite that simple though because Marston also had an interest in BDSM and ‘pinup girls’ which might explain why Wonder Woman is dressed like she’s on the way to a Fetlife convention inspired by a Vargas centre-fold. Life is appears is much more complex than binary polarised viewpoints.

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As it happens Wonder Woman is an easy watch. Armed with the knowledge I had gained from hearing a podcast featuring Jill Lepore who has written the seminal work The Secret History of Wonder Woman I found it layered in ways that your traditional DC or Marvel fare isn’t. Most super heroes have a vulnerability e.g Superman and kryptonite. For Wonder Woman it is chains. Chained she is helpless so the comics and the movie see her bound and totally helpless. Each time she breaks free she is emancipating – the chains being a metaphor for breaking free from society’s constraints. Each time she is bound Marston gets to explore his fetish.

The reversal of roles in the comics and the movie are plain to see. The damsel in distress is none other than Chris Pine (aka Captain Kirk) and he must die and not her. It’s him that calls at her door at night and not vice versa. She saves the day single-handed. The men well are just a bit like wallpaper in the background. Their parts are not fleshed out to any degree, kind of like many female roles in male-oriented movies. Director Patty Jenkins is having a field day turning gender stereotypes on their head except maybe the key one and where women today are still complaining – equal pay.

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Gal Gadot playing Wonder Woman received a reportedly pitiful $300,000 for the part. Even if this is explained away by producers saying that’s what all leads get on their first franchise offering, you would have thought someone had the presence of mind to flip things on the head for this movie. After all this is wonder woman. We all know Wonder Women in our personal lives, communities and workplaces. My daughter is a wonder woman and will do great things. Unfortunately she will encounter men in her career who will hold her back or pigeon hole her not allowing her to grow. Fortunately there will be those who will see her potential and allow her to shine. At the end of the day no-one’s flame glows brighter by extinguishing another’s. The same might be said for snuffing out someone else’s argument. If we are to get on, we all need to realise that the world, like Marston’s life, is full of complexity, contradiction and compromise.

Cities Are Our Democratic Future

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You can’t help but feel for London. With the spate of terrorist attacks and now the dreadful fire there must be a palpable sense of disbelief, grief and anguish hanging over what is one of the world’s great cities. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, seems to be everywhere whereas British Prime Minister Theresa May not so much. Her expression of grief and upset, while no doubt genuine, seems to feel a little more forced than Khan who, after all, connects directly with his own city.

This appears to be an emerging trend where large cities because of their size, strategic importance and cluster of financial power seem to be wielding a lot more influence. Influence beyond our comprehension a decade ago. Cities, for many of us, are where we live, work and die. The Population Reference Bureau (PRB) calculates that by 2050 70% of the world’s population will reside in cities. Cities are in many ways easier to make a connection to. It’s hard not to fall in love with Madrid or Barcelona, New York or Amsterdam. It is a lot harder to fall for the USA or Netherlands to the same extent. Where passion for an entire country comes into play it can be hard to distil patriotism from nationalism. At the city level I don’t think you can be nationalistic. I’ve not heard of a concept called ‘cityalism’. I’ve heard of city pride though.

In some ways countries are letting us down. The UK just recently seems a good example. For those of us who wanted to remain in Europe the country votes for Brexit. The USA, once leader of the free world, now seems to want to focus internally and gives its mantle to China. China which has worked hard through soft diplomacy to re-enter the world post Mao, now builds faux islands in the South China Sea for aggressive strategic advantage. Japan, in recent years a beacon of what you can do if you don’t devote your intellectual elite to the pursuit of armaments design and manufacture, is now militarising. We waited with baited breath recently for what Trump would do on the Paris Climate Agreement and he didn’t disappoint. They’re out!

With all the flux in the world politics and the rise of populism it feels like democracy itself is under threat. Trump isn’t doing much to help by muddying the waters around the Fifth Estate with his constant labelling of any negative press as ‘fake news’. Putin seems ensconced as the leader of Russia (duly elected) and the maturing democracy of Turkey has taken a huge leap backwards as President Erdogan curtails opposition, the press and free speech in an endeavour to cement his long-term plutocratic ambitions. Voters everywhere (except maybe France and Germany) are fed up. Politics and politicians are turning us off and away from a real interest in politics. It used to be a topic of conversation at the pub, or in the coffeehouses. Nowadays our views are so polarised you would think twice about revealing your political allegiance for fear of being disowned by your friends of the opposite political colour. Tolerance for another’s political perspective is genuinely lacking in today’s society.

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It’s easy to feel gloomy with this pot pouri of negativity permeating our world. But there is a shining light on our horizons. As it becomes too difficult, or problematic, to contemplate issues at an international or national level, people are starting to think and act locally. Community is the salve for the schisms in society. Cities are on the rise. Cities are making the pledges to reduce greenhouse gases a reality when their nations refuse to play ball. Cities are engaging their citizens in a way that is forging a new and dynamic form of democracy that might leave our traditional democratic structures behind. It just might be that cities save the very essence of democracy. So it’s Sadiq Khan who seems to cut through for me lately. Cities are vibrant and they engage. Spain has grappled with the vexed and complex issue of bull-fighting for years. Barcelona just banned it outright. When it felt like New Yorkers were losing their city to the developers and wealthy, they morphed the Highline out of an ugly industrial relic.

