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A Healthy Disregard for the Impossible

Liza van Wyk, Winter warmer breakfast, 3 July 2007

Good morning all. The cold never seems to feel as intense as when one is among friends. Thank you for joining us this morning.

We’ve received excellent feedback from those who attend these breakfasts about what they learn from our speakers, who are all AstroTech and Biz Tech trainers, and also the value of this as a networking opportunity.

While contemplating this breakfast I reflected on how differently we look at notions of intelligence compared to our parent’s generations.
When I was growing up, IQ was considered very important. People who belonged to Mensa were considered exceptional, they still are, but what has become more important in our shrinking, hi-tech, globalised world is not just the ability to solve complex mathematical equations or spell 12-letter words, but the ability to communicate, to motivate and to inspire those around us.

Liesl Gini will discuss emotional intelligence.
I believe it is the key to innovation and I’d like to reflect on innovation and new management thinking. It is particularly important now as we reflect on the lessons we need to learn from the long strike in the public sector and as many of us are involved in wage rounds at present.

Real intelligence demands consideration.
A sustainable bottom line also depends on how well we care for the physical and social environment. It also means that instead of trying to control staff, we need to train them with the skills to work smarter and freer.

AstroTech management trainer, Wayne Ford, who facilitates a number of courses including Management for New Managers, says one should remember that workers have to elect to strike, “if most are happy they won’t vote to strike. But if valid concerns need to be addressed, they will.”
Sometimes, he notes, strikes apparently about wages disguise genuine concerns, “If the canteen is filthy and food is poor and management fail to address that, it could underpin grievances. Identify the facilities needed to improve a workplace and do it.”
He also says that, “appointing people to positions they can’t cope with and not giving them adequate training is another area of significant stress.”

We and our staff have to be involved in lives of ongoing learning.

Leigh Allardyce, a prominent labour lawyer and facilitator in AstroTech’s Labour Relations and Labour Law course recommends that when going to the negotiating table it is important that both sides have an open mind. She cautions against absolutist statements like “never”, “we will not” or those famous words we often have to eat: “out of the question.”
She advises employers to create opportunities to move the process forward instead of stopping it. And of course people involved in negotiations should be properly trained in negotiating tactics.

Professor Gary Hamel, director of the Management Innovation Lab at the London School of Business says managers need to throw out top-down control and focus entirely on making their staff, and organisation, as innovative as possible.

Based on a study of businesses over the last century, Hamel says large shifts in competitive advantage are only delivered by major innovations in the practice of management.

He says Apple's success with the iPod had “very little to do with the product - it had more to do with some very smart lawyers inventing a new digital rights management system and getting the entire music industry to sign up to it."

And innovation does not happen in tight corporate hierarchies.

Harmel says: "You need a process that generates thousands of new ideas every year."
How do you do it?
He says by having a smart workplace that feels free to innovate. He gives the example of WL Gore, the maker of Gore-Tex waterproof fabric and other industrial products. It has no hierarchy or corporate titles.
Ten per cent of the staff are nominated as leaders by their peers.
No one can order anyone else to do something and every staff member spends 10 percent of their time on a personal project.
Gore has demanding companies like Nike and Procter & Gamble among its customers and has had 50 years of increasing earnings.

Harmel says: "Big companies think if you let people choose what they want to work on you will have chaos. But people are pretty smart. They know that companies are there to make products and to satisfy customers, so generally they choose to work on things that add value."

Few no this better than Google. Larry Page, a founder of Google advises: “having a healthy disregard for the impossible.” He says, “You should try to do things that most people would not.”
At Google they have five star chefs churning out organic, healthy meals for staff. Each staff member has to spend 20 percent of paid work time each week doing a project that has nothing to do with their job – it can be anything from skydiving to art lessons. Within less than a decade of helping found Google and barely past their 30th birthdays the founders of Google were personally worth $10bn each.

A June edition of The Economist hailed Steve Job’s Apple for its “inventiveness.” The Economist said, “In polls of the world's most innovative firms it consistently ranks first.”

It lists four aspects of Apple’s success.
First: “Apple is an orchestrator and integrator of technologies, unafraid to bring in ideas from outside but always adding its own twists…

“Second, Apple illustrates the importance of designing new products around the needs of the user, not the demands of the technology.” Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But I wonder how many of us blame inadequate systems for not being able to do the job, instead of strategically manipulating the system to do the job for us.

Innovation is about creation. It’s about deciding that the word “impossible” is a construct of the lazy. If you want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen. The only one stopping you, is you.

The Economist notes too that “Listening to customers is generally a good idea, but smart companies sometimes ignore what the market says it wants. The iPod was ridiculed when it was launched in 2001, but Mr Jobs stuck by his instinct. Nintendo has done something similar with its popular motion-controlled video-game console, the Wii. Rather than designing a machine for existing gamers, it gambled that non-gamers represented an untapped market and devised a machine with far broader appeal.

“The fourth lesson from Apple is to "fail wisely"” Learn from your mistakes and try again. AstroTech courses encourage you to be aware of the mistakes of others and to learn from them. Do not discard failure, learn from it.

Remember that development of the individual is how you keep a brand excellent.
And while helping develop your staff, you too should be in a process of constant inner evolution – take time too, to regularly pat yourself on your back. Kim Kiyosaki in her book, “Rich Woman” recommends “Acknowledge yourself when you have successes. Celebrate.”

AstroTech has had a string of successes since it was formed less than a decade ago. We’ve also tried to learn from failure – it can be hard to swallow pride and disappointment and go back and look at why and how a “sure-thing” turned into failure.

At the moment we are growing so fast we are spilling out of our offices and in the final quarter of this year will relocate to offices in Bedfordview. We will inform you of the details closer to the time.
We believe a good part of our success is consistently delivering better than we believed possible,
listening carefully to feedback –
and celebrating regularly and learning from you, our valued clients.

In the month ahead we launch an AstroTech and Biz Tech radio advertising campaign on Raido 702. Please let us know what you think.
We learn from your feedback.

But for now, thank you.

We hope the second half of this year sees ongoing success for you, our companies and our country.