Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Baboons Kissing Babies

It's election time here in New Zealand. The eight week campaign to election day on 17 September will be, by turns fascinating and dire. The fun has already begun. Helen Clark's Labour party are desperately clinging to power, having had their comfortable margin in the polls eroded by the National party, led by Don Brash.

The problem for the New Zealand voting public is that we are hardly spoiled for choice. Labour have become corpulent and arrogant. Ms Clark is like a raptor, spitting venom at her rivals. Don Brash, leader of the National party has a strange buffoon character. And neither has any particular appeal to the 'mainstream' voters they are trying to woo. The mere thought of seeing either kissing babies is about as embarrasingly awkard as watching Saddam Hussein mugging for the cameras with the 'human shield' children he held hostage back before the western coalition started losing a war of attrition to insurgents.

The fundamental flaw, for me at least, is that neither party seems to have any sense of how to appeal effectively to the psyche of the voters. Labour's billboards seem like ads for The Don and National's put a 'bob each way' featuring both their own charsimatically challenged principal and Clark.

Just last night the encumbents promised to wipe interest off student loans. I don't have a student loan, so it doesn't affect me directly. But I do feel that it is a cynical and desperate measure to buy votes - now that Clark has announced the election date (which she withheld from the public in an annoyingly petty way).

The entire issue of student debt needs to be considered for its effect on the economic grotwh and development of New Zealand, especially as we move into a creative economy and need to attract and retain talent to compete on the world stage. So, it is probably a good thing. Creepy Dr Cullen smugly announced a seven billion dollar economic surplus in his 'chewing gum budget'. But why wait till now?

I can't think of any party or politician who would qualify as The One & Only. I guess it makes sense that dry, characterless people seek power somehow and politics is their refuge. I was pleased to see an old school friend running for the North Shore seat. Phil Twyford is standing for Labour. He seems like a smart guy. But, unfortunately, his career to date, most notably as a lobbyist for Oxfam in Washington. has been about social engineering and redistribution of other people's money. This kind of focus - moving the dust around, seems like such a waste of talent and time. New Zealand has towering issues to face or we will slip further and further behind in the OECD rankings.

Tax and how it is redirected shouldn't be the main focus of this election. What matters is how we grow the economy and increase our stake in the world's economy. Issues that matter are reversing outward migration and inviting the brightest and the best to join us from all over the world to create new wealth.

A government that grows about its ability to plunder its own people's private resources and then crows about its inequitous charitable redistribution just doesn't get it and shouldn't get your vote.

Unfortunately I don't see any vision or strategy being expressed by any other party either.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Pandora's Box

Just a couple of thoughts:

If New Zealanders and the NZ government have an issue with the national cricket team going to Zimbabwe, given the opressive regime of Robert Mugabe - how do we feel about the Olympic Games being hosted in China?

China has one of the worst human rights records in the world. They are systematically crushing the life out of Tibet and its people. Amnesty international has pages and pages of serious human rights violations on its own citizens. We not only want to send New Zealand's elite athletes to play there but will also be inundated with corporate sponsorship to promote the event and the values that have been constructed arount the Olympics. And don't forget that a free trade deal is being slavered over by our government.

I suggest that the position being taken on the cricket tour by politicians is simply cynical pre-election posturing. A principle isn't a principle until it costs you money.

Meanwhile Don Brash has fallen into the trap set for him by Helen Clark. She has pointed to the Don's record of supporting the idea of NZ sending troops to Iraq before he became leader of the opposition. An eager beaver cub reporter from TV3 has picked up on the press release (seemingly the highest form of investigative journalism in New Zealand).

Cornered on the question 'didn't you say you supported sending troops to Iraq?' Brash refused to directly answer the question and attempted to stay on his own agenda of the current government's atrociously grasping tax policies and profligate spending.

