It’s always awesome when you get to go to a conference that’s in a great part of the world. If possible, take a day either side of the conference to explore and enjoy the area.
Recently, I had the chance to go to Queenstown, New Zealand, the adventure capital of the world! It’s an amazing town set upon a picturesque lake and surrounded by jagged mountains. It was the end of the ski season, so despite it being fun to ski slush sometimes, it wasn’t what I was looking to do whilst out here. My mission was to take a day off and explore!
As an entrepreneur, you often get so caught up in juggling all the aspects of your business, you don’t take time to rest and recover. After two massive months, a relaxing day of drinking coffee and adventures was exactly what was needed ready for the conference the next day.
Wandering around the town in the morning, I found so many outlets and options from which to choose. For no particular reason, I walked into one place and started exploring some brochures. I saw one with a helicopter on it! Despite the significant amount of flying I’ve done over the years, including time spent learning to fly, I’d never been in a helicopter before. However, today was going to be the day and there was a great looking package deal that combined flying, a jet boat and a luge ride. This sounded just like my sort of thing. Turns out… it totally was!
First up was the jet boat along the lake and into the Shotover River. The water in the glacial lake was stunningly clear, clean and crisp. The whole way along you could see the bottom comer closer and drop further away from you as you sped along. Best not to look at the bottom, as you realise how little water there is below. I’m still amazed by the fact that these boats can operate in three inches of water! Literally skimming along the surface of the water! The best part of the ride was hitting rapids and spinning around 360 deg in a massively tight turn. I was only slightly soaked as the water swamped back into the boat from behind me.
After some thrillingly close calls with trees at the edge of the river, buoys in the water and an angry duck, we cruised back. Getting dropped off at a different jetty near the airport, I was met by Peter who drove me up to the heliport.
For me, this was the most exciting part of the day. My first time in a helicopter! I didn’t know what to expect. As the rotor spun up and accelerated the whole aircraft started to shake. After a call to air traffic control, the pilot revved the engine and with a slight jolt, we lifted off. It was the most unusual feeling as the ground just slipped away, becoming increasingly distant as we crossed the runway of the main airport.
We were quickly whipping along at 100 knots. The view was amazing. I can only imagine how awesome it would have been inside that navy helicopter we saw flying down inside the Shoalhaven Gorge, as where I was there right at that moment was spectacular. About fifteen minutes later, we were at the top of one of the snow capped peaks in the Remarkables. It was at 5000ft with a clear view back down to Queenstown in one direction and Cardrona in the other.
Being back in the snow was a wonderful feeling. It’s been far too long (since January) that I’ve been in the snow and I’ve definitely missed it. Scooping up a handful, I squeezed the icy ball in my hand and threw it off into the distance. After a bunch of obligatory photos, we were back on the chopper and flew past the Remarkables ski resort on the way back.
I managed to fly in the front of the chopper on the way back and it was even better than I’d expected. It was a thrill I hadn’t experienced since the days of learning to fly in a fixed wing plane, thankfully without the engine cutting out on final approach!
The next part of the adventure was a gondola ride to the top of Queenstown, followed by riding the luge! I’d met an American girl by the name of Bree on the ride over from the heliport who was doing the same things as I was and we headed up the gondola and rode the luge around which was lots of fun. As with any adventure, you never know who you’re going to meet along the way!
The luge was basically a downhill go-cart track. Catching a chairlift to the top, you then rode these unpowered carts down this cool, windy track. It was amazing fun and a great way to end the day’s adventures! I couldn’t think of a better place to be coming to a conference than Queenstown NZ!
As your world can sometimes become a blur of different hotel rooms and conference spaces when you’re constantly rushing around and managing different aspects of life and business, it’s important to find opportunities to enjoy your time in amazing locations. Even if it’s just for a few hours or a day, get out there and find yourself an adventure. Business can come and go and will always be there. However, at the end of the day these are the most important things in life and form the memories and experiences we cherish forever.
It all began with a quick trip to Lismore. I found myself nominated as a finalist for the Alumni of The Year at one of my old unis. (If you’re wondering, I went to three different ones, if you’re not well… it’s too late now!) It was a nice feeling to be nominated and heading back to Southern Cross for the dinner.
The evening itself was a great one and I ran into a number of people I already knew and met so many more interesting people from across Australia who were now doing some amazing things. I always enjoy hearing about other people’s challenges and experiences in whatever they’re doing in life, as it puts your own busy world into perspective. I even met the musician behind the “Bob the Builder” song, which was fun.
After the dinner, I’d planned a quick getaway for a couple of days in Yamba, which was another place I hadn’t been since graduation. It was a warm and wonderful change from the icy conditions of the late winter we’d had in Southern NSW. I went for a couple of runs, ate some local seafood and had a generally relaxing time. It wasn’t until I was heading home that the dramas began.