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It’s easy to be pessimistic with the world today and this constant barrage of negativity. But some things endure. The human spirit is one and the other is the inexorable rise of the city and its ability to heal communities and create engaging places to live, play and do business. Where governments can’t or won’t step in cities now will. That is why Sadiq Khan looked so …err.. Presidential this last couple of weeks and why May and Trump looked forlorn.

Tai Chi and the Bottom Line

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tai-chi-1078x515I’m new to Tai Chi having only recently joined the Taoist Tai Chi Society of Australia. I’ve done a two day intensive and now devote two hours each Saturday morning where I practice this ancient and graceful martial art form done in slow motion with a group of dedicated and well-practiced Tai Chi-practitioners. Quite possibly the youngest in the group, I do know for certain I’m the only one sweating at the end of each session. What’s good about it is the fact that it requires so much concentration from me.  To even try to get near the fluidity and nuance of some of the moves, let alone string together the 108 move set that comprise Tai Chi, I have to devote my entire cognitive capacity. The worries, niggles and ideas from work can’t penetrate that time. Tai Chi I have discovered to my delight is not a semi-permeable membrane. After those two hours my mind is free from the tensions of work. Tai Chi in this respect is like gold!

It’s been a difficult time at work lately, losing our second biggest tenant which comprises over 20% of our income. It’s never easy being a Landlord. At any point when a tenant goes into administration the lease is one of the first things to go. Doesn’t matter that they are on a 10 + 10 lease. The email comes through and the administrator disclaims. Effectively this means from that point on you no longer have any money coming in even though all their stuff is there. Immediately your head starts to spin and inevitably your thoughts go to your bottom line. The question quickly arises as to how you can replace them and survive the loss of such a large portion of your income.

Regrettably this has meant redundancies, which I still feel is a reflection on poor management. Surely we are capable of retaining talent and replacing the sitting tenant? If only it was that easy. I heard recently that redundancy is a relatively new tool in management and that years ago management held onto staff loyal to them. In the endeavour to find new tenants, deal with administrators, handle the auction company, show prospects through, find ways to retain staff, re-organising our own company and farewelling someone in the most mindful manner under the circumstances, the stress levels peak. The brain starts to process these ‘simultaneous equations’ even when you try to switch off.

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I know that my most creative moments happen when I have cleared my head of the clutter. My daily meditation routine, in our meditation room, has sadly failed to de- VUCA my world at the moment. That is 20 minutes of me noting my thoughts without judgment and letting them slip away…only to be immediately followed by another. At the moment I find I need ‘industrial strength’ declutterer. Without a clear mind I am less able to get my mindset right to address the problems we are currently facing. That’s where Tai Chi has come to the rescue. After many a Single Whip, Carry Tiger to Mountain or Pick Up Needles from the Sea Bottom I am cleansed. This affords me most of the weekend to refresh, ready to tackle the challenge afresh on Monday morning.

True uncluttered downtime, where we can break free from thinking about work is essential. Despite CEOs regarding themselves as stress resistant and resilient individuals, we all need time to cleanse our palate otherwise everything tastes the same. It is true that in time of difficulty we seem to attract further difficulty. Actually, it often just feels that way because our mindset has shifted. Devotion of so much cognitive load to the problem means that when a small issue comes along we inflate its importance, not because it seems really large, but because we assess our capacity to deal with it psychologically, physically and emotionally as severely limited. Creating quiet space in our heads in a VUCA-world is one of the most important skill sets an executive can possess. Passing on this ‘wisdom’ is one of the most important roles an executive can fulfil. This is especially true for any departing staff who will be experiencing their own cognitive overload as they consider life without the security of a regular income until they get back on their feet.

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Philosophies from the East have much to teach us as our world gets more complex and technologically cluttered. As information overload occurs and we find ourselves caught in the middle of work that can follow-us 24/7, no matter where in the world we are located, finding a way to switch off is essential. It may seem strange to some to look back to the days before business technology to find a cure for its ailments, but if we want to address our issues in a meaningful way I would recommend thinking about Tai Chi or similar eastern practice. For me I no longer have a choice – it’s my bottom line.

The Stark State of Our Corporations

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It’s the stuff of movies, particularly sci-fi, where the corporation, generally with some arch technology, ends up thwarting and subordinating the State. People become slaves to some corporate juggernaut able to monitor and control our every move. Think Omni Consumer Products (Robocop), The ICS Network (The Running Man), RDA Corporation (Avatar), Multi-National United (District 9) and my personal favourite, Energy Corporation (Rollerball). Just occasionally you see a mega corporation doing good, a la Stark Industries in Iron Man. But it’s the exception rather than the rule.