On a one way ticket to a hiding (as they say). When he refused to directly answert the question our cub reporter could smell blood, he harried the Don, repeating the question as often as the Don diverted to taxation. It was like watching a gummy wolverine savaging a labrador puppy. Had the Don simply said 'yes, I did say that, but it is not what I believe now - because now it is two years on and we have new information.' you can be sure it would have been editied down to a sounbite sized morsel: 'Yes' - but with the question in full. Either way the didn't stand a chance. He was set up, ambushed (as Helen Clark herself claimed about TV3's practices). TV3 got a segment I am sure they will replay ad nauseum. Not sure it is news though - what would you have done? Perhaps it would be interesting to know what Don would have done about signing an artwork that he didn't produce, which was then sold in his name, or what he would have done if he had been in the back seat while his motorcade drove trhough suburban streets at V8 Supercar speeds,...the faster you go the bigger the spin.

The point is, it is just not a news story. What it is is acynical manipulation of an individual by news media for entertainment. Don't get me wrong, there is much to lampoon in New Zealand politics. Both Clark and Brash are the equivalent of the mutually assured destruction of any possibility that we'll be lead by someone with style or charisma.

As for the Don having a new opinion, based on new knowledge or understanding after two years I say THANK GOD, someone who can adjust their perspective to correspond with the facts, rather than clinging dogmatically to party flat-earth superstitions (like Labour's anti-nuclear policies).

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Learning through teaching




I have just come back to my office from teaching two classes at Massey University: Design Research and Marketing Communications and Design.

It is fascinating to look at the faces of the students as they listen to what I am saying (or think about what's for lunch, or their pending dates..or whatever it is that young design students think about when they are in prerequisite lectures).

It is kind of the opposite of a one on one conversation. I can tell that they are all quietly dreading that I might direct a question to them. I feel like John Houseman in The Paper Chase (sans tweeds and and bow tie though).

The first lecture was over two hours. I was anxious that I would be able to speak intelligently about anything for two hours, let alone marketing communications. The time flew.

Design research was for an hour.The time didn't fly, I feel less comfortable with the subject - I'm just one step ahead of the students. Reading the material and trying to make cogent sense of it last night. I'm grateful that a full time lecturer on the Massey Wellington staff has prepared through and excellent course materials. I just have to sing from the hymnal.

I see my real task as being to guide the kids through the programme and help them find meaning in its arcane nooks and crannies.

Making meaning is a key theme that is being reiterated on many fronts at the moment. It means a lot to me to share my experiences in a positive way. It's kind of fun.

I have also started being coached by a creative coach in Florida, U.S.A. I'm feeling quite challenged by the experience. There's a certain symetry to it all.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Here's to sweatshops!

One of the advantages of being disorderly
is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries.

A.A. Milne

Well, it's hard to argue with that - especially when the prevailing theory of my life is chaos theory.
It drives the people who know me to distraction sometimes how disorderly I am. It isn't that I despise order. On the contrary I am a great lover of peace and harmony. But there are always things to be done, there are always distractions that take me away from the task at hand. I guess the trick is to play to my strengths. I have acknowledged this. In my work I am very good at creating concepts, developing initial prototypes and implementing the first iteration of the ideas. But please, ...please don't expect me to maintain or manage the thing on an ongoing basis. It's just not in my nature.

It has been reassuring to read Dan Pink's book A Whole New Mind - moving from the information age to the conceptual age. These attributes, which once might have been perceived as in some way immature or negative are actually the traits most prized in the conceptual economy. For New Zealand I believe we need to put a little more heat onto the concepting and early prototype scenario, rather than worrying too much about building long lived companies that compete with the power house economies of the world.

I just watched a streaming video of the local business show from this morning. It contained an interview with the head of Fashion Industry New Zealand - a knowledgeable and articulate young woman whose organisation had commissioned an independent report on the viability of the fashion industry in this country. Now bear in mind that the likes of Karen Walker and Trelise Cooper are often cited as doyens of the ability of New Zealanders to take it to the world and compete on an equal footing on the world stage. fashion is hot. It makes for great press and TV coverage. Sexy pictures, interesting and colourful industry players.