I left on Monday morning, giving myself plenty of time to get to the airport for my 11:45 flight. Arriving in Ballina, I stopped for coffee and managed to find a wonderful café called …. It was a very smooth double shot latte and just what I needed.
Arriving at the airport, I checked the rental car for marks before dropping the keys back in the box. On check-in, I was informed that the flight was going to be delayed by two hours because of a meltdown of the air traffic control system in Sydney. I thought, ‘Oh well these things happen. I’ll go for a walk.’
I headed off down the road in search of something to do.
I found a homemakers centre in the industrial area and wandered around the air conditioned showroom until I’d seen the same lounge far too many times and considering I don’t own a house to fill with furniture, it was rather pointless. Heading back to the airport, I covered some 5km and was now quite hungry. Stepping into the terminal, I heard over the PA system that there was a further delay in the flight and the airline would be providing food vouchers for everyone on the flight. With my lunch paid for and a new departure time, I was happy to sit and catch up on some work.
For the next hour, I answered some emails and wrote an article, another advantage of being able to work from anywhere. However, as my battery charge diminished, the delays in the flight seemed to increase. There was a momentary reprieve when it was announced the plane had left Sydney and was on its way.
As I had to get a connecting flight to Canberra, I was starting to get a bit concerned about the time. Regardless, I’d worked out that even with another delay I’d still make it. The plane landed and the arrivals area flooded with the passengers out of Sydney. Thinking it would be a fast turn around, I put my phone away and started chatting with a lady who had just sat down next to me. Turns out she was a teacher and had been up scoping out new jobs. We chatted for some time, as the small departure lounge filled with expectant travellers returning to Sydney.
There was a tense anticipation in the air as the plane sat commandingly on the tarmac. Another announcement… ‘We’re sorry to inform you that the pilot of flight JQ451 is over his allowable hours and therefore is unable to fly again today. As a result this flight is cancelled.’ The voice over the PA was suddenly drowned out by hysterical moans and exclamations! The service desk attendant said something to the effect ‘We apologise for the inconvenience…’ but it was barely audible due to the ruckus of bogans swearing.
The departure lounge emptied quickly amid a rabble of angry curses. I remained sitting, thinking of alternate possibilities that could be slightly more constructive and profitable than swearing and yelling at airline staff. In situations like this, you have a couple of options. Quickly turn into an abusive dickhead, or strategise around the problem. As we were already well over the abusive dickhead quota, I decided on the latter.
What were my options? I had three meetings the next day in Canberra starting at 10am. I really wanted to be at all three, but two were moveable. The final meeting in the afternoon had been a long time coming and would’ve been hard to reorganise, so that gave me the hard deadline of 12:30pm landing back in Canberra the next day. Not too bad a scenario!
I quickly looked up alternate flights from other nearby airports, which in Australia is still quite a trek. Goldcoast was the nearest, but no flights given the lateness of the day. The only other one was Brisbane, which was further away, but had a flight at 7:10pm. I checked the map, I checked the time… I could make it. I quickly rang the airline to see if this were possible and after an anxious wait with my battery running low, it was! Feeling relieved, I dashed to the car rentals to get a car. Nothing was available at any of the 6 different rental businesses!
I was back to square one. That solution wasn’t going to work, so I joined the back of the enormous queue with the other 180 people as the airline scrambled to find accommodation for everyone at short notice in a small town. After almost an hour in line an announcement came over the PA. The airline was willing to reimburse customers up to $150 for their accommodation if they organised it themselves. Fearing the sort of accommodation I was going to get given anyway by the low-cost airline, this was a great alternative. With what little battery I had left, I checked out places to stay and found a nice boutique hotel for $169.00. It looked really interesting and was a heritage listed building so I immediately booked it, as there were only a couple of rooms left. Getting there and back was a minor detail. At least I had a bed!
I waited in line for another hour, as transport into town was arranged to the various motels. It was disorganised chaos however. Buses had arrived and passengers were being ushered onboard. I hung back as a wild rabble of bogans who’d been standing in line drinking for the past hour appeared as if they weren’t going to stop anytime soon. I felt relieved as I overheard they were going to the Best Western. Two other ladies had boarded that bus, but it was full and the bogans ungraciously told them to get off the bus.
Meanwhile, I was standing just inside the terminal with one other lady by the name of Jill. I chatted with her for a few minutes before the other two who’d been thrown off the bus joined us appearing rather frazzled. We were the last four at the airport and after being given an assurance that another bus was on its way and going exactly where I needed to go, I was happy to wait a little longer.