This week we have been ‘rocked’ by one of the most predictable events in recent political history; the departure of the US from the Paris Climate Accord. No right-minded person could think that climate change is some sort of fake news or hoax. Even Margaret Thatcher, way back when, commenting on climate change said even if you weren’t convinced wouldn’t you err on the side of caution? It can’t do any harm surely? Well Donald Trump thinks it can – to his blue collar coal-mining constituency who voted him in at the very least. The dystopian world that many feared would eventuate with the election of Donald Trump seems to be unfolding before our very eyes. You can almost admire Trump. He thinks something – without any basis in fact – and then follows through on his irrational assumptions. His thoughts on the matter are writ large in the media, especially Twitter.

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So too recently has our very own champion of women’s tennis Margaret Court used the media to espouse her distorted beliefs. Just lately she has felt compelled to make some pretty ‘out there’ comments about gay people and transgendered children. Her linkages of LGBTIQ people to Nazis, communists and the devil is the stuff of pure befuddled fantasy. She has so much of an issue with gay people (especially lesbians in the game that gave her so much of her wealth and fame) that she has refused to fly on our Australian carrier Qantas because its CEO is an openly gay man and a supporter of marriage equality.

The withdrawal of the US from the climate accord has left a leadership vacuum in climate change. In fact it would appear that the inward focus of Trump is leaving a leadership vacuum across a range of fronts. Take for example the breath-taking proposition of Communist China assuming the leadership mantle of free trade. Where climate change in the US is concerned it would appear that corporations will fill the void. Big names like GE, Du Pont, Exon Mobil, Tesla have indicated that they will step into the breach. It’s easy to see why. Those who embrace new technology get the jump on it. If you are a market follower it can be nearly impossible to play catch up. US corporations do not want to see energy innovation become the domain of other countries.

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It’s just not in public/climate policy where corporations are stepping up taking on quasi State-like roles. In social policy there are a number of CEOs of corporations who are embracing societal issues. Partly this is driven by responding to consumer pressure, partly due to internal pressure as millennials increasingly take up key roles in organisations. Woe betide any company that under pressure from its media savvy millennial workforce thinks that incremental evolution not revolution is the best way forward on social issues. This is a demographic who demand to see results now.

Alan Joyce, the CEO of Qantas, as an openly gay man has pinned his rainbow colours to the marriage equality mast. Good on him for that. More and more we are likely to see Corporations acting in the stead of the State. While governments play politics, Corporations have an enviable potential to actually deliver if they choose so to do. It will attract the ire of those who disagree with the moral/philosophical issue being championed. Margaret Court’s recent tirade is testament to that. With a clear road ahead it is hard not to imagine corporations pushing the boundaries across a range of issues previously regarded as the preserve of the State.  Space flight is one very clear example.

Corporations now appear willing to step up when voids are created. Climate change is an existential threat so the role played by Corporations as good global citizens will be crucial if we are to survive the climate change threat. The more governments shy away from taking big bold decisions in the face of huge challenges, the more the public will come to rely on Corporations to save us from our elected politicians. This is a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle. We know who we elect warts and all. The intense scrutiny of the media in the 24 hour news cycle has seen to that. Social media has heightened our gaze. If Corporations become de facto leaders through absentee government then we have to ask just how much do we know about these unelected power brokers? Perhaps as Shareholders now we need to know where Directors stand on a range of issues from climate change, gender equity, marriage equality, LGBTIQQ rights, migrants and refugees etc. rather than just what business qualifications they have and what other Boards they sit on?

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Victor Hugo described history as ‘an echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future on the past’. History has taught us that when Corporations have unfettered freedom, think the East India Company, things don’t always go as we would like. Science fiction writers and directors most often cast the Corporation as evil in their imagined future and we all know how accurate they are in predicting the future look of things (hover boards aside).

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So next time you applaud your government for standing aside and letting ‘us’ get on with it, or celebrate the fact that our jobs will be safer and our electricity bills lower without action on climate change, reflect on this. It may not just be coastal erosion and devastating climactic conditions your grandchildren are fighting, but also some nebulous all-encompassing Corporation that cannot be elected out of office. Remember for every Jeff Immelt there is a Lehman brother or a Jeffrey Skilling. And remember we can’t rely on Iron Man. Our choice will be more stark than that!

 

 

Hear’say in the Heart of Manchester

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My daughter went to her first concert at the Manchester Arena (MEN Arena back then). I remember it well. It was Hear’say, a manufactured band on a TV show called Popstars, a forerunner to the Idol franchises. Your daughter’s first concert is a big deal. She’s growing up….she likes music ‘yay’ hopefully she will grow up and like the Indie stuff…fingers crossed. So it was those emotions that welled up when I first heard of the Manchester bombing and saw the photos. It was an outrageous and heinous act, but for me the impact comes not from my initial visceral response to this act committed by someone deluded by the wrong notions and quite possibly manipulated by zealots for whom the exercise of power must be equally satiating as their distorted view of their religion. Rather it is the subtle impact of it a day or so after that has slipped behind my emotional guard.