The report suggests that the fashion industry has to be careful not to believe its own hype. Things are tough and will be tougher if we engage in a free trade agreement with China. it was projected that the kiwi fashion business would take a serious hit if the deal were to proceed. 8% of revenues would be lost to chinese goods. What the effects would be on profitability or the ability of local manufacturers to compete would be is anybody's guess - though mine is that you'd be nuts to have your capital tied up in making garments. The report suggested that the liklihood of New Zealand being able to export fashion goods to the massive Chinese market would not be viable. I suppose it would be a case of taking coals to Newcastle anyway. The playing field (or should I say catwalk) would be tilted so heavily in the favour of Chinese that someone might get hurt teetering along in high heels...

It seems strange to me to bemoan the demise of the garment making industry in New Zealand. Other than very specialised brands, with clearly defined niches, a customer base that will not swap and will pay the premium there is no future for New Zealand fashion as a manufacturing industry.

So what?

Here's another curious thing that alarmed me about the knowledgeable young CEO of FINZ, though she had a fine command of the statistics and 'facts' it seemed to me that the POINT was lost on her. She stressed that the fashion industries resurgence of interest had occurred at the 'sexy' end of the business. Young people are pouring out of polytechs and universities armed with degrees and diplomas that they expect to use to build careers as designers - not as cutters or other grass roots operational players in the industry. It sounded like the kind of interview we used to hear from unionist leaders like Ken Douglas. They articulated the fears of the workers, but didn't really have a grasp of the big picture.

Much as the whole sweatshop issue is horrible for most New Zealanders, the truth is we need to have Chinese and Indian workers making our designs and building our brands as fast as we can get them to go. Instead of investing in manufacturing processes in New Zealand, let's leverage the successes of our Karen Walkers and create brands that compete in world markets at the right price.

I'll never forget a friend's dilemma. He and his partner were making a fantastic line of cycling clothing from their base in Rotorua. They took their range to a trade fair in the U.S. and were inundated with interest and potential orders. The problem was that manufacturing the garments wasn't possible. The costs of goods was too high. They couldn't get enough people locally to make to their demanding standards. Much as it pained them they were forced to explore the ins and outs of manufacturing in China. Through an agent they were able to find a manufacturer who could produce the garments at a fraction of the local price. Shipping directly to the U.S. from China meant the goods would land at a wholesale price that permitted a retail mark-up that would make the venture viable. Did they go ahead? Honestly, I don't know. But I have a feeling they didn't. That might have meant lots of work. Lots of risk and less time to enjoy the cycling and adventure sport lifestyle they moved to Rotorua for in the first place. Can't judge them too harshly for that - it's an important consideration - 'What if it works?'

Let's get designing. I think I'll create a fashion label in front of the TV tonight. It could be on the racks in Seattle by Wednesday if I email the sketches to my manufacturers agent by lunch time.

The movie script, book and magazine projects can wait!...

Monday, July 11, 2005

A reason for peace.

I wrote an article, published in the New Zealand Herald , about the value of reason in advertising. The news from England demonstrates, again, that the very reasonable expectation we co-exist and value tolerance over violence and hate is harder to come by that one might expect. Even here in remote, pacific New Zealand the backlash against the muslim community is disappointing.

Perhaps I am an idealist (and I hope I always will be) but I still hope that reason can prevail. Acts of terror do nothing to positively affect perceptions. The west also needs to take responsiblity for its behaviour.

I'm no analyst but I wonder if reducing demand for oil products would defuse the molotov cocktail the Middle East seems to be. That way we can leave them to it and get on with our own ways of life and enjoy the differences instead of hating them.

Just an idea....whaddyareckon?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Idea hatching

Ideas are the currency of the future.