Relieved to get on the bus, despite not knowing the area, we had to direct the bus driver to the hotel. As we pulled up, a feeling of relief and excitement came over me. It was a magnificent old Victorian style two storey mansion. Inside the foyer, it was a beautifully restored building that had once been a girls’ boarding school. With some old uniforms and tennis racquets on display, it had a distinct St. Trinians feel to it!
As we waited on the lounges for the receptionist, it was calming to be out of the din of the airport. However, the tranquility was about to be disrupted again. The receptionist walked out, saw four of us sitting on the lounge and a worried look appeared on her face. I knew at that moment, despite the ladies having asked the airline staff several times if there were enough rooms, there weren’t going to be enough rooms!
Having booked the place myself online, thankfully she had a room for me, but then there was only one room left with a single bed and three ladies! At this point after the rolling problems the looks of horror on the ladies faces said it all. They weren’t going anywhere. They were all staying and that was final. It was almost like a scene out of Fawlty Towers. I asked if there was a spare bed in my room, but no, nothing, just a single. Luckily the hotel had a roll out bed for one and they put that in the room for the ladies, who then worked out the rest.
With my stomach growling having missed lunch and the restaurant in the hotel closing, I said I’d freshen up and then meet everyone in the dining room. The dining room was more Fawlty Towers than reception had been, with everything but a hamster and a man from Barcelona. Despite the historic look and feel, the food was great. With the dramas of the day over, dinner was a wonderful experience. I was able to get to know three total strangers and enjoy a really enjoyable meal with them, an experience that would never have happened if it weren’t for a computer malfunction in Sydney.
It’s often the most unusual circumstances which can lead to the best adventures. The only thing you need to be able to do in this sort of situation is have a sense of humour and always remain adaptable as the situation evolves. If you stress too much about it or just believe the solution is through yelling and swearing at people, you’ll miss out on the possibility of having a much better and memorable experience than what would have happened with the original plan anyway. I ended up shopping for sofas, meeting new people, sleeping in the old headmistress’ office in a slightly quirky and most likely haunted Victorian mansion and ended up back in Canberra for my most important meeting the next day.
In any situation, where tensions may get high due to things not going to plan, never forget that the Chinese word for crisis and opportunity is one and the same. In the words of Homer Simpson embrace and enjoy the ‘Crisatunity!’
I enjoy going to conferences, although some are often far better than others because of the theme or approach of the organisation to a certain topic or area of shared concern. Recently, I went to my first regional development conference. I’d been on their mailing list for years and despite having conferences in some cool locations, I’d never been able to get to one before.
This year however, was different and I was given the opportunity to speak at the conference around starting tech business in regional NSW.
Given the icy gale force winds we’d been experiencing lately, I was excited to escape to the warmth of Coffs Harbour for a couple of days. I admit that I missed the morning session of the first day. After landing in Coffs late the night before, I’d been frantically working on polishing my presentation for the next day. I then managed to sleep till 6:30am before getting up and jumping straight back into it.
After a few more practice runs of the presentation and the ever-annoying last minute reformatting to PowerPoint to make sure it all worked whatever the setup was, I headed in. There was a vibrancy to the gathering which was exciting and the range of speakers was excellent, covering diverse topics affecting our regional communities from infrastructure to economic development to social demographics. Thus, there was something quite specific for everyone.
Some of the most interesting sessions I attended explored the way in which regions were growing and the reasons behind the growth. There’s this massive myth that unless you’re living in a major city in Australia, you’ll never be able to be really successful, yet what does that even mean? Years ago when I started another business, someone said to me, ‘So when are you moving to Sydney?’ My reply was, ‘Why would I want to do that? I’d just have to sit in traffic all the time and waste all my money on rent!’
This is a key problem owning or working for a city-based business. Why would I want to waste all my time sitting in a car in stop-start bumper to bumper traffic when I can have a 10 min commute to town on foot? Added to this when you figure in the relatively low cost of air travel from most of our regional airports to our capital cities, then why would you bother living in a cramped studio apartment in which you can’t swing a cat, when you could live in a large house in the country where you can swing as many cats around as you like! Not sure why you want to swing the cat around, but you get the picture.
However, regional towns are not just about a better lifestyle, which is now being easily afforded to digital entrepreneurs and those who don’t need to operate a traditional ‘shopfront’ style business. The most important part of being in a regional town is that of community. The sense of community and the opportunity to be part of something much greater than yourself is massively beneficial to yourself, your family and happiness in general.
The days of regional towns being isolated by tyranny of distance, are quickly disappearing and the opportunities for jobs, business and being part of the community continue to grow.
For me, meeting other business people from different regional centres around Australia was a refreshing experience and a reinforcement of what I hold to be so true. You can establish and run global businesses from regional Australia and have both a lifestyle you can enjoy and the opportunities for a global presence.
