Australia’s worst ever natural disaster

I have to pause for thought to remember the events of the last few days around me. As I sat in air-conditioned comfort last Saturday, Australia suffered its worst ever natural disaster with at least 170 people having lost their lives and the towns of Marrysville and Kinglake wiped off the map as devastating bushfires swept my state of Victoria.

Each day as I read the news, it sinks in a little deeper just how terrible this event has been and how sudden it was.

Initially for us it was just the hottest day ever recorded in Melbourne, but then the news started filtering through. We had been complaining about how hot and awful it was but we were safe and we had air conditioning. People not far to the north of us were at that very time losing everything – including for too many, their lives.

If you are so moved, the Red Cross is organising a bushfire appeal.

Now is the time to innovate

It’s pretty scary reading the papers and listening to the news these days. We are all left wondering how this current downturn will play itself out. Unfortunately I don’t have a crystal ball and make no claim to any ability to predict the future. I don’t know what is going to happen any more than any commentator on current affairs.

That said, I’d like to propose two ways of looking a the current global situation:-

  • learning from the past
  • learning from the future


Learning from the past.

You may already know this, but I’ll ask anyway. What do the following companies have in common:

  • Motorola
  • Hewlett Packard
  • Xerox
  • Unisys
  • Texas Instruments
  • Revlon
  • Ryder?

I deliberately organised the list this way so that you might be misled by the first five entries that they were all technology companies. But you would have know that Revlon was in the cosmetics business and probably (although I had to refresh my memory) that Ryder was a transportation and logistics group.

If you haven’t worked it out yet, I’ll tell you. All these companies were founded during the Great Depression. My source for the short quiz above was this article by David Silverman (although Silverman in turn tells us we could all do this research independently by checking Funding Universe .)

David also points out that a number of well known brands and products of today were established during the Depression. So while many businesses were going to the wall, it was as hard as it ever had been to raise capital and consumer confidence was at an all time low, some individuals were bold enough to launch new enterprises that have passed the test of time and some companies launched new products that have turned out to be stayers.

Now I have to put a disclaimer in here. This is, by necessity, a first look analysis. I generally criticise research which looks at successful anythings to try to find what the successes had in common. This applies to companies, leaders innovators, entrepreneurs and anything else you might like to name. We don’t know from this brief analysis how many companies started during the Depression went bust and how the success rate of startups during that period compares with that of startups during more bouyant times. So I am not suggesting this proves a downturn is a better time to innovate than during a boom. I am suggesting though that some people who have tried have found success in doing so.

And this first level analysis makes some sort of intuitive sense. Even if we think of it in terms of ‘survival of the fittest.’ Anyone can make money during a boom but in tough times, only the fittest (or perhaps in a business sense, the smartest) survive. A recession shakes us all around and sorts us out. During a recession we have to find new and smarter ways of doing things. We have to use our advertising dollars smarter. We have to work out which parts of our business never really made sense anyway but coasted along in the boom and which parts of our business could be the source of sustainable growth into the future.

All sorts of questions come to mind regarding our employees. Which ones stuck by us in the boom when they could have made more money elsewhere? Who shows real promise with creative thinking and can come up with some of the new ideas we need to survive and prosper? Who have just been hanging on and coasting.

Finally, as other businesses fall over around us what are the new opportunities? We can be fairly sure we are not going to grow by copying outdated business models or just copying products that our erstwhile competitors can no longer provide. But what new products and services do these holes in the market call out for?

“Oh for a crystal ball,” you may well exclaim. This is where we move on to my second way of learning:

Read more

Avoiding Boring Meetings

Leon Gettler has a good piece on meetings here.
The trouble with meetings is not meetings themselves but the people who attend them. None of us say what we really think.
Although how we create an environment in which it is OK to say what we think is another matter. Now that sounds like something I would like to write about.

65 Roses Day Volunteers

I just received this email from Cystic
Fibrosis Victoria


We would love the support of volunteers to help us = promote
National Awareness of cystic fibrosis on 65 Roses Day, Friday May
= 25.

  • We need volunteers to = help
    at 14 locations around the CBD to sell merchandise
  • Roadside collectors to = assist
    at 3 main intersections in

    Melbourne at St Kilda, Elsternwick & Toorak
  • Shifts are between 8am =

    11am & 3pm – 6pm.
  • All proceeds will be = donated
    to research to help find a cure for cystic fibrosis
  • Training will be = provided
    if volunteers are available on Tuesday May 22 from 3-4pm & 6-7pm
    = in the lead up to the event
  • If you would like to sell 65 Roses Day merchandise
    in your own network please contact the office for an order form

Please call CFV on 03 9686 1811

  • If you would like to sell 65 Roses Day = merchandise in
    your own network please contact the office for an order = form

Please call CFV on 03 9686 = 1811

Cystic Fibrosis


80 Dodds = Street


Ph:   +613 9686 = 1811 

Fax:  +613 9686 = 3437

Email: =


Wounds to the Soul

I wonder if you are carrying a wounded soul?