I have strongly felt this all along the way as my career has developed, sometimes in seemingly random ways. It has almost had a big bang feeling to it. The particles of my life, my work, my interests and beliefs, the talents I have, the skills I have aquired (some of which I have ditched) have radiate outwards.

Sometimes they have seemed random. Sometimes I have made choices that have felt intuitively right but which have defied reason or logic. My quixotic ventures on the internet were against the best advice of my colleagues and friends who would say things like: where is the revenue model? Practical, left brain thinking hasn't always been my strong point. Though, in my defense, it is not that I don't understand the practicalities and I can discuss business strategy from as informed and educated perspective as anyone (I've studied it to a post graduate level), it's just that I find that kind of analytic approach stifles opportunity and is, by default, premised on what has gone before, rather than innovation.

So when I serendipitously picked up the new book by Daniel Pink A Whole New Mind - moving from the information age to the conceptual age

Here is the first paragraph from the introduction:

"The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind - computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different person with a very different kind of mind - creators and empathisers, pattern recognisers and meaning makers. These people - artisits, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers - will reap society's richest rewards and share its greatest joys.

I feel that now many of the peices of my knowledge and experience are reforming, being pulled together in a mass that assumes its own gravity. Being open to experiences has given me a wide network of contacts in industries and categories I would never have known had I stayed on a linear path, a career in advertising. Some of these people are pulled into the mass (and me into theirs) and new reactions begin to take place that none of us expected.

One of these connections was meeting Vincent Heeringa and Martin Bell (HB Media). What began as an almost random meeting with no agenda, organised by a mutual aquaintence, has turned into an enterprise that could change the face of the New Zealand economy. We are working on a project that is all about the power of ideas and the importance of getting the best ideas implemented. Sometimes the journey has been bumpy. You get that when you're exploring new territory, rather than a well worn path. But it has been more fun than I have had in a long while. There is no right or wrong - this is an experiment with a huge up-side.

I hope I am not being too vague. There will be more to tell soon.

Here's another book I am reading The Flight of the Creative Class- The New Global Competition for Talent

"Following up on The Rise of the Creative Class (2002), Florida argues that if America continues to make it harder for some of the world's most talented students and workers to come here, they'll go to other countries eager to tap into their creative capabilities—as will American citizens fed up with what they view as an increasingly repressive environment. He argues that the loss of even a few geniuses can have tremendous impact, adding that the "overblown" economic threat posed by large nations such as China and India obscures all the little blows inflicted upon the U.S. by Canada, Scandinavia, New Zealand and other countries with more open political climates. Florida lays his case out well and devotes a significant portion of this polemical analysis to defending his earlier book's argument regarding "technology, talent, and tolerance" (i.e. that together, they generate economic clout, so the U.S. should be more progressive on gay rights and government spending). He does so because that book contains what he sees as the way out of the dilemma—a new American society that can "tap the full creative capabilities of every human being." Even when he drills down to less panoramic vistas, however, Florida remains an astute observer of what makes economic communities tick, and he's sure to generate just as much public debate on this new twist on brain drain."

It fascinates me that New Zealand is so attractive to the world and yet our media is filled with stories about the Brain Drain - talented, educated young New Zealanders leaving this country to seek opportunities in the world and find some way of repaying large amounts of student debt. It is a pivotal issue. We compete for talent and it has never been more important. Florida's book is centred on the U.S. experience, but the imperatives are as crucial to New Zealand.

The times they are changin'...


Monday, July 04, 2005

The Empire Strikes Back

Big week ahead.

I have agreed to spend half my time working for BrandWorld, the company I formed in 1996, at which I created the hugely successful Family Health Diary format. I kind of made myself redundant when the FHD property took over the focus of the business like khudzu. Given that I focus on concept, prototype and initial implementation and that the product is something of a template there wasn't much productive work to be done. All of our energy and resources were directed to selling and producing the TV and magazine properties. I sold my stake in 2000. I've come back now that there are more resources and much bigger set of goals to achieve. SInce I left I have remained in touch with the company, developing other properties like Eating Well and IN2IT as a consultant- with many more in the pipeline.