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As a parent I reflect on the lost potential of the lives lost. For those who survived to go from the rapture of the moment to a living nightmare will be life-defining. This wasn’t an act that caught people out in the street, it was deliberately perpetrated to target young people enjoying themselves, many for their first concert like my daughter all those years before.

This had me reflecting about my other subtle connections to acts of terror. I first travelled internationally on what turned out to be a 15 year migration to the UK. From Los Angeles to New York we flew on Pan Am and I clearly remember the words painted large on the plane as we were boarding – ‘Isle of the Seas’. That very plane crashed some time later torn apart by a bomb on board over the town of Lockerbie in north Scotland.

My wife and I eloped and married in New York. On our wedding night we went to a restaurant overlooking Manhattan and made a call to our parents. They brought a telephone to our table. I think I had seen that done in the movies. The view was spectacular; one of the best in the world. Ten years later that very restaurant was the scene of some of the most chilling live television ever to be watched as people ‘opted’ to jump from the blazing and falling Windows on the World restaurant in the Twin Towers on 9/11.

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Before we migrated again, this time to Australia, I was working for a company whose offices were in the British Medical Association building in Tavistock Square in London. My local tube stop was Russell Square where many of the survivors emerged dazed and confused on that day in July 2005. The bomb on the bus exploded outside what was my office block.

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The recent terrible deaths outside the Houses of Parliament in London happened right where I had many years before had the privilege to be in the crowded press gallery in the House of Commons when Prime Minister Tony Blair debated Britain’s entry into the Iraq war after already giving it the green light. Some may say that in some small way the terror we see today can be traced back to that fateful decision. It in no way provides it any succor or justification. Many Australians would have felt the same pull of emotions when watching those dreadful scenes on our TVs.

Events like what happened in my much-loved old home town of Manchester bring back thoughts of how lucky one can be, and for some, how in a moment their lives are changed forever. My time in that wonderful bruised and resilient city was thankfully not marked by the stain of terror but great warmth and wonderful memories. Communities come together in times like this and Manchester despite its tough exterior is something of a beacon to the world with faith communities joining in solidarity and support. Ultimately religious arguments, within and between faiths, boil down to wanting to be right. My book is the truth yours isn’t. My faith is righteous yours isn’t. My values are pure yours aren’t. This way madness lies.

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Coincidentally I viewed a TED Talk today delivered by Ric Elias who was on Flight 1549 that landed in the Hudson River in 2009. Contemplating what he thought was his certain death he was able to distill three core lessons for life. The one that resonates most for me, and I think is germane in this world where terrorism permeates our lives in both outrageous and subtle ways, is this.

‘I no longer choose to be right….I choose to be happy’

If we learn one lesson from the outrages that are perpetrated on our world by the delusional it is that we should prioritise happiness above all else.

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In a nostalgic mood I Googled Hear’Say and watched their clip ‘Pure and Simple’ which was their first single and a runaway success. It transported me back to more innocent days, but I am thankful my daughter  has expanded her musical repertoire making her Dad even prouder.

 

Conversing @ Colvinius

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I got a tweet yesterday from someone who had just died. It simply said ‘It’s all been bloody marvellous.’ It was none other than Mark Colvin, the longstanding journalist from the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). The death of Mark is a blow to quality journalism and his passing is made even more salient by the fact that quality journalism is under attack like never before. There are three threats to the fourth estate. Traditional media is under pressure from falling advertising revenue, social media is skewing newsfeeds, citizen journalism is in many cases reducing the quality of the message and furthermore Trump, ostensibly the leader of the free world, has been doing his damnedest to undermine the role that the media plays in filtering out fact from fiction.

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I was no early listener to Mark Colvin whose career spanned some 40 years with the ABC. I was in the UK enjoying arguably the best quality radio, television and print media journalism in the world. The BBC remains, I think, the best news organisation across radio, television and digital platforms. So on my migration to Australia I was bracing myself for a bit of a culture shock from ‘nation speaking peace unto nation’ to laid-back news ditties interspersed by surfing forecasts. Imagine my surprise when I tuned into the ABC and listened to the likes of Fran Kelly, Waleed Ali, PK, Phillip Adams, Virginia Trioli, Leigh Sales, Maxine McKew, Tony Jones and of course Mark Colvin. I realised pretty quickly that my highbrow bias was totally off beam. Mark though, stood out for me partly I think because of his radio voice which appeared to have a tinge of British accent. He had a very direct approach, not quite Jeremy Paxman, but one that had an edge suggesting he had little tolerance for BS. He never got upset or talked over his interviewee and what was abundantly clear was that he didn’t work from scripts. His second question always seemed to be seamlessly linked to the previous answer; a clear mark of an accomplished journalist and interviewer.

