Are Australian Businesses Bereft of Imagination?

Over the last couple of weeks I have watched the growth and spread of the #occupy movement – from the financial district of New York City to the streets of Sydney and Melbourne. This dishevelled and ramshackle mob seem to have touched a nerve. There’s a deep insecurity that is triggering a disproportionate response from Australian businesses, business people, politicians of all shapes and sizes and everyday individuals. Clearly we like our round pegs round.

And in almost the same timeframe I have been amazed at the way an Australian icon brand like Qantas has chosen to wilfully trash over 90 years of brand equity, focusing on the square peg problems of its unions, leaving thousands of its customers stranded across the world without a word of warning.

In a way, these problems have the same root cause – a chronic lack of imagination – something that has plagued our business sector for decades. Just look at the product launches of new “innovations” which are pale imitations of things that have been available overseas for years. Look at the way our industry leaders doggedly defend their oligopolies and market share, taking competitors to court and lobbying government for subsidies, tax reductions and bailout guarantees – and then complain when customers fed up with poor service, take their brand loyalty (and their wallets) and shop elsewhere.

When you have a square peg, a round hole and a hammer – well, you know it’s going to be used.

And I think – think – being the operative word – that this is the real promise of the #occupy movement. #Occupy is a challenge that is being thrown down to the big problems of our time – and it seems that we have no capacity to creatively respond to it. It’s disappointing.

By comparison – take a look at what Starbucks is doing in the US with its Create Jobs for USA campaign. They are teaming up with community lending institutions to provide financing to community businesses – and throwing in the first $5 million. Individuals can donate too – and receive a wristband with the poetic inscription indivisible.

And then take a look how this word has spurned a movement – a Twitter hashtag backed up by individual stories, crowdsourced support and community impact. David Armano talks a little about it here. A problem (and it is a shared problem) is identified, a business engages creatively – and as a business ecosystem – and the community steps in and supports it.

Now imagine if someone – anyone – over at Qantas had considered its communities of loyal travellers. Imagine if an idea had been sparked around these big problems – and that some action had been taken – not to amplify the problem, but to generate a solution.

You see, David Armano is right. Whether we like it or not, we are indivisible. We are linked irrevocably to the problems and challenges of others. So rather than ignoring them, it’s about time we #occupied our imagination and got to work on the challenges ahead of us all.

Three Blogs to Watch (and Read)

I have always loved finding a new blog to read. There is something in the search and the surprise that really satisfies my curiosity.

Finding new blogs to read used to be relatively easy. There was a period of amplified discovery – where great effort was put into thought leadership, strategy and connection. There was great joy in not just finding, but also in the sharing of websites that tickled our creative brains. It was also fun – learning about this “social type of media” through the act of participating.

But these days it feels like it is harder to find new blogs. It’s not that they aren’t out there – it’s that the categories of content are brimful of good writing already. As readers then, we have to dig deeper – and as writers we have to share the gems we find. We have to remain curious – and also generous.

With this in mind, here are three blogs that I have been tracking over the last six months. Hope you enjoy them! Oh, and be sure to send me other new blogs my way.

  1. Tashily: One of my favourites, this sparsely populated blog by Sydney local, Tash Hanckel leaves you wanting more. Read her Through the generations – the impact of social media article for a brilliant Gen Y perspective – and cross your fingers for more posts in the future!
  2. Creative +Biz: Ryan Spranger’s blog is an online home for video interviews and stories that he produces on the people who pursue creative business ideas. It’s a nice way of capturing not only the successes, but the personal stories behind what it means to “be creative” and the “hard fought lessons” that come with that journey.
  3. Jack Cheng: Jack Cheng’s blog tracks his own interests, passions and professional excursions in an entertaining way. A designer and start-up merchant with a penchant for storytelling and reflection makes this a great blog to read on a Saturday morning, coffee in hand.

Ecoinomy – Make More Little Savings

We all want to be part of something big. For some it’s a family, for others it’s a community. Sometimes it’s a job. Sometimes it’s a calling. And at the very heart of this is a passion.

But what if all this was connected?

What if the compartments dissolved? What if the walls between our passions, interests, friends and families crumbled? What if we could no longer distinguish between our public lives and personal selves? This is, in part, what I mean by The Social Way – the simultaneous collapsing and exposing of our identities, lives and reputations.

Increasingly, this is the world we live in. And the folks from ecoinomy are showing us what this means in a tangible way. They are bringing the social graph (our online profiles and networks) into the enterprise and linking our sustainability efforts to not just a sense of recognition, but to reward. Will it work – with people like John Grant leading these efforts, you’d think it has a good chance.