I have also agreed to lecture at Massey University in the design faculty. I'll be covering marketing communications design and design research. I'm looking forward to working with students and hope to bring the topics alive for them (and me in the process).

I have been working with Vincent Heeringa and Martin Bell of HB Media (and formerly of the successful business magazine Unlimited) to develop and launch a magazine and media brand that I am hoping will connect with the Intellectual Capital community - people who think for a living and create wealth. I was reading some treasury papers that utterly clicked with my thoughts in this area about the importance of geting ideas realised that will make a difference on the the world stage.

And then, there are my pet projects Personal Best - an online resource for men and WellSpring, both in various stages of development.

I'm also signed on to learn how to be a creative coach through a network in the States formed by the author and specialist creative catalyst Eric Maisel.

Busy times. But I have bought a bike and intent to balance my work with some activity. I know you're all worried that all work and no play makes David a dull blogger.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Russell Brown on TV

I've mentioned Front Seat, the slightly ropey review of the arts fronted by Oliver Driver. Tonight I was interested in listening to Russell Brown, doyen of blogging in New Zealand.

Mr Brown has converged on me a little in the past week or so. Firstly my brother mentioned to me that Brown was looking for business related blogs, which - believe it or not - this blog is. Second, I read a profile in the Canvas magazine of the New Zealand Herald. And then, of course - the interview this evening.

I read Brown's blog, Public Address and quite liked it.
One of the aspects of blogging is that it is not authoritative - it is a point of view. Please, whether you accept reject my opinions, leave a comment and add to the body of opinion.

What interested me most was Mr Brown's opinion of Helen Clark, prime minister and minister of the arts. He observed that Clark lets rip with a bromide speech whenever she ahows up to the many arts performances that she attends. He said she doesn't express a particular passion or excitement for the arts.

I am left wondering whether her attendance is a freebie rort (bear in mind that the Cost to the TaxPayer includes tux hire for her entourage and support crew - must run into the ten of thousands of dollars for Helen to enjoy her favourite forms of theatre. I remember meeting her at the opening night of one of Opera New Zealand's shows in the early 90s. Back then I think she paid for her own parking in the Aotea Centre and showed up almost alone - she was leader of the opposition.

I don't know whether it is a good thing for government to be associated with the arts at all. Can't help but think about how the Nazis and Commies alike used it as a tool to advance and package their ridiculous points of view.

Artists are important to our society. But relying on central government for funding or subsidies seems not to be either creative or the work of government.

I advocate striking government officials from the list at the door.

While we're at it let's review the number of ministerial portfolios to help pay for some of the tax reductions every party is cynically promising in the lead up to elections.

Bob Geldof Rocks

I remember Live Aid. It was one of the consciousness awakening moments. I still have my donation receipt somewhere.
Bob Geldof deserved the recognition he received. I don't go much for the concept of knighthoods -monarchy doesn't sit well with me (I'll talk about that another time though).

Now I'm watching the Live8 concert (night has fallen in London and The Who are giving it what for).

I'm in awe of the idea that one person can be so influential. Bob Geldof has done it again. Not only pulling together the titanic logistics of greating such an enormous international media event and securing the participation of such a vast line-up of performers but also plugging into the power of music and media to connect with the consciousness of the the planet. Moving us.

I can't say I've ever really given the G8 much thought, or the effect of debt on the third world (terrible term - are they so alien to us?). Now I have a point of view that I didn't have before. Matching the repertoire of the acts to speak directectly to the politicians - all elected - is a masterstroke. Sting sings 'Every step you take, every move you make, we'll be watching you'as the video screens show the G8 leaders walking together in slow motion a la Resevoir Dogs. Cut to close ups with each of their names (we know who you are...). The Who perform their 60's mod anthem 'Won't get fooled again' and it seems like it was written for the moment.

