Thursday, July 03, 2014

Mick Jagger irons out a few wrinkles for Monty Python

To Infinity And Beyond - Overcoming the dark forces that hold ideas back

I saw the premier of ToyStory at a theatre in London's Leicester Square in the mid 90s. My girlfriend worked for Disney, so - as ever - I was the imposter, sitting a couple of rows away from Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman - I'm not sure what their connection with the film was.

I hadn't been primed about the film. I knew little about it and would have probably given it a miss. My days were filled with running around London completing freelance assignments I had stacked on top of one another - the English had a way of booking me for a week at time but I had a way of nailing the problem in the first couple of days. But a week booking was a week booking and the ad agencies who hired me never thought to reassign me to another task - it would never happen here. So I was tired and would have simply stayed at home - the up side was that I thought I could 'rest my eyes' in the darkness. It didn't happen. From the short before the film to when the lights came up I couldn't believe my eyes. It felt like being at the beginning of something - which, of course it was.

The Pixar story has been told and retold. I have art books like To Infinity and Beyond and The Art of the Incredibles and all the others…but this book has captured my imagination because it is about just that - capturing imagination within an organisation without killing its essence - like seeing Orca in pools and aquariums. Whether you are a manager in creative industry business or just want your business to unlock its potential - I recommend this book.

"The thesis of this book is that there are many blocks to creativity, but there are active steps we can take to protect the creative process.

In the coming pages, I will discuss many of the steps we follow at Pixar, but the most compelling mechanisms to me are those that deal with uncertainty, instability, lack of candor, and the things we cannot see.

I believe the best managers acknowledge and make room for what they do not know—not just because humility is a virtue but because until one adopts that mindset, the most striking breakthroughs cannot occur.

I believe that managers must loosen the controls, not tighten them. They must accept risk; they must trust the people they work with and strive to clear the path for them; and always, they must pay attention to and engage with anything that creates fear.

Moreover, successful leaders embrace the reality that their models may be wrong or incomplete. Only when we admit what we don’t know can we ever hope to learn it."

Monday, June 30, 2014

Who will lead?

With the election in New Zealand bearing down upon us let me muse for a moment on what seems to be missing in New Zealand politics. Leadership.

The National Party have signaled that their Leader John Key is the way, the truth and the light. He is the saviour of the party faithful and the the nation. He knows all the answers and doesn't even have to listen to the questions. Unquestioning loyalty is demanded from all and no briefcases are allowed into the caucus room.

The Labour Party made such an operatic production out of their leadership selection that it played out like a reality TV Show - Secret Lives of Politicians - nail biting stuff, who would be selected? Cunliffe, Robertson or Jones. It all seems so distant and funny now that Cunliffe, with his Kennedy coiffe and quips occupies the podium, Jones has run off with the enemy and there is obvious dissent in the backrooms, wondering if its not too late to install a new great red hope?

Then there are the pretenders, like Colin Craig, whom no one cares for but who regardless seems destined to be handed a seat or seats in parliament on a plate if he will support the National Party. Never mind what voters in the electorate of East Coast Bays think, or what members of the National Party think, or Murray McCully…what John Key thinks is the right thing to do will be the right thing to do. Because it's the Right thing.

The trend is disturbing, the election of parliamentary representatives has boiled down to what party colour you prefer. Once you tick the box of your choice that's it. Your service is no longer required. From that point on 'The Party' will decide the fate of the nation. Voting has become like jury service - and like jury service it seems to have become an irritating duty, rather than the cornerstone of a democracy.

I have no fixed view of politics. I believe in social justice. I have moderate views that others might think are extreme about some things - health care for essential services should always be free. Education should be free for life - and compulsory (both giving and receiving). Educated people create wealth across the spectrum of society. Wealth is good when it produces a happy, healthy broad base of society. Happiness should not be measured by consumption. A healthy environment is essential. It is fundamentally essential as well as critical to producing sustainable wealth through primary production and added value to commodity products. Who wants to eat food from a restaurant with a filthy kitchen. 

Profit is neither good nor bad. Capital should be deployed to create a balanced economy. Where there is imbalance chaos will follow. Boom and bust cycles are not constructive. Anything that is not constructive is destructive. Doing nothing is not constructive. Government should intervene when the greater good is compromised by short-term, individual short sightedness. 