Now all you need is a real world problem to solve or a customer’s need to fulfil, a fast, reliable internet connection, a few strong lattes and a massive amount of determination and persistence. You’re on your way to building an amazing business from a wonderful place in which to live.
Work satisfaction is always an interesting challenge. Often people are in jobs just because of the money and I cant’t criticize that as a motivation. After all, people need to live. However, what do you really want to be doing? A vitally important question for those looking at jobs, looking at careers, and setting goals is “Do you really want to be working in the job you’re in?” Or do you want to be doing something else? Often we look at other people’s jobs and think, ‘Wow, that looks amazing! I really want to be doing that!’
However, job envy is an interesting problem. For example, often people look at the work I’ve done over the years and say to me, ‘Oh, you have the best job!’ You work in the best location.’ Some of the time, they’re quite right, because I’ve shaped the way in which I’ve worked, to be in jobs and locations that I’ve really enjoyed. However, sometimes no matter how fun the job might appear, due to of the culture within an organisation, it can be a horrible place in which to turn up to work everyday.
The best job I had to date, was as Director of Outdoor Education for a Victorian School. Unfortunately, it was only a long service leave replacement role and for some reason, the person I was replacing wanted his job back!! Unbelieveable!!!
When I started this job, I was thrown in the deep end. It was the busiest time of the year. All the camps and activities were happening one after the other. I had three weeks to prepare the entire program for hundreds of students and staffing to match, the remaining six weeks were to run the program. It was intense! A non-stop ride, as I was responsible for three campuses. It meant back to back meetings, travel, reccies, risk assessments, medical reviews and a wide range of other preparations to ensure everything ran smoothly. However, despite the long hours, I really enjoyed the job.
Another intense job I had, was on a winter snowsports program and it was fantastic. We were up first thing in the morning, had breakfast, drove to Thredbo, skied the morning, drove back down to Jindabyne and had lunch before teaching classes until 5 o’clock. There was a short break between the end of lessons and dinner, then back into prep for the evening. This was a relentless job, but what made it enjoyable was the team with which I worked.
In another outdoor education role I had many years ago, the culture within that school was so toxic and so destructive that no matter how enjoyable the activities might have been, it was horrendous to go to work everyday. The bottom line was that staff weren’t valued. When there were important issues to discuss, staff members were ignored and marginalised. This led to resentment and total dysfuntion within the organisation. Ultimately, it was a situation where you had an insanely enjoyable program in which we ran mountain biking, kayaking, sea kayaking, hiking and an enviable fitness program over six months, but as the culture grew more toxic, it didn’t matter how much fun it could have been. It ended up completely unfulfilling. Sadly, people employed to help the social and emotional development of teenagers, were totally incapable of growth themselves.
When you have incompetent managment within an organisation, it destroys teams and destroys the integrity and character of a workplace. What I came into years before, which was a happy and exciting place in which to work, turned into a miserable, arduous, horrendous place that was turning over staff faster than you could blink.
As you can see on the outside, being able to turn up to work everyday in shorts and a t-shirt, teach a few lessons then go for a bike ride sounds fantastic! At one point it was. However, throw in poor management and a toxic, cancerous culture, then no matter how good it looks on the outdside, the rotting core destroys the organsiation from within. The end result for us was that the programs being run were only ever half-assessed and from an educational point of view, quite ineffective.
So, one of the really critical things you need to consider whenever you’re looking at a new job or re-evaluating your current one, you have to enjoy what you’re doing because enjoyment and fulfilment sparks the next level of commitment. It sparks you to have ideas. It enables continuous improvement and it enables growth within an organisation. As that organisation grows and flourishes, so can everything else about your life. However, if you stay in a job just for the sake of the money, no matter how good that money is, eventually, you’ll end up bitter and twisted and resentful only damaging your life and the lives of those around you.
Are you happy at work? Is your job fulfuling? Are you feeling that what you’re doing everyday is important and valued? Or are you just collecting money? When you can honestly answer these questions of yourself, then you’re ready to assess how worthwhile what you’re doing truely is. If it’s just for the money, it’s time to start looking for new opportunities. However, if you feel valued and enjoy what you do, then you’re already in the right place!
Recently, I was at a council meeting where they invited members of the community in for a brainstorming session. I liked the sound of it and there was free food, so I decided I had to go along. There were around 30 people there, with a mix of people from Council, business owners, local professionals, and other community members.
The task for everyone was to come up with innovative ideas for creating a modern connected city. Sounds simple, right? As with many other brainstorming sessions, the tables were covered with butchers’ paper and we had permanent markers to jot down notes. A presentation was given by Council as to what they were already innovating with in terms of local services. Whilst this was quite interesting, unfortunately, it seemed to skew the way everyone was thinking about innovation and so instead of people truly throwing out radical and innovative ideas, it merely appeared that they were replicating ideas, or just adding to the ones that Council had already said they were doing.