We start out with such ideals — entrepreneurs in particular, if
you class yourself in that category. But life has a way of presenting us with
such huge dilemmas.

I was moved to think about this after reading Ian Mitroff this
morning. In the course of his research, Mitroff interviewed a number of CEOs.
He tells the story of

Charles (not his real name) is a typical CEO of a midsize, highly
successful manufacturing business on the East Coast [of the USA]. In his early
fifties, in good physical shape, and happily married with three "great kids."
he has an enormous zeal for living and for life in general. He is quite prous
of the entrepreneurial skills that enabled the creation of his business and
tha have kept it fresh, exciting, and highly competitive over the years. Nonetheless,
it didn’t take long in the interview for a deep wound in his soul to surface.

"A few years ago, I had an epiphany, I realized — or better yet, I could
no longer deny — that the chemicals I was using to manufacture and treat
the furniture I was making were highly toxic. They were extremely dangerous
to the environment. To my dismay, I realised that I had become an unwitting
agent of evil, Needless to say, this does not sit well with my self-concept."

What do we do with such dilemmas?

Being Still

My apologies for the absence here for such a long time. It is over a month
since I posted. How can that be? How time flies.

I’ve been thinking about standing still.

Well perhaps not standing still in the pejorative sense, perhaps more being
still. Being still long enough to know what is happening around me.

C Otto Scharmer calls it Co-sensing.
If you are moved to look at his model, you will see this corrresponds to the
left hand side of the ‘U’. (It may not surprise you that I like to think of
this as a spiral rather than a ‘U’. On the spiral path you start where you
are now and be still. Then you move both inwards and outwards on the spiral.
But Ottto uses a ‘U’, so let’s stick with that for the moment.)

Otto describes this process as

(images of the past)


‘Seeing’ (with fresh eyes)

‘Sensing’ (from the field).


To get into the left hand side of the ‘U’ we need to stop and be still.

It’s not easy to find time to be still in our busy lives. But it is when we
are busy we most need to find the time to be still.

If you follow Otto’s ‘U’, you will see that it leads to ‘Co-presencing’ (connecting
with ‘Who is my Self?’ and ‘What is my Work?’) at the bottom through to ‘Performing’
(achieving results) on the right. I like to expand this a bit with ‘acheiving
powerful results connected to our my true self and my true work.’ But that
is running ahead of ourselves for the moment.

Remember where we started today. Being still. Try it for 10 minutes to start
with. Be still and be aware of what is around you. Don’t rush ahead. I’ll come
back to the other parts of the process. For the moment, just be still and be
aware, remembering that this is the beginning of powerful action.

Creating Shareholder Value

We are fascinated with this month’s lead article in Harvard Business Review Ten
Ways to Create Shareholder Value
(subscription required for full article
but you can get the abstract here or contact
for more details.)

In one way, we really wonder how ‘shareholder value’ became such unchallengeable
corporate orthodoxy. We wonder how people working in corpotations can ever
be motivated with the goal of making money for someone else. But that’s what
we expect them to do. We expect them to turn up at work every day and think
to themselves "how can I make more money for shareholders today." We expect
them to be over the moon with this prospect. Everything else they may put their
heart and soul into is expendable in the service to shareholder value. Even
their own jobs are expendable to this purpose. Then we treat them with disdain
because they are lazy and they don’t have any commitment to the corporation.

On the other hand we know how this came to be — see Agency Theory and Shareholder Value.

Given all that at least Harvard Business Review turns the emphasis from short
term to long term value. A small step. A step nevertheless.

Easy Answers

Perhaps the most fundamental quest in human history has been to find ‘the
path to a fulfilled life.’ Throughout time, men and women  have
sought to address this question at various levels of depth. For some it has
been a shallow ‘tell me everything I need to know in five minutes’ while
for others it has truly been a life’s work. For many this search has
been expressed through a religious journey, some through exploration of the
natural universe, some through personal conquest, and increasingly today many
find expression in the world of business. (Indeed we have heard it said that
business has replaced religion as the source for meaning in people’s
lives.) People in this category may attempt to find fulfilment through building
huge organisations, by amassing personal wealth or perhaps creating something
of enduring worth.

Hand in hand with the individual quest, have been those who offer to provide
either “the answer” or guidance along the path. In the field of
religion we have priests, rabbis, mullahs and teachers. We also have heretics.
In personal health we have doctors and medical practitioners of all varieties.
We also have quacks and snake oil salesmen. In business we have consultants
on the one hand and charlatans on the other (See Thomas
). Somewhere in that mix, and across all fields of endeavour we have ‘gurus’.

A few years ago Spiral Path worked for a one of the Big Five professional services
firms in Melbourne. It was an eye opening experience. we could see in the
eyes and hear in the words of our clients two very different perceptions
of us. One the one hand there was a deep distrust. Our fees were higher than
anyone else in town and they knew, or suspected, that we were looking for
ways to broaden the engagement (and hence charge more fees) in almost every
conversation. In short, they felt we were out to ‘screw them’.