A government for the people is a meta-truth. Individual accomplishment should be encouraged and rewarded but not at the expense of society - talent in arts, sciences and commerce are intertwined and none is superior than the other - any more than a high function of the 'left brain' is useful if the 'right brain' is like a prune. 

Most importantly democracy is not the same as plutocracy - financial wealth is no indicator of goodness any more than it is bad. Wealth comes and goes with good and bad fortune. Success in one arena is not a reliable predictor of success in another. The voice of an individual with a small personal fortune - or none at all - is as important as that of a millionaire - neither should have their current status held against them. 

The parliament is not a board room and not every decision should return a short-term dividend. Government should not participate in activities that are for-profit. Core education, health and infrastructure should not be expected to generate profit and any operating surplus should be used to make the operation more efficient and sustainable and provide taxpayers with the best services for their investment in taxes.

Wireless hi speed internet should be free for all, everywhere - like roads - but more important.

Leadership should be encouraged and spread throughout all levels of government.

Members of parliament should be tested and reviewed by a non-partisan panel or automatic system for their participation and performance - agains set metrics and subjective measures. Their ratings should be made public and be in real-time. 

The prime minister is not a president and should be determined solely by their party until and unless a presidential system is introduced. Prime ministers should be rotated by their party after each election. A prime minister must have achieved consistently high levels of performance in the review process and must have served an electoral term of office on behalf of a constituency for no less than three years.

In the People's Revival Organisation (PRO)  members are expected to be leaders and leaders observe the following*:

Whether you are an individual contributor or the manager of a large team, you are a PRO Leader. These are our leadership principles and every PRO leaders is guided by these principles.

Customer Obsession
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers. 

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job." 

Invent and Simplify
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here." As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time. 

Are Right, A Lot
Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts. 

Hire and Develop the Best
Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. 

Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards - many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed. 

Think Big
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers. 

Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking. 

We try not to spend money on things that don’t matter to customers. Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for headcount, budget size, or fixed expense. 

Vocally Self Critical
Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. Leaders come forward with problems or information, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders benchmark themselves and their teams against the best. 

Earn Trust of Others
Leaders are sincerely open-minded, genuinely listen, and are willing to examine their strongest convictions with humility. 

Dive Deep
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, and audit frequently. No task is beneath them. 

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly. 

Deliver Results
Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

*you might recognise this - it is from's operating guidelines.

Monday, June 23, 2014

When good technology goes bad.

If there is one thing I hate it is intermittent faults.

Like when sometimes your car won't start and the rest of the time it starts and runs just fine.

When you take it to the mechanic there's no symptom - nothing to diagnose.
When my 10 ferry trip concession card passed through the red laser beam this morning the portable display unit read 9 trips remaining.

"9 left" reinforced the man attached to the portable scanner, beaming.

"Impossible I said - it should only have three trips left." I said.

"Consider it a bonus." He chimed, filled with the beneficence of those who favour others with other people's money.Clearly the matter was above his pay-grade and, in any case, it was the last run on the route for the morning and his mind was on a well earned cup of tea.

I'd like to report that I did indeed think of it as windfall but it just troubled me all day.

If the digital scanner could get it so wrong, even apparently in my favour, then it must also get it wrong at other times - in a less benign way.

How many times had my card been read incorrectly and I hadn't paid any notice.

Haw many times had other people been subject to the same casual assumption that the system works and, being an electronic device, beyond question?

What if I had one journey left but the computer said 'no'?

I'm pretty certain rules would have been rules and I would have had to cough up even as I spluttered my insistence that I was good for it - loaded even - if only with the single fare I needed to cross the channel.

This afternoon I made the return trip. Low and behold the reader read two remaining journeys we left on the card. That's a pretty wild variation as far as margins of error go. I mentioned it to the pursor - or whatever the description of a ticket guy is on the ferry to Stanley Bay.

"That's a Fuller's problem. You'll have to take it up with head office."

Resistance was futile.
But I will be checking the reader carefully in the future.

Maybe I will ask for the kind of ticket that has to be manually clicked?

Or maybe Fullers Ferries should get their equipment checked and audited. They might owe passengers some refunds or consolation.