Why is the passing of Mark Colvin, aka known by twitter handle ‘Colvinius’, so important? Possibly like no other time in modern history has the freedom of the press been so much at risk. There is the Trump effect. He believes that if you say it is so then it is so. This is mainly true if you run a Corporation. This is patently true if you host The Apprentice. This is clearly not the case if you are in public office and especially if you are running a country. It’s people like Mark Colvin who have kept and keep on holding such individuals to account.

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Secondly there is the worrying aspect of falling advertising revenues to the traditional media platforms of radio, TV and print. We have a very recent example of this in Australia on, of all days, World Press Freedom Day, with the notification of over 100 redundancies of journalists from the Fairfax Group. This means quality journalists committed to keeping our politicians, those in public service and corporations honest. Democracy is kept alive through the constant application of scrutiny. Those who do so are increasingly targeted as ‘un-American’ or ‘un-Australian’ etc. when nothing could be further from the truth. Those who place the spotlight on our freedoms are surely the great defenders of it which comes out of patriotism and not hatred. As Burt Cohen would attest, to lose quality journalists means our ability to actually undertake some of the long-form journalism or investigative journalism is seriously compromised. Denying media freedom is something we would not tolerate in the free world, but allowing it to be starved through lack of quality personnel seems to be something we sit idly by and allow.

There is the argument of course that alternative platforms, including digital, are taking the place of traditional forms of media and we should just suck it up and get on with it. Besides the young people are accessing their media that way aren’t they? All well and good but the questions you have to ask yourself are whether Facebook, Google, Skimm or Buzzfeed etc. would have had the tenacity and prowess to uncover the Watergate scandal if they had been around then? I strongly suspect not.

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Digital platforms, especially social media, have underlying algorithms allowing social media sites to garner an incredible amount of information about individual eyeball owners. Behaviours and patterns are the primary focus here because advertising revenue is what underpins these companies. This isn’t the world of the first wave of internet companies which were based on ‘fluff’ with no underpinning business model. The business model for the likes of Facebook, Linkedin etc. is well established and it is advertising. We know from FeedVis, developed by the Northeastern University and the University of Michigan, that social media news is actually curated for us. This has caused the New Scientist to claim that ‘in the history of mass media people were in control of what you saw. That’s not true anymore.’ We have every right to be alarmed by this. Our news is likely reflecting our current biases both conscious and unconscious. We know from neuroscience that our ego-brain is constantly seeking confirmation of our particular view of the world. Such self-affirming ‘proof’ delivered to our news feed daily, if not hourly, cannot be healthy from a knowledge, growth or democratic perspective.

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That said, not all digital news delivery is bad. I love keeping abreast of breaking news via Twitter. So did Mark Colvin by the way. What’s remarkable about Mark is that while he embraced the technology, he also embraced the polar opposite of Twitter and its 140 character limit with a breadth across an amazing range of issues that often had his colleagues breathless in admiration.

So I’ve received his last ever tweet. Those who listened to Mark on PM on a regular basis will know what I mean when I say that when I got his last tweet I held on for a further one, after a suitable, almost awkward pause, that simply said….’goodnight.’

It’s Not SIYLI to SBNRR

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In management, the traits of preparation and planning are generally highly regarded. Knowing what your week ahead involves and being prepared and in the right frame of mind are essential ingredients to manoeuvring yourself through what are becoming busy and demanding working weeks. I admire those people whose desks still look as pristine as they did on the day they arrived. Mine, at times, looks like the aftermath of a medieval banquet. I don’t seem to finish a task in one fell swoop and will often put things aside to come back to when I hope further enlightenment will ensue. That’s putting a positive spin on it. Quite possibly it’s good old procrastaworking.

So it was no surprise a few weeks back when I found myself in Sydney rocking up to a course that I had booked in a fit of enthusiasm some six months previously, with not a great notion of what was in store for me. I know it was designed for Google and something to do with leadership so trusted my instincts that it was probably worthwhile. The only research I had done was the event location and start time. I had no idea about who was presenting or what it was really all about, or if I did have when I booked I had clearly forgotten.

Well you can imagine my surprise and delight to come away realising I had attended one of the best two day courses of my not inconsiderable time in the workforce. It wasn’t because I had no expectations going in – it was genuinely that good!

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It was a course called Search Inside Yourself conducted by SIYLI (Search Inside Yourself Learning Institute pronounced ‘silly’) and focused on mindfulness in the workplace with a significant emphasis on meditation. To boil it down it was two days of different types of meditation designed to improve emotional intelligence and leadership in the workplace. Sounds daunting? Hell yes. Sounds boring as bat shit? Hell no. While I have been meditating for quite some time this course expanded my meditation repertoire. Not all meditation tools will I use and this was the beauty of the course exposing you to a range allowing you to decide which feel like a good fit.

My personal favourite was SBNRR which if it became widespread practice, the world of business and politics would be so much better. I’ve so taken it to heart I have put it alongside the Resuscitation Chart at work. It’s an acronym that may well save your life one breath at a time.