On the other hand, they engaged us because our fees were so high. Our fees
must be the highest because we must be the best. When they came to a presentation
in our offices, they met us at the hallowed thirteenth floor. There was a hush
when the lift opened. We did everything we could to make them feel it was their
privilege to be invited to come here. We provided them with a magnificent view
of Melbourne (a metaphor for our omniscience), the meeting was attended by
waiters who would serve tea, coffee and biscuits individually and when they
went to the bathroom they were regaled with marble walls stone floors and gold

Throughout all this, Spiral Path felt they entertained (and we encouraged)
one abiding fantasy about us. Yes they could come to Level 13. But there
were parts of the building only staff were allowed. Surely there was, somewhere
higher in the building that they could only dream of where only the most
devout staff could go. A place where there was a huge book laid out on an
alter. In the book were all the possible scenarios that could face a business.
More importantly, next to each scenario was “the answer” — what
the business needed to do to solve the problems it faced or to obliterate
its competition. In their heart of hearts, Spiral Path believes this is what
they hoped they were paying for.

Spiral Path keeps this experience in mind whenever a new book, article or theory
comes across our desk. When we evaluate any leadership theory, the most fundamental
question we need to address is to what extent it provides practical and useful
direction in the art of leading and to what it extent it feeds our fantasy that
it is a shortcut that will enable us to lead and be successful without doing
the hard work of being a leader.

Fate vs Destiny

We were at the AHRI dinner the other night. A gala event by any standard and
we were delighted to make the acquaintence of Colin and Patrina.

During the course of the conversation we started discussing the difference
between Fate and Destiny.

Just semantics perhaps, but for some reason Spiral Path felt there was a difference.

Fate, we associate with fatalism. A feeling that there are things we can’t
do anything about. We don’t understand them but they happen anyway. We associate
fate with things we don’t want to happen. Of course literature is replete
with counter examples – for example "that fateful moment" may refer to the
one were two lives first intersected and from which a lifelong partenership
arose. Regardless, we feel we had no control over what happened. The meeting
was determined by something outside of us.

Destiny on the other hand Spiral Path believes is something we partner with. In
the strict sense of the word it sounds like, and probably is, from the same
derivation as ‘destination’. Destiny though feels to us as it is something
or some path, that we were designed for. When we spoke about it the other night
we used the expression "you might miss your destiny." Perhaps it is something
we feel in ourselves. It is our path. We of course would say it is our Spiral

Hmmm. We wonder what you think?

Love at Work

We’ve just been reading World Vision Australia CEO, Tim Costello’s chapter in the recent Australian Institute of Management publication, Love @ Work.

It looks like we’ve been reading pretty much the same books as Tim over the
last five years. Well, that’s probably an unfair comparison. Reading the chapter
we think Tim may have read many more books than we have in that time. But let’s
say we’ve read most of the books he refers to.

We started with the last chapter and haven’t looked at the others yet but
we can say it is compulsory reading for anyone with an interest in "leading
with heart".

Tim reviews social movements through the ages and looks at what motivates
people like William
. We hadn’t know that 45 years elapsed between the time Wilberforce

first presented evidence to a committee of the Privy Council in 17888
at the age of 29…until the final Commons reading on 26 July 1833 abolishing
slavery in all British colonies. [and that] Wilberforce died three days later.

For all that, this is no sentimental soft motivational piece. Costello carefully,
painstakingly and forcefully constructs his argument and finds room for critiques
of many modern movements.

We rather like his calling of so called "Gurus" and consultants
as charlatans. (Of course the latter title does not apply to ourselves.) Mission
statements such as Exxon’s “The
customer comes first” get revealed for what they are — platitudes designed
to hide the truth that senior executives come first (thanks to a reference
Art Kleiner ).

Tim uses culture change "guru"
Ed Schein’s willingness
to compare his methods to those used against POWs in communist prison camps
as one example of how the latest "spirituality at work" movement
may in fact be just another method to bleed employees dry of not only their
physical and emotional health but of their souls as well.

We have quite some respect for the group Costello regards we think positively
but with caution — Senge,
Kahane, Jaworski Kleiner
and Danah Zohar :

Their books have a complex mixture of personal narrative, management theory,
tribal wisdom and New Age views on particle physics and human nature.

Through all this he builds a dilemma around spirituality at work. On the one
had it may satisfy the need to find fulfillment at work and bring more of ourselves
to creative solution making. On the other hand is the ever present danger of
misuse and abuse.

Tim quite beautifully creates the argument that perhaps the solution to this
dilemma is not to think about spirituality so much as think about Love.

Some have wondered whether such altruistic love that transcends ordinary
human limits might require and inflow of love from a higher source. But whatever
faith background one does or does not come from, altruistic love is at the
core of what makes individuals, families and societies whole, The very fabric
of society is held together by those people and associations who work for
the common good and not their self-interest alone.

We hope you buy the book.