Remembering Nan


Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She passed away many years ago, but in so many ways she is with me everyday.

Until I was quite grown up she did not have any other name for me than ‘Nan’. But as I grew I learned that her name was Christina, named thus in honour of her Danish heritage.

She was born in 1912 – the same year that the Titanic sank – and saw an amazing amount of change and hardship in her time.

Nan lived through two world wars and a depression, but she was always cheerful and focused. She had high standards and I learned early lessons about excellence from her.

Her generation was deprived of many material benefits. A smart woman, her education was truncated by the Great Depression and the need for every able bodied person in the family to work for the good of all.

In spite of that she read voraciously and, in later years, often took me to the library on her daily visits. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the floor in the children’s section of the public library in Waterloo reading books.

And I remember listening to her stories of visiting Rockdale library with her own grandmother. They would travel in her grandmother’s horse and carriage, and her grandmother wore button boots with a long dress.

Nan once told me how wonderful it was to her that she had gone from travelling in a horse and carriage like that to watching the moon landings. Her view was that she’d lived in an amazing century, and loved it that she had seen so much change and innovation. Her examples included: radio, cinema, TV, space travel, and air travel. She loved new ideas and gadgets and I’m sure would have been actively using social networking technologies like Facebook to keep in touch with people.

She lived a simple life, raising two children alone after the second world war, often working in jobs such as office cleaner and shop assistant. One of her favourite jobs was cleaning the studio & office of John Laws‘ (the well known radio personality) – he used to give her flowers on her birthday.

Nan was one of that generation robbed of so many opportunities by the Depression and World War II. As a result she amassed little financial wealth during her lifetime. But she was rich in love and affection. I owe her greatly for many of my achievements over the years. It is a great pity that she did not live long enough to see her grandchildren achieve remarkably well.

Recently I remembered that Nan always kept a string bag inside her handbag, & now I’ve resurrected this idea as part of my #livelocal efforts. Even now she still manages to inspire me in various ways.

Normandy and D Day

This month is the 65th anniversary of the D Day landings in France and on June 6th, as a kind of remembrance, I watched the film Overlord.

The film brought back memories of my visit to Normandy late last year.  Walking over the ground where the landings happened was very eerie and moving.

Utah Beach Normandy
Utah Beach Normandy

We are gradually becoming removed from human contact with the Second World War as its survivors age and pass away.

And we’ve already lost our last human connection to World War I in Australia, with the recent passing of our last living veteran Jack Ross.

But the physical landscape remembers these dreadful battles – you can still see the scars from D-Day in Normandy.  And the impact on the people who fought remains with them forever. My own grandfather suffered both physical and psychological damage from his service in North Africa & the Pacific for the rest of his life.

Although Australian forces were not involved on the ground in the D-Day landings (they were busy fighting in North Africa and the Pacific) some of our Air Force personnel participated.

It was interesting to hear President Obama speak at the memorial service in Normandy. I was moved, as were many of the veterans in the audience, by his words:

Friends and veterans, we cannot forget. What we must not forget is that D-Day was a time and a place where the bravery and the selflessness of a few was able to change the course of an entire century.

Project TOTO and Africa

His Benevolence Stilgherrian
Stilgherrian Xmas 2008

My friend and colleague Stilgherrian is involved in one of the more interesting projects around these days: Project TOTO.

Some background
There used to be an NGO called Austcare, and they’ve just changed their name to ActionAid Australia.

Project brief

Late this afternoon I received my first briefing note, and it’s reproduced in full over the jump. However in summary, it appears that I’m going to Tanzania on behalf of ActionAid Australia (from 1 June, that’s the new name of Austcare) to report on what I see, and to establish a blog outpost in the local community.

Now this is going to be a big adventure for a bloke who has not travelled much. There’s already been a lively debate on gnomes and who knows what else will pop up?

Those who’ve seen Stil in full flight on his show already know that hearing about his adventures as he goes off to implement some new technology with the folks in Tanzania will be fascinating. For those new to the force of nature that is Stilgherrian – it might be an interesting ride?

D Day 6th June and Overlord

overlord posterGot up early this 6th June and went off to the Sydney Film Festival showing of Overlord.

This is a rarely seen film based on Operation Overlord, the code name for the Allied invasion of Normandy, which was launched on D-Day 6th June 1944.

It is a fascinating film, interweaving archival footage and a fictional narrative almost seamlessly.

Overlord was made in 1975, shot in black and white, and the archival film footage from the Second World War was provided by the UK’s Imperial War Museum.

Stuart Cooper, the director, was in attendance and explained some of the background to the film.

He noted that the well-known documentary The World at War was being researched and made using the film archives at the same time – two such different approaches to the same material.

The sound during the film seems to fit completely, so it was a surprise to hear afterwards from Cooper that the archival footage was mute.  Thus the sound crew had to create all the sound to match the archival footage for the film.

Cinematography on the film was by John Alcott (who had a distinguished career & worked a lot with Stanley Kubrick), and the cutting together of modern narrative and wartime footage is amazing.

This film gave an interesting perspective on the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944.  Well worth getting up early for!

Had some great company for viewing the film – thanks to @neerav, @schel, and @judsonwelliver. Followed up the film with a tasty lunch at the Art Gallery of NSW restaurant & a glass of Poire William to toast D-Day and those who fought.

Boundaries real and imagined.