I'd ring head office but last time I did to try to locate a lost iPhone I never got through - even after three attempts. Or maybe it was four?

Cutie and the Boxer - making a mark in the world.

Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko are both artists in New York. They love a bohemian life. Shinohara is well know for his work but is not commercially successful. He migrated to the US after finding fame in Japan for his riff on pop art.

Noriko arrives in the US, a young art student, meets Shinohara and falls for his manic charms. It's not long before he is sponging off her family allowance to pay rent.

Time passes. They marry and have a child. It seems Noriko is destined to become her husband's assistant - he is much older than she is, though neither are young anymore. She harbours her own dream of artistic recognition via her created persona of Cutie.

It is a meticulously shot piece, akin to the documentary classic Gray Gardens. Most of the observed narrative is in Japanese but it doesn't matter. We understand. When Noriko steps back from his work to see it in toto he seems to be looking back on his life as he utters 'crap' between words in his native tongue.

In a way the film is inconsequential like a pebble garden that is raked this way and that by the film maker but is never anything but a pebble garden. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The BigSleepOut can have dramatic effects.

I can't say that I like panhandling very much  - but here I go again. The charity fundraiser for Lifewise is fast approaching and my fundraising has been a little slow. That's not to say donations haven't been made - I have a network of generous friends and the ball is definitely rolling.

I've made this message to include stacks of cash - because that dilates the pupils of 36.5% of Aucklanders and places them into a more receptive state. Add in a picture of a member of the royal family and if you find yourself on the brink of St Vitus dance and begin to ululate, you'll know why. You are powerless to resist.

So, while I have you in this compliant state - follow this link - make a donation to help end homelessness and I promise the next flat white is on me.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Who can you trust?

The New Zealand Herald has published its annual list of the most trusted people and professions.
It is a bizarre idea to poll people about whom they most trust - it is such an abstract concept - trust.

By its nature trust is like a voucher - something granted in the future, based on impressions of past behaviour.

New Zealand's list of most trusted individuals is headed by the former soldier Willie Apiata who won a Victoria Cross medal for his actions while fighting in a dirty war in Afghanistan (where we learned no to trust the official accounts of New Zealand's engagement)

These are the top five 'most trusted', ranked on the list.

1. Willie Apiata VC, solider
2. Lance O'Sullivan, doctor, 2014 New Zealander of the Year
3. Richie McCaw, All Blacks' captain
4. Judy Bailey, charity worker
5. John Kirwan, former All Black player

Three of the five are sportsmen/media celebrities, which possibly says more about the power of television to skew our perceptions, than it does about the individuals listed or any actual trust vested in them.

Our culture has mutated weirdly to the point where sports players, television chefs and weather announcers are the most 'trusted' members of society while figures that once carried some authority in the community are consigned to also-rans or are derided - such as our community leaders (I use that expression rather than politician because naming something affects our perceptions of it - climate change is benign, global warming is negative). Meanwhile the media cultivates fear and mistrust or distrust - stranger danger, terrorists, extremists, extreme weather, FOMO, reds under the beds…politicians, FIFA committees, match fixers, food…you name it news media will sensationalise it (this week coffee is beneficial next week it is associated with a cancer 'risk'. Be afraid. Be very afraid is the media mantra - but Jim Hickey will make it ok.

Meanwhile a significant cohort of people whose trust is earned legitimately through their daily practice and where the value of trust isn't misplaced - nurses and doctors come to mind (in that sequence). Their work is painstaking in detail, life or death in consequence, it involves education, training and practice, it involves long hours or work in challenging conditions - a firefight in Afghanistan and an emergency room in a big New Zealand city on a weekend night shift are probably equivalent in stress - though the ED is probably more sustained. The pay and conditions are poor and governed by a superstructure of managers and administrators who are compensated more for less.

The Herald's list isn't really a list of trusted people - though it contains the names of trusted people. It is more a survey of names that have positive associations and preceptions - to be parlayed for profit. The list's publication will be followed by advertising agencies adding some of the names to their list of celebrities to from commercials pushing anything from carpets to heat pumps, booking agents will be on the phone, inflating their clients appearance fees. It is happening as we speak. Trust me.