Whilst there’s usually an advantage to frontloading situations and getting people into the right mind-set, unfortunately in this case, it didn't seem to work and many of the ideas that were being thrown up, were not innovative. They were just pointless and some quite ludicrous.
I found myself sitting there feeling quite disempowered, as I frustratingly had no innovative ideas of my own. So why was that? Why was nothing coming to me? I've created and developed a number of innovative products, from the ‘Reducer Flush,’ that limited the amount of water that’s used each time you flush your toilet, as well as software for the livestock industry that provides up-to-the-minute pricing data for farmers, to medical and incident management software for teachers when they're out on excursions. If anyone at that table should have been coming up with ideas, I felt it should have been me…Or should it?
Despite my frustration, and feeling totally and utterly out of my depth, all I needed to do was realise that for me, sitting around a table and brainstorming with other people was never ever going to work. Why’s that you ask? If all it took to be innovative was to sit around a table and talk, then the world would be running short of problems to solve. The number of times I sat around a table at work in this manner, should mean that we have the most amazingly productive and cohesive workplace on earth. Unfortunately, it's not in time spent sitting around the table as that usually results in plenty of stupid ideas and a total lack of productivity.
Innovation is therefore a really tricky thing to understand. I recently read a number of books on early stage start-ups in the US. Many of these start-ups don't actually do anything. All they seem to have done is put a ‘high-performing’ team of people together and try to get them innovate, then at the same time try to delude VCs into giving them money to perpetuate their fantasy long enough in the hope of striking something useful. Think of it being like the gold rush days, where everyone was trying to get a piece of the action and instead of digging for gold in hills that actually might have gold in them, you just dig anywhere you can find a piece of dirt. Taking this approach just means you will get very good at moving mounds of dirt.
So how do we actually innovate? For me, every time I've had a good idea, it's been whilst skiing, paddling or running. It's not until I'm in a creative space that works for me, that I can be creative. Despite many people telling you if you put enough creative people together they will create something amazing, this is not always the case. The opposite can be true as well if you put a lot of creative people together, there is every chance they just go to fight. Can you imagine Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Vincent van Gogh in the same room? Would they work together to create the world's greatest masterpiece that would eclipse all of their individual works? Or would they simply argue and end up throwing paint at each other?
There is so much money in innovation and technology has been a great enabler. Consequently, people are desperate to somehow be part of it and try to invent ways for people to innovate. However, this often fails to recognise how individual and obscure the art of innovation is. Many innovations fail because they're not developed to solve a real-world problem. The truly successful innovations however, when looked at retrospectively seem so obvious. They usually are, because they fix a problem that previously caused great pain or annoyance.
So how do you come up with a simple and obvious solution that people will talk about retrospectively and say how ingenious it is? Firstly, what's your greatest frustration? Secondly, how can you improve or change something to reduce this frustration or fix the problem? Thirdly, when you come up with all sorts of ideas to solve your big frustration, test out the theory to see if it’s also other people’s frustration and check whether your solution would work. Fourthly, take action and do something about it.
With any innovation, it's often the last step that is forgotten. Many people have great ideas every day. However, very few of them have the time, energy and persistence to take the action necessary to turn these innovative ideas into workable solutions that make a difference to people's lives.
Next time you’re at work and you're forced to sit at a table and solve all the world's problems at once, think about where your most creative space is and instead of sitting around the table go to that creative place so you can innovate in a natural and effective way. If you approach innovation in this way, you won't be left at the table feeling disempowered. You can come back to the table with something truly amazing.
Building a business from scratch is hard work. There are so many things you need to do, so many things to organise and so many things to make happen, often with no idea as to how any of it should be done. Where do you start? In what order should you do things? These are just some of the many and varied problems when developing a business from scratch and shaping it so it grows the way you want it to.
Consequently, not only do you have to decide in what direction you want your business to head, but how all the moving parts must operate for that to actually happen. Sometimes it feels as if you’re trying to spin a collection of plates on thin metal poles. This is a classic circus act trick and if you’ve ever been to a circus and have seen someone doing this, it’s amazing. If you’re in business for yourself, the reality of the spinning plates being your world, starts to become clear. It really is amazing to watch! One plate slows down and the performer has to run over to speed it up so it's going fast enough for it to balance on the thin metal pole. By the time he has that plate up and spinning again, the next one is starting to slow down and wobble awkwardly. So once again the performer has to run to it and speed this one up. The performer continues to add more and more plates on thin metal poles to the act. As he starts each one, another one slows down and starts to wobble. This one urgently needs his attention and once sorted, another plate needs his attention.