S for STOP

B for Breathe

N for Notice

R for Reflect

R for Respond

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This simple technique of catching yourself when you feel your trigger being pulled is such an invaluable tool. It should be taught in schools if it isn’t already. Imagine the volume of flame mails, vicious tweets and critical posts that could be avoided through the simple application of pausing, breathing in, then noticing the responses of our body (our age-old reptilian brain defence mechanism) and moderating our response through some simple reflection.

The folks at Google are smart. They realise that a mindful workforce is kinder, more creative and productive and their investment in the Search Inside Yourself course was money well spent. My advice to any aspiring managers looking to advance their careers through education and training is to do this course before running head-first into an MBA. Very few modern MBAs are playing in this space and it will create a very solid sub-soil in which those technical skills can flourish. So next time you stop and breathe, instead of reacting without thinking, you may find the outcome is anything but silly.

That’s Not Just Good…It’s Super

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We did something extraordinary recently (even if we say so ourselves). It wasn’t easy and it has generated some polarised views. We had to go to ‘court’ for the right to do it and it required a State Commission to pass judgment on it. It went to the basis of what we really mean by equity. We decided to pay our female staff more superannuation than their male counterparts – a further 1% of their salary to be precise.

On the face of it this is discrimination in its own right which is why we required clearance from both the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) and the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland.

So why do it? Well I believe it’s the right thing to do. There is an argument by some that the pay differential doesn’t really exist because men and women are generally paid the same for the same job. The broader consideration of this is that women, in general, have considerable time away from the workplace either in the form of maternity and/or carers leave, or returning as part-time or casual workers. Coupled with this, women are over-represented in low paid and part-time/casual work.

The ability therefore for women to accrue sufficient superannuation to secure a comfortable retirement is placed in jeopardy as a result. Compounding the equity impact is the reality that time away from the workplace affects promotion potential. Working outside the system means the grip on networks, the prevailing political landscape and knowledge of potential opportunities is compromised.

We know from research that the informal system is the exoskeleton through which upward progress is made in business. If you are not on the inside you are by default on the outside. The route to seniority or partner is made so much harder, especially when returning from having a baby and having to balance competing demands (skills borne out of necessity, by the way, that are of huge value in the corporate world).

So if you are a believer in gender equity in the workplace and want to do something substantial about it, consider levelling the playing field by paying your female staff more superannuation. They will return this appreciation of their contribution in the workplace in ways that far out-weigh the additional cost.

If you are a small corporation and think this is only possible in the large corporate world think again. We are a small to medium enterprise. We value the contribution of our female team members every bit as much as we do our men. To do so in a meaningful and authentic way is what counts. I can’t think of a more robust endorsement of the importance of equity in the workplace than assisting women to return to work in the most flexible manner possible and making-up in some small way for lost time out of the labour market.

Not all agree of course. When we commenced our differential superannuation contributions this April we became the third company in Australia to do so. It’s an important issue. The Australian Human Rights Commission thinks so and so do we. Wouldn’t it be super if this became standard business practice?

Don’t Clobber the Dibber Dobber

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In this age of revived nationalism, more and more people are turning to their traits or defining aspects of their culture as a way of bonding and injecting passion into nationhood. Perhaps that is because they have seen this sense of identity progressively eroded over the years through globalisation. I know from my British friends that some of this sentiment bubbled to the surface in Brexit. So what defines us as Australians? Well it is sometimes hard to disaggregate the typically Australian aspects of our culture, given it is essentially a melting pot (our First Australians aside) of our colonial and European past. That said, I’m sure on surveys or Family Feud the most commonly identified aspects that define us as Australians would be things like, mateship, outdoorsy, giving everyone a fair go, neighbourly, laid back, sports mad, non-whinging and my personal favourite we don’t ‘dibber dobb’.

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For my non-Australian readers to ‘dobb’ is to go and tell tales on someone, also known as to rat them out, snitch, squealer, tattletale, weasel, sneak, fink, canary …you get the picture. I have worked in seven countries and with the exception of the Middle East, where they have no particular qualms with this aspect of daily life, all other places I have worked have had the same underlying principle. No-one likes a tattletale it seems. In Australia though, perhaps harking back to our convict past, we are particularly hot in our disdain for the ‘dibber dobber’, the name we attribute not so affectionately to those who turn ‘weasel’. You only have to look around at whistle blowers to realise they never seem to come out of the foray unscathed. Morally intact I am sure, but financially and emotionally they are bruised and a number must be tinged with some regret about what they did. Labelled a ‘dibber dobber’, it is well-nigh impossible to shake that moniker. While admired by many even Julian Assange (the biggest dibber dobber of them all and ironically an Aussie to boot) is loathed by perhaps even more because he exposes stuff.