Check it out. Sounds like a very different approach to the workplace and sustainability. And that’s something that benefits us all – well beyond the walls of the enterprise.

How To Pitch

Here’s an interesting presentation on how startups should pitch to investors. There’s nothing earth shattering – but the design is great. But perhaps, the most interesting thing about this presentation is how widely it could be used.

Don’t just think of pitching a new business or startup. Think about your own projects (internal or external). Think about how you need to convince your wife that you should have a shiny new motorbike, or a sports car or a trip to Vegas. Use the same approach with your boss when pitching for a raise.

The same principles apply in all cases. Now just bite the bullet.

Envisioning Your Future: Augmented Reality 2020

frogdesign-2020-1 The idea of augmented reality is an interesting one. It is essentially looking at ways in which technology will be used to expose/overlay our digital connectedness moment to moment. Foursquare is a step in this direction. But how will this impact our lives in the future? What will our lives be like in 2020?

Tim Longhurst advises that to look forward 10 years you must look backwards 20 years and Mark Earls shows that it is BEHAVIOUR that drives thinking – not the other way around. So if we put these two together – we need to look at what behaviours were manifesting around technology in 1990 in order to imagine our lives in 2020.

frogdesign-2020-2 For me, 1990 was an interesting year. I was just moving out of the safe confines of the university world and taking a job in publishing. It was all about digitalisation, automation and breaking down the silos that characterised the publishing production process. We had big, clunky PCs on our desks with disk drives. We had green screens, beige Commander phones and tweed lined cubicles. The control or ownership of technology was beginning to shift from those who dedicated their work life and knowledge to the mechanics of information to those who employed that knowledge as part of a business process – connecting the dots. This process it seems to me, continues.

Between 1986 when I first started working and 1990 the era of electronic banking had arrived, with my employers now electronically depositing my pay into my account. This meant I no longer needed to spend my Friday lunch hour queuing in the Westpac Bank on Martin Place to cash my meagre earnings. Of course, there was no online banking – in fact, there was hardly any “online” at all. That would not become part of my life for several more years – and when it did, it was all about 2400 baud modems and bulletin boards.

frogdesign-2020-3 The clever team over at Frog Design have, however, done much of the heavy lifting for us. They ran workshops with Forbes magazine last year and have put together a series of visuals that bring to life a sense of what may be (you can see them above). They focused on key areas of our personal experiences – social, travel, commerce, healthcare and media. They talk of the “Bodynet” – to monitor our health and fitness, “Whuffie Meter” to measure our social worth/popularity and “Our Second Brain” to connect what we see with the vast sea of indexed knowledge available.

But given how far we have come since 1990, I wonder whether these go far enough. I wonder if 2020 is just too far beyond our horizon. For example, if i had known about the iPad in 2008 it would have changed the way I think about advertising, media and personal and business behaviour through to 2010. And that’s just a span of two years.

Having said that, visualising just what might be possible creates an interesting dialogue with the future – and this is one we need to have. Don’t forget to check out the Design Mind blog – there’s plenty more food for thought.

An Optimistic Project

Glass half full, half empty?If you read the news, watch the TV or listen to the radio, there are boundless experts offering their advice on the state of the world. Clearly we are in the grip of a global economic crisis inflicted on the many by the greed of a few. Yes, we should be concerned about potential pandemics such as pig flu. And no doubt, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – not to mention the instability across central Africa, Israel, Fiji and a score of other nations – all make us feel a little less safe.

Yet despite the realities facing us all, there are individuals, small groups and even communities all working in their own way to transform situations. I am constantly astounded by the willingness, energy and commitment of people to do good things, to donate their skills, their abilities and their time for those that they love or who simply need help. And while our institutions continue to lag behind this progressive consensus, they too, are peopled by others “like us” – and will, at some point, have no choice but begin their own transformation. The question is just of timing.

Against this backdrop, I was invited by Ian Fitzpatrick to contribute to the Optimist Conspectus which is “a compendium of contemporary optimism, one perspective at a time”. You can read my view here, but there are many other brilliant perspectives, including Dirk Singer (read his blog too), Matt Moore (read his blog as well) and a host of others.

And I loved the grain of optimism in this from Nishad Ramachandran:

Coming from a nation that has more young people than old, more illiterates than literates, more needy than greedy you just got to believe that tomorrow will be better and that hope will ultimately triumph over gloom.

You can even add your perspective here. Or maybe that is being too