This seemingly endless act of plate spinning ends in one of two ways. With all the plates up and running smoothly, the performer calmly walks along and removes each plate from its pole and neatly stacks them all up. The other way, the plates end up smashing on the floor one after another in a hideous disastrous mess. However, any good performer is not to let this happen and will do everything to keep those plates spinning.
This is a perfect analogy for building a business. There are so many moving parts. It comes down to priorities. What’s your current priority? What needs to be done right now to make sure that you keep that part of your business going just long enough to get the next piece in motion? In real life terms, this is called crisis management and crisis management is never good. With a significant amount of experience in crisis management myself, it's not a place in which I like to spend much time. A crisis is a point at which an organisation encounters a significant disruption to normal operation. However, if your normal business is drowning in constant crises, then as soon as you solve one crisis you just find yourself falling into the next one, you need to carefully examine the way in which you're doing business.
Operating constantly in crisis mode is unsustainable and something will eventually give. However, when you’re building something completely from scratch and a lot of it you’re having to make up as you go, what feels like a crisis is often not. It's just the way a new business is and we’re not used to that feeling and people often believe that everything must be done, all at once, right at this very moment for the business to succeed.
The reality is however, if you try and get everything done all at once, you’ll never succeed in getting anything done at any point in time. Therefore, it’s a matter of setting clear goals and priorities. The size of the goal doesn't matter, but what does matter is the mindset and approach you take as you start chipping away your big goal. When staring up at a seemingly insurmountable mountain, you can either give up because it looks too big to climb, you can run around in a panic worrying about all the things you must do before you can climb the mountain, or you can just start climbing.
It's the people who just start climbing and little by little make their way up the mountain that in the end succeed. When you look at your business from the same point of view and divide the massive end goal up into small manageable steps, the path toward success becomes much clearer. With a persistent mindset that ‘I’m going to take this first step, then I’m going to make it to that first ridgeline. At the ridgeline, I’m going sidestep around till I find the next ascent, which connects me up to a great stable rock face with some solid footings which will help me to take the next step, and the next, and the next until I’ve reached the summit.’
Approaching any goal, be it personal or business in this methodical and relentless manner, helps to remove the crisis mindset that is so often holding many great entrepreneurs back from success. This doesn't mean you won't encounter a crisis, an avalanche or a yeti along the way, but it does mean that through taking all of these small steps along the way and working towards your end goal consistently, you can conquer any mountain.
When you’re building your business and, like the performer with too many spinning plates, you’re struggling to keep it together, step back and instead of looking at the mountain ahead, simply focus on what your next step needs to be. Once you decide what the next small step is and you’ve gone and done it, feel happy in the fact that you’ve done everything you need to, to ensure you reach your end-goal. The simple act of taking the next step, has chipped away at that mountain of a goal and all those little chips start to build momentum towards whatever you’re trying to achieve. Eventually, each step and each little chip will ensure that at the end of the day you will conquer the mountain in front of you.
A question I’d like to pose, is what is happening with the Australian economy? Every time you look around more retail shops are closing on our main streets, especially in small towns. The cost to rent anywhere is ridiculously expensive, so why bother with a shopfront? Commercial real estate owners are yet to realise supply is now outstripping demand and many shopfronts now stand ghostly empty in our streets. With the latest economic figures being a reminder that economies go forwards, sideways and backwards, what does the future hold for Australian business?
We're at a tipping point where manufacturing is dead, mining is stumbling along, agriculture is almost subsistence living for many farmers, retail is still coming to terms with the reality of eCommerce and cafés seem to be popping up everywhere! Are we becoming a nation of public servants and café owners? Hopefully not, as diversity is key to a sustainable economy!
What then is the way forward? With our cities bursting at the seams and a two hour daily commute wasting 20 whole days of your life a year, what's the answer?
Well that's simple, decentralisation. Move more services away from the main cities into regional areas. So long as regional centres have fast internet and an airport, and a couple of good cafés, this opens a world of opportunity for government, professionals and businesses at a fraction of the cost of our major cities.
Regional centres have cheaper housing, virtually no traffic, open spaces and a pace of life and lifestyle which lends itself to far better family time and opportunities to connect with others. Most employees only get twenty days of annual leave each year, yet living in the city, they’re spending the equivalent of their entire holiday break sitting in traffic.
The reality is that as communications improve, there’s no reason why you can’t run big businesses from regional centres. There’s no reason why every single government department needs to be in a city. It’s cheaper to fly senior managers in and out of Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra for meetings, than the massive cost of renting entire office blocks in the CBD. After all, how many clients who are being served actually walk into the office?