What happens in the workplace in terms of culture often reflects the meta culture of the country as a whole. With Corporations increasingly acting as States it is no surprise that cultural issues not directly aligned to a business focus e.g. marriage equality, are permeating both culture and policy. I’m sure most workplaces have a whistle blower policy. We do. There is also legislation to back this up, in Queensland known as the Whistleblower Protection Act 1994. Even the title suggests that the dibber dobber will not get an easy ride as the Act tries to forge some protection for them. And they sure need it because our workplaces, as microcosms of society, have a deeply held ethos that you don’t ‘dobb your mates in’. Here the ‘dobbing’ is linked to the other strong cultural trait of ‘mateship’ and as our work colleagues are known as our ‘workmates’ you can begin to see how difficult it is for someone to actually call something out.

A friend of mine gave me a very good example the other day. He runs a business where he came across a situation he wasn’t happy with. On trying to get to the bottom of it, which was a clear breach of their own standard operating procedures, was told by one worker that he had spotted the issue but that he didn’t want to raise the matter given it would be seen as ‘dobbing in’ his workmates and his boss. The potential cost of the mistake was over $50,000 not much short of that individual’s wage. When confronted with this figure he apparently just shrugged and said he couldn’t because he didn’t want to be seen as someone who tattletales on his colleagues. On hearing this it made we wonder how much lost productivity, re-working, and, more alarmingly, injury hangs off the back of a misplaced loyalty that is inculcated in our workplace culture?

As a CEO I, and I am sure the majority of my CEO colleagues, want to know when things aren’t right. We can’t be everywhere and sometimes the view from the top obscures what’s happening on the ground. One of our few defences in this case is having a culture of open disclosure that allows for things to get reported up before they become a real issue. For those who know their safety theory, as a CEO you want to know an unravelling situation well before most of the holes in the Swiss cheese have lined up. We have an open disclosure culture at work but on reflection I could not say hand-on- heart that my own team members would abandon workmate loyalty for near-miss reporting.

There are a number of reasons why team members might remain quiet when they should really speak up. The obvious first one is they do not want to ‘rat out’ their mates. Social interaction in the work environment is for many the significant contributor to workplace enjoyment so it will take quite some degree of concern to overcome this hurdle. Loss of face for self and others is another. No-one wants to be seen, or have their mates be seen as a doofus in the workplace. We spend the majority of our life at work and for many it defines us, so being confronted with a situation where your very competence might be called into question is a good reason to quietly let something slip under the carpet – management none the wiser. Equally, a strong motivator for keeping stumm is for fear of punishment. Using this line of reasoning is more complex as there is a judgment to be made between the consequence of being punished for owning up, versus the punishment if caught out. It’s an easy one really but quite often wrongly calibrated. Managers and supervisors, in my experience, are much more forgiving with self-reporting of mistakes or errors. Some companies have even introduced ‘no blame’ reporting which has, in turn, had its own unintended consequence with a lackadaisical approach to the job given there is little ultimate consequence. A sort of ‘if I mess I just fess’ culture. A ‘my bad’ and move on approach. This is not helpful either.

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To solve this is not an easy matter. First and foremost we need to give our team members the requisite skills to raise a concern. This is the communication tool known as graded assertiveness and I firmly believe it should be taught in schools starting at primary level. Having a vernacular to challenge and raise concerns that potentially addresses the loss of face issue and removes the personality component is essential, not just in business but in life. When dealing with an aggressive or forthright manager when you are less so is a challenge, but learning an escalating vernacular that can be deployed almost in an autonomic way is one means to get around this. Secondly, when someone does raise a matter it is essential that the person who does so is protected. Knowing in the Australian work setting how big a deal this is managers should not take the reporting of a concern so lightly. The temptation to react strongly and ‘nip the problem in the bud’ should on most occasions be avoided without first thinking how the reporter gets protected in the process. In Australia recently we had an example of an individual from India who used a friend’s passport to pass himself off as a Doctor. The truth came to light 11 years later and only after he had left Australia. You can’t tell me that in those 11 years of practice someone somewhere didn’t scratch their heads and ask the question. Perhaps him being a doctor and top of the tree in that work setting was a major factor in this?

It is essential in the workplace to encourage people to report things that don’t feel quite right. Intuition is often the best guide to things being not quite as they should be. So perhaps it’s time to come up with another word for someone who reports issues in the workplace in the interests of the business; one less pejorative. I’m thinking dobber dibber. Imagine the conversation. ‘ I’d rather be a dobber dibber than a dibber dobber’. Only then will we see just how childish this long-held cultural norm is.

Stop Working and Start Playing

When was the last time you were rewarded at work for playing around? Quite a while ago, or maybe even never? I attended a session the other night on setting goals using a value-based approach. It was hosted by NAWIC, which is the National Association of Women in Construction. This sprang to mind as I opened my laptop on the eve of International Women’s Day. I was the token ‘bloke’. Where some of the guys might have been a bit threatened is that the session started with some meditation and focused a lot on mindfulness. More enlightened managers embrace new ideas like mindfulness in the workplace for the many benefits it accrues not only for the individual but also for the workplace.

