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Shift happens… Drift happens…

Last week the Financial Review invited me to their two day top-tier business summit – possibly because it was on International Women’s Day and last year they included me in their Top 100 Women of Influence.

As I headed home on the Manly ferry, I reviewed my notes from the array of presentations. Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood had kicked off proceedings, commenting that “no one has the luxury of being passengers on the plane” in our world of constant disruption.

As ferry passengers, we found ourselves amidst disruption of a different kind when the gear box broke and we drifted for about the same amount of time it would take to fly to New Zealand!

This provided more than ample time to reflect on the two days of information. Indeed – shift happens! As drift happened and day turned to night, this baby boomer became somewhat cynical of the rhetoric that had been espoused by the Prime Minister, other political leaders and CEOs of established corporations about infrastructure, and I longed for innovations championed by those in the new economy only hours earlier…

  • David Rohrsheim, CEO of Uber ANZ, quoted that 25% of people under 25 in Victoria don’t have a driver’s licence and prefer a simple click to get a car to take them from A to B. He also undoubtedly thought about Uber afloat, as two strangers and I considered collectively calling a water taxi, but of course there was no safe way to exit the large ferry. Driverless cars – and boats – aren’t far off.
  • Don Meij, CEO of Domino’s pizza, spoke of drone delivery. I spoke at their conference a couple of years ago and emailed him that he might also consider a captive market on stranded ferries.
  • Tim Fung of Air Tasker might have been able to more quickly send a tradesman with the necessary spare parts to repair the ferry malfunction.
  • Michael Cannon-Brookes of Atlassian and Adrian Turner of CSIRO, both with a no-nonsense approach, predicted that 40% of jobs won’t exist in the future, but new ones would emerge.

So rather than vent on Sydney Ferries for a poor contingency plan on this occasion (and to be fair, they’re usually pretty good) we’ll likely only have some nameless/faceless programmer to blame in future.

Ironically, when speaking at a conference to one of the world’s leading technology companies only the day before in a presentation titled “Shift Happens – Seize the Adventure”, I’d cited the need to combine high tech with high touch… old fashioned communication and listening while we surf the waves – or surf the web.

Sometimes the more things change, the more they remain the same, so that’s why organisations need to do more than pay lip service to educating and empowering their human capital. Other information that may be of interest:

  • Jennifer Westacott, Chair of the Business Council – “100,000 Chinese visitors in 2000 and 1.2 million last year” (the two who threw up on the ferry won’t likely return).
  • Angus Grigg, Financial Review correspondent – China is tackling corruption and their leader may soon be more powerful than Chairman Mao. Companies wishing to do business there shouldn’t be seduced by the size of the market or social media, but need to build long term relationships. “Rather than be overwhelmed by 1.3 billion customers there, stick to quality and test market on the local Chinese community here.”
  • Anthony Pratt, Chair of Visy, is the largest Australian employer in the USA and sells boxes to Amazon because they were ready with recycled materials at about the same time as the documentary An Inconvenient Truth was released and businesses had to meet eco standards. He said success wasn’t that complicated: “Look after your best customers. Look after your best people. Make a profit. Collect debt. Be persistent. Listen to the man on the street.” After talking with his factory workers in Ohio, he placed a $100,000 bet on Trump to win weeks before the election and more than quadrupled his money. Hmm, I’m not advocating that, but what I also found interesting about his presentation was that he had hand written notes rather than the slick PowerPoint of many of the major corporates – maybe that’s a difference between a private and a public company in terms of risk taking and speech making.

After three hours on the ferry, most devices had flat batteries, so passengers actually spoke to each other.

Likewise, my key takeaway from the event was a couple of meaningful conversations at breaks, rather than those superficial encounters when someone simply launches into their elevator pitch and thrusts a business card at you like conference confetti.

I missed an 8PM teleconference with Singapore, even though another passenger kindly offered me his phone, of course all contact details were in mine. When it recharged two hours later, the first text was from my bank saying my credit card had been hacked, so they cancelled it, and the auto debit for my WiFi provider was due at midnight, so it was about to be cut off.

Even my Fitbit battery gave up the ghost on the ferry, so by this stage, I wasn’t even sure I still had a pulse!

As my head finally hit the pillow, I recalled a speaker from CSIRO saying they were on the cusp of being able to slow down the ageing process – by turning off a gene – and wondered if maybe we could all, regardless of age, simply slow down… just a little.

Shift happens… Drift happens… Keep your spirits afloat in the turbulent waters of change.

Featured image: Jonathon Hall‏, twitter.com/jon_hall79

 

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What did Ita say? And what’s it got to do with anemones?

I love science, I love sea anemones and I know exactly why I am doing a PhD. I want to make a difference with my work. My beautiful friend Carly has Multiple Sclerosis, as does the irreverent comedian Tim Ferguson. They are my inspiration every day. So when the going gets tough and self-doubt creeps in, I remind myself of what Ita said as I head back into the lab and embrace every obstacle as something I just have to get around.

After nearly 10 years with Slade Group, this is my swan song blog as I leave the corporate world to pursue my PhD. But before I launch into my niche area of research, let me tell you what Ita said.

Back in March, I attended a lunch in Lismore where celebrated publisher Ita Buttrose was the guest speaker. We all know her as a successful businesswoman with an extensive media career and an Australian household name. And if the TV series Paper Giants is anything to go by, she has had a pretty tough fight to get to the top of her game.

Personally, I have never been one for taking the easy path either. In my younger years I was computer programmer, well before the information technology industry became what it is now, when even the word IT was brand new. Males certainly outnumbered females in IT in those days.

But back to Ita. She spoke about a range of achievements for women over the past few decades, including women in science. You can watch a short video of her speech from the event. I was captivated by her talk and I had a very specific question for her, which I was thrilled she took the time to answer.

My question: “I assume you had to fight every day to march to the beat of your own drum. Did you ever want to give up? How did you keep yourself motivated in your moments of self-doubt?”

Buttrose replied, “I asked myself why am I here?

Of course she knew exactly why she was there.  But it was not simply passion and determination that took her to the top, she says she loved every one of her jobs. As Editor in Chief of Cleo magazine, The Australian Women’s Weekly and the Daily Telegraph she constantly told herself, “I deserve to be here and I have every right to be here. I choose to work in this jungle.” As to the numerous obstacles she overcame on her career journey from copy girl to be the first female editor of a major metropolitan newspaper in Australia, Buttrose was emphatic in her approach. “I will just find my way around any obstacles,” she said.

So what has all that got to do with my sea change, studying marine biology? It’s another field, as with the Sciences in general, where a lack of female representation is apparent. On completing a Master of Applied Science by Research, I found my current bent as a taxonomist (specialist biologist, no relation to taxation or economist). I am currently completing a Doctorate in the field of Medicinal Chemistry studying sea anemone venoms for use in pharmaceuticals, with practical applications to treat autoimmune diseases such as MS. If that sounds like a lot of hard work, it is and I love it!

Pharmaceutical research is also highly competitive, as is access to funding. There are only about 15 specialists in my field in the entire world and I’m now one of that exclusive cohort. While it’s not unusual for PhD students to question the value of their pursuits, without a chemistry background, or any prior knowledge genetics, I’ve also had to find my way in a completely new network of people where everyone was an unknown. I certainly know something about the challenges faced when following a less-traditional career path.

That’s why Ita’s talk was exactly what I needed to hear. I thanked Ita Buttrose afterwards for her answer. One-to-one she asked me if I had self-doubts? “Every day!” I said. She reinforced her advice to believe in myself. I have every right to be where I am.

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