Seth Godin’s recent post Out of bounds got me thinking about the implicit contracts that we create almost unconsciously everyday.

In Seth’s post he’s talking about companies and their marketing. He notes how upset people get when a brand or product does something that does not fit into the consumer’s preconceptions.

But I realised that the same things happens with us as individuals. We get put into mental pigeon holes by the people we deal with every day (and we do the same to others). Sometimes it can be hard for us to escape from those preconceptions. Also it can be hard for us to realise that an individual has changed or grown past their original parameters.

This is an interesting question for both brands and people: how can we grow and evolve beyond our original boundaries?

An important foundation for growth is to understand and develop the skills, knowledge and capabilities that support the new boundaries. There is no point trying to move on past old boundaries if you’re unable to deliver the goods. As Seth notes, “The real problem is that when marketers believe they are going out of bounds, the work they do tends to be lousy.”

It’s interesting to consider these ideas from an individual perspective as well as a business one.

Evolving Twitter strategies.

A long time ago I confessed to @SilkCharm that I did not get Twitter and was about to abandon it. But at her urging I persisted with the darn thing. Then quite quickly there were a whole bunch of people following me, and it became necessary to develop a set of rules for who to follow back.

I developed a series of rules, which were outlined in a previous post, and these initial rules were pretty simple because I like reciprocity, real people and conversations.

Those rules worked really well for me for a time. But then the effort expended in analysing who was following & selecting who to follow back started to become too great an investment of time.

Now I automatically follow whoever follows me. The corollary to this is automatically unfollowing people who unfollow me. I do this because I still like the notion of reciprocity. This has freed up an enormous amount of time for actual conversations and other stuff rather than administrivia.

Over time I’ve realised that only a small proportion of followers directly engage with me & vice versa. When they do I’m happy to join in the conversation. Twitter is often about the network amplification of ideas rather than direct reciprocal engagement.

I find that timezones play a big part in who I engage with. Thus living in Australia it is mainly Aussies & Kiwis with whom I tweet during a normal day. But staying up late or rising very early shifts the engagement to the Americans & Europeans.

Adoption of the automation approach with following keeps open the flow of new people that I can discover. Sure some of these people are spammers, some are MLMs, but this approach is working for me at the moment. I’ve resisted the automatic welcome direct message (still feels like a form letter to me).

When explaining Twitter to people I often contrast Facebook and Twitter. For me Twitter is about the people you don’t know yet, while Facebook is about people you already know. However, the true value of Twitter as a community platform proved itself to me during the 2009 Live Local Challenge.

BarCamp Sydney 27 Jun 2009

BarCamp Sydney is on again – so block out Saturday 27 June 2009 in your diary.


This is 5th BarCamp Sydney & the un-organising committee has tagged this one as the Recession Edition or “the BarCamp we had to have” (paraphrasing Keating from 1990).

There’s a new venue this time, with the kind folks at the Australian Technology Park (ATP) Innovations Centre providing the space for free (kudos to them for this support).

Any potential sponsors should get in touch with the the un-organisers and let them know via email.

One innovation that I’m really keen on for this Barcamp is the Think Tank room. The Think Tank room is a small room with no projector and no tech – just enough room for a small group of people discussing ideas. And what better ideas to discuss than ideas about the future. For some more background on this idea check out the Barcamp Sydney blog.

MBAs, ethics, pledges and virginity

Recently I noted the phenomenon of MBA graduates signing pledges promising to behave ethically. This is an admirable sentiment, especially given the sheer number of MBA graduates (from ‘excellent’ business schools) who’ve been responsible for and/or complicit in our current Global Financial Crisis.

But it all has me wondering how such well-educated and smart people can end up doing such stupid, short-sighted and even illegal things?

We humans are social creatures, and what we do is largely dictated by our social connections (a.k.a our peer group). This is true even in the workplace.  We easily accommodate to the cultural milieu in which we find ourselves. This is one of our human survival mechanisms, the ability to meld into groups or tribes.

Very rarely does any business executive actually set out from the beginning to act criminally. Does anyone imagine that Enron executives or Madoff and his compatriots originally set out to undertake fraud?  I suspect that it was a seemingly innocent series of decisions and compromises over time that led to their unhappy end.

We know how strong the forces of conformance to authority can be – Milgram’s experiment and others bear that out. We also know how hard it can be to break a habit of behaviour or attitude:

The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken. ~Samuel Johnson

The chances of young people who, even though smart and well-educated, are able to resist the implicit or explicit direction of authority towards unethical ends seems quite remote. How will young people:

  1. Identify inappropriate, but small, actions that indicate a potential problem?
  2. Be strong enough to resist the little daily actions that ultimately lead to evil?
  3. Understand the longer term implications of seemingly inconsequential daily actions?

Then, as those young people mature and obtain hostages to fortune, how will they resist the forces of conformity in the workplace?  How will they resist those little daily compromises that can culminate in real evil?

I suspect that a grown-up with a family and a mortgage is much more resistant to the idea of rocking the boat by calling attention to irregularities in the workplace.  Further, I suspect this is even more so during an economic downturn.

The real question for business schools is how to  equip graduates with the ability to see and recognise the slippery slope as it so gradually appears before them. And also how we can better support whistleblowers, given that they often suffer worse fates than those upon whom they the blow the whistle.

As for the MBAs pledging ethical behaviour, I do hope that they fare better than those who’ve pledged to maintain their virginity.