 

The simplest definition I can find for mindfulness is ‘the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something’. So it’s essentially about presence. Another way of putting it, as my father used to say, is ‘having your wits about you’. Those who know my work, know of my interest in the various quotients required to be a successful manager. IQ everyone knows about and even those with just a cursory understanding of management practice now know of EQ. I discussed DQ (Diplomacy Quotient) in a recent blog with particular reference to Donald Trump. I now want to talk about SQ (Situational Quotient). SQ is presence, or putting it another way, mindfulness breeds situational awareness. Being present makes you hyper-aware of your surroundings enabling you to spot when things are not right.

 

I travelled to Sydney recently and my bag got pulled aside by the security team for checking because, of all things, I had left a set of Allen keys in there. I placed them in there on the weekend to put them in the garage but forgot to take them out. A fine example of lack of presence. They were spotted by the woman operating the carry-on luggage bag scanner at the airport. A fine example of presence. In fact the job of looking at a security scanner all day is a classic example of where you really want someone to be working mindfully in their job. Their job is to sort out what doesn’t look right – so they are looking at patterns that don’t look quite right. This is a very complex task on the face of it, given our technology today requires a myriad of chargers and headphones and emergency battery storage devices, hard drives USB sticks etc. all of which get thrown in at the last minute into your carry on bag. How they achieve their degree of focus, in what is essentially a fairly low paid job, always amazes me.

 

What I have observed in those security areas, almost without exception everywhere in the world I have travelled, is a certain level of banter between the staff. They have no requirement to be customer focused. Their customer is the Government or airport operator so interactions and in-jokes etc. while rude elsewhere – in a retail setting for example – are not inappropriate. What I recall from my mindfulness training, so well delivered by The Potential Project, is the notion of beginner’s mind. Bringing the questioning or critical (as in critical thinking) mind to play in such situations enables the staff to sort chaff from wheat as it were. Beginner’s minds are best represented by the curiosity of children who have not had the life experience to build up patterns of normalized behavior and are therefore less likely to take things for granted. The adult brain is much more sophisticated, or so we think. We know from experience, don’t we, what feels right and what feels out of place. It is a basic function of the reticular activation system part of our brain. That is the part of our brain that when we are looking to buy a particular new car we start to see lots of them on the road. A child’s brain does not work in this way.

 

Our brain is tricky though in its search for pattern. While we think it’s rational it can be anything but. As the landscape of neuroscience understanding expands so does our understanding of the power and weakness of our brain. Neuroplasticity blows my mind but I am underwhelmed when I realize just how we let emotions and other unconscious bias affect what we believe to be rational decision-making.

 

Cordelia Fine writing in A Mind of Its Own points to experiments done at an elite US university where a lecturer was plotting points on a graph displayed on a screen. The screen then went blank and students were asked to locate exactly on the graph where the last plot point was. Almost without exception the students identified a point beyond the last plot point of the lecturer. Why? Well the brain seeks out patterns as a basic survival and psycho-motor instinct. You couldn’t drive a car or walk across the road without it. But it can mislead. Our accumulated experience makes this worse. Our perception of our ability to make sensible predictions and the degree of belief in our decisions is known as the illusion of control. Once again children do not build such a concrete control illusion exhibiting a much greater cognitive elasticity over the situations they encounter.

 

And that’s precisely where I need my team to be. I need that beginner’s mind to stay critical such that each and every situation is assessed and not taken for granted. It is essentially how we stay safe. The world of safety at work in Australia and other developed nations has become overwhelmed and bogged down in complex systems that very few (apart from the consultants and managers who advise on and manage the systems) can understand or effectively manage to deliver the required outcome – safety. But the conundrum is how we engender situational awareness at work when there are so many other distractions.

 

We live in a VUCA world and our brains, trying to process much more information than previously, need a way to stay present and situationally aware at the same time. It’s just not about safety though it’s about how we present our business to the world. Is our website up to date or do we still display one of our team members on there who left two weeks ago? Are all the lights working in the toilets? Have the security lights automatic timer been changed to reflect that the nights are drawing in? Is that trailing lead a trip hazard? Should that Coke can be placed in the recycling bin – the one I walked past today twice on the way to the toilet? Has anyone claimed that bag that has been left in the courtyard for the last couple of hours?

 

I think I may have an answer to that but it’s controversial and counter-intuitive. Play! Play is what children do to explore boundaries and rules are developed as they go along. The system of play is essentially without pre-set rules or probabilistic calibration which makes it so powerful. Eric Zimmerman a Professor at NYU’s Game Centre theorises that we have entered what he calls the ‘Ludic Century’. What he means by this is that given the times in which we live games and play are central in a way that, for example, information and the moving image were central to the 20th century. Perhaps through the embrace of play we can re-imagine the beginner’s mind and build the situational awareness that seems to be lacking due to the complexity of modern living and working. With the advent of the micro nap at work becoming more commonplace, maybe it’s time we stole another concept from day care – playtime! Maybe we should change our mindset as workplace leaders and rephrase ‘stop mucking around and get back to work, to stop working and get back to mucking around’. Our workplaces just might be safer for it!