If people have access to core services in regional areas, fast internet access and fast transport options, then the opportunities for a better life style is beckoning. Whilst many a study, by those living in the city, will tell you how it makes no difference, why not give it go. Spend a few weekends in a regional town or city and get a feel for what life would be like without the horrendous congestion.
Recently this has been on my mind as I’ve been caught up in a frantic whirlwind of work, work and more work. Basically, if I’m not working, I’m sleeping. Now this is an insane combination and totally unsustainable. The realization hit me the other weekend when I went to Canberra to run the marathon! One of my goals this year has been to run a 1000km for the year and as part of that, run a marathon.
42km all at once is a hard slog. I did this once in the Relay for Life, when I was living in Orange. However, this was without the pressure of the race and basically it was just going around and around in circles on a playing field. Looking back, it was great that a group of high school students, who had been walking on and off throughout the evening, had seen me slowing down, but then encouraged me to keep going (around midnight) when I was about to give up having hit the 40km mark. With their encouragement and running beside me, I pushed through the stinging pain in my legs and jogged the last 2km before collapsing in a chair that took me until 1am to vacate.
Fast forward a couple of years and last year I got back into running. When I started to set some goals at the start of this year, running a marathon became one of them. So I booked my entry into the Canberra Marathon and during January got into training. I kept progressing and extending my runs from 6km (two laps of the beach near home). Up to 21km (the beach near home, plus the next two beaches to the north). All was looking good and if I kept increasing the distance I was training for, I’d easily be ready for the April race. However, February struck!
Once businesses and schools went back for the year, I found myself consumed by work. As I said before, if I were not working, I was sleeping and something had to give and that was everything outside of work, and I mean everything. My training stopped dead in its tracks and the only running I was doing was from meeting to meeting and eating unhealthily on the way. Not quite what was needed to be able to run 42km…
Two weeks ago, I reached the point where I knew I wasn’t prepared for a race of that length. Whilst much of a marathon is a mental battle, there’s also a massive physical component. Burning the candle at both ends ultimately has a cost, and the cost was achieving one of my important goals for the year. I reluctantly changed my entry from the full marathon to the half, knowing that was at least within my reach.
When I ran the half marathon, it was a good run. Thankfully, the training I’d done last year and early this year had paid off. However, it left me feeling unfulfilled. I’d wanted to do more and yet, because I’d been throwing all my energy at something else, I’d missed out on doing something that was important to me. I can only blame myself for letting it happen.
Reflecting on this, the reality is that work can never fulfill every aspect of your life. If it is, then you need to do something to change this, because at some point you’ll miss out on something that’s important to you, just as I did. I know I’ll find another marathon to run, but with this happening, it was a timely reminder that everyone needs to make sure there’s always time for themselves throughout their daily and weekly schedules, without which, you risk becoming the guy from
Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of A Salesman,’ and nobody really wants that.
Frontline Management is a challenging role and to do it effectively, you have to be able to build professional relationships with your staff. If you have to resort to yelling at your staff as a direct supervisor, you really have lost the ability to provide any semblance of guidance.
I know how frustrating and even infuriating it can be dealing with staff at times, especially if they’re the wrong fit for the organisation. However, if you’ve been put in a managerial position, the reality is that you’re getting paid more than everyone else for a reason. It’s believed that managers have the qualities and capacity to guide others towards shared goals and objectives. (Yes, ‘believed!’)
Unfortunately, many managers are ill-prepared for the role and if they simply think that making demands of staff is the way in which they can lead them, they’re seriously mistaken and perhaps the would-be manager should find themselves another sort of role.
Leading staff is about inspiring. It’s about developing and working towards common goals. It’s often the case, however, that there’s a disconnect between the common goal and the values that the manager has versus what staff value or perceive their role to be. If this is the case, expect nothing but conflict and ineffective work practices.
I’ve worked in a number of organisations where there’s been a total disconnect between what management values and what staff members value. The reality is that the two can’t be disconnected. Everyone needs to be working towards the same goal, otherwise the workplace just ends up in a completely dysfunctional mess.
Now I also need to be clear in that even if you’re working towards a common goal, you may still experience internal conflict. After all, you’re dealing with groups of people, not machines and people love drama, especially workplace drama, as it can fill the emotional void between morning talkback radio and ‘Home & Away’ in the evening.
However, if you’re truly leading people, you need to have a common goal, a common vision of what you’re trying to achieve. If you don’t have this then it makes it extremely hard to inspire others to do anything at all.
I was working for an organisation where this problem came to the fore. The manager was seriously out of his depth. He didn’t understand what the organisation was trying to achieve. He didn’t have the experience within that organisation or within the industry to be able to provide any sort of management or any sort of guidance in this either.