I'm guessing no politicians were invited for photo opportunities. Tony Blair must be, shall we say, somewhat disappointed. Wouldn't it have been a monumental way for him to seem hip and youthful and to reestablish his New Labour, Cool Britannia positioning, instead of the war mongering, lapdog to George Bush pariah he has become. I have to say that is one of the most satsfying parts of the event. Sir Bob knows how to keep focus on the subject at hand.

And who could imagined that not a single commercial sponsorship was sought (though my guess is that it it would have been offered).

Geldof is definitely The One and Only. (And to think when I saw him perform in Auckland in the early 1980's with his band The Boomtown Rats, I thought he was crap). He is the polar opposite of most New Zealand politicians. He has a clear point of view. He does not waver and he mobilises people to make things happen of their own free will. He is also a master promoter, propagandist even (can that term be used without being perjorative?). He also understands the power of media and imagines the unimaginable.

As footnote: Sure, there is criticism that Live Aid did as much harm as it did good and that lining up aging rockers and mundane musicians like ColdPlay does little to create more than an a stage managed manipulation of guilty emotions in the west. That Geldorf is too cosy with the very people who's policies he believes cause the problem. Those critics could well be right on many counts, but without being inside the tent Geldof wouldn't attract the notice and notoriety he needs to fuel the process.

I'm guessing the G8 summit in Edinbugh will be one of the other most avidly watched media events of the year.

How bizzare is that?

(possibly not as bizzare as wheeling out Paul McArtney for a singalong at the end of Live8, butthereyago...)

Friday, July 01, 2005

Out for a duck

The controversy swirling through the New Zealand media about the forthcoming Cricket tour of Zimbabwe is getting tedious.

Politicians have stepped into the fray with mealy mouthed assertions, but their remarks are cynical and patently designed for consumption by voters, rather than to have some effect on the impasse or affairs in Zimbabwe.

Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe is driving bulldozers through the shanty town homes of people who do not support him politically.
These seem like deeply offensive acts of agression towards his own people (though I don't know anything about nationalism and tribalism in Africa - or anything about Africa really, so I am loathe to make assumptions about how much affinity for the general citizenry or cohesion there is in that country and whether Mugabe considers his opponents to be 'his people'.

The whole thing is a mess. Our govenrment doesn't have the cojones or clout to make a difference through international, diplomatic channels, so it creates noise and steam by focusing the public's attention on cricket.

The most interesting back-story is the matter of sponsorship by the National Bank. They have invested significantly in New Zealand's cricket through sponsorship. It will be fascinating to see if New Zealnders - well those who are customers of the National Bank - will bring pressure to bear on their brand to withdraw support from the tour. After all the pollsters tell us the majority of New Zealanders are opposed to it and media pundits have been sabre rattling to rally the rabble.

Will anyone end up putting their money where their mouth is? Or is it all spin and the truth is nobody really cares about the plight of ordinary people in Zimbabwe any more now than they did before?

As for Phil Goff, Helen Clark and Don Brash, their handling of it is pathetic and spineless. Out for a duck. Hit the showers.

MEDIA WATCH

There is a new talk back radio station worth checking out Radio Live.

It has a roster of hosts that are utterly appalling. Martin Devlin in the morning is grating and funny (even funny on purpose sometimes). Michael Laws, mayor of Whanganui is fully obsessed with himself and, to cap the gruesome team Paul Henry is off the wall.

All want to be shock jocks, but the level of conversation is tedious and so-far they seem unable to engage the audience.

I 've never heard so much bigoted clap-trap. Paul Henry raving (that is his style) about how Jim Sutton, minister of agriculture is 'retarded'. Perhaps a case of pot calling kettle black.

I'm hooked. Like listening to a train wreck in the car.

Randomly related insert - From a TV ad I made for Auckland Opera in the 1990's:

(Critics said Puccini's Tosca was a 'shabby little shocker' - and it has remained one of the world's most popluar operas ever since)