This is often the case, especially in organisations and large organisations that keep adding more and more staff quite rapidly and yet they’re not really clear on what the staff need to be doing, yet at the same time, they need more staff to do something! It’s a classic public service experience but also it happens in a lot of other organisations. You end up with more layers of management than you can poke a stick at. However, none of them is really clear on what they’re actually supposed to be doing and none of them can make a decision to save their lives.
If this situation arises, then you get an even greater divide between management objectives and employee realities. Once you get this disconnect between management and employees with no clear goals, with no clear idea what the organisation is trying to achieve, you get increasing internal conflict. There’s lots of knee-jerk reactions by management due to the need for control over people in the absence of any clear vision.
When issues arise, there’s a natural fall-back for many poor managers to become defensive about any issue and instead of dealing with it head on in person, most of it now is being done via messages or email. With no direct personal contact with staff, this only exasperates the situation. This then leads to an increasing feeling of resentment and hostility within the organisation and ultimately conflict between managers and employees that goes round and round in circles and gets nowhere.
Conflict within an organisation due to bad management, then increases absenteeism and the cost of doing business. If nobody is really sure why they’re doing what they’re doing, it’s little wonder that small issues will get blown out of proportion by everyone.
The issue then becomes a growing mistrust felt between management and staff and this can go from an organisation not really working coherently, to a very toxic and detrimental workplace. You can be assured, any minor issue will suddenly blow up into a massive problem that seems to dwarf Mt. Everest in size and scope.
The sad reality is that it’s quite common in many organisations to promote people based upon years of service and not actual ability to manage. Just because someone has been there a long time doesn’t mean he or she will be any good at managing people. Managers must have other qualities and working towards clear goals is one very important one. If a potential manager can’t demonstrate why the organisation is doing what it’s doing in a genuine manner, you really don’t want that person trying to manager others.
To avoid this situation, you need front line managers that are able to understand staff, make decisions and have clear visions and goals for the organisation. If the organisation’s vision is aligned with the beliefs of the staff, then it means minor issues go away very quickly. They can be dealt with in a professional manner and don’t end up in yelling matches with people firing accusations back and forth and getting everyone nowhere but stressed.
At the end of the day, if you want your organisation to operate at around 25% of capacity just go for whatever person you like and throw him or her into a management position. It doesn’t matter. However, if you want to be operating in the 80-100% capacity range and really want to make a positive difference to what your organisation’s doing, you need to be far more careful and discerning of who you put in to your management positions.
Once you get the right mix, it’s not just about managing people. It’s about inspiring them. It’s about motivating them through common goals and a vision to be the best at whatever you’re doing. This sort of approach changes the whole dynamics of an organisation. All the daily drama and nonsense that holds people back and cripples workplaces, just disappears into the aether. Suddenly people are happier, more effective and ultimately, the organisation can grow and become far better at what it does.
You promised us a Scandinavian saga style opera on 1st Jan! What Happened???
Well that’s a fair enough question and whilst I apologise to my 10s of readers who were eagerly anticipating the whole saga to begin at the start of the new year and play out in all its epic glory, instead at the time I was busy getting snowed in on my trip to the US as I explored opportunities and went to a Village People concert!
Yes, they’re still alive, well, some of them at least and they didn’t miss a beat, although they were sucking down oxygen from small canisters between songs, but that’s understandable as the concert was in a town about 2,500m above sea level. The mood was electric, as everyone in the entire auditorium danced and sang to the encore performance of YMCA! It was a great night!
I did promise singing after all! So why haven’t I written the blow by blow account of building a business from scratch? Well for one, if I wrote a daily account of everything that happened, which I did to begin with, there would be lots of repetition, dull moments and swearing.
What’s my solution to this? The easy solution is that I’m going to hold off on doing the daily blog, or even a weekly blog of the saga of building a business and instead condense this down into a book. Oh crap, not another business book! Yeah… another business book, but hey, I’ll probably make it into an audio book so you can listen to the saga, rather than having to actually read it. It makes it easier to include singing in it as well.
In the book however, I won’t tell you what you should do in business. I’ll just be reflecting on my own experiences and from this I’ll let you decide what course of action you need to take for yourself. With everything in life, there are many ways to approach a problem. If for example I’d listened to all the advice I’ve been given about business over the past two years from all the many willing advice givers, I probably wouldn’t recognise my own business and it’d be a bastardised mess filled to the brim with other peoples’ ideas, goals and expectations. If I wanted that, I’d just work for public service.
Building a business is one of the most challenging, frustrating, yet rewarding things you can do and as such, the story deserves a lot more attention than a few blog posts and later in the year, it will start to take shape. In the meantime, I’ll just keep posting away about random things which excite me, annoy me or simply make me laugh.
Head over Here For My Outdoor Ed Blog - Challenge, Experience, Growth!