The stories we tell ourselves

If you have ever dreamt of a society with great wealth, distributed fairly and intended exclusively for the wellbeing of its people then maybe you have dreamt of Europe’s first great civilization – the Minoan empire on the island of Crete, 4600 years ago.

The Minoans created a seafaring empire. Their ships sailed to all points of the Mediterranean peninsula for trade. They built well-developed roads connecting 100 cities across the island of Crete.

For 500+ years they lived in peace. The Minoan capital of Knossos had no defense walls and no army. The capital did not feel threatened by the other cities in their domain, nor any of its citizens. Its rule of law relied upon equitable distribution of wealth and strong, connected leadership.

The Minoan palace was the heart of the city. It had 1,400 rooms, which housed schoolrooms, government services, artist workshops and theatres. Wide corridors and large rooms made space for thousands of citizens to come and go.

Archaeologists found impressive multi-coloured wall paintings depicting day-to-day life and the Minoan’s reverence for nature. People, animals and plants were joyously painted in bright colours. It is also clear from these paintings that women had an important role in all aspects of society; if not higher than men, than certainly equal. They competed on an equal basis to men in the athletic games, even in the most daring events.

 

 

The Minoan civilization came to an end in 1630 BC when a volcano on a neighboring island triggered a tsunami and ash clouds. Archaeologists found that the buildings had fallen outwards as they collapsed, presumably full with water.

Today the Minoan society seems quite remarkable. First that it existed and second that it is so little known. A European civilization that was well off and shared that wealth and power among its citizens, and revered the earth’s living systems? Doesn’t seem possible. But it was, and it lasted for 500 years. 500 years of a different world-view, standing in clear contrast to most, if not all, ancient (and many modern) European civilizations that have sought to accumulate wealth and power. It can’t help but inspire optimism… and we can’t help wondering, what might we begin to build if we truly believed in our own wisdom and generosity?


Technology, inequality and the future of work

Image courtesy of Square Up, Australia.

 

Reflections on The University of Melbourne Lecture Series 

Recently, I attended a discussion about the future impacts of technological innovation on Australia’s workforce and economic and social equality, at The University of Melbourne. Tim Dunlop (Futurist) and Tim Lyons (former ACTU Assistant Secretary) debated the likelihood of new technologies widening, or perhaps redefining, the gap between richer and poorer Australians by changing the way we work in the future. In particular, Tim Dunlop's perspective resonated with me, as I share below.

 

The Good:

Dunlop painted a new kind of future in which institutions are self-governing, brave and interested in wealth redistribution, rather than principally driven by profit maximisation for shareholders. Dunlop says that technology can be the enabler for this future if we embrace its power and actively use it to drive equity.

 

The Bad:

Despite our general reluctance to look at alternative options of workforce and working in favour of traditional forms of work, work patterns and hours, change is arriving fast. Our future will be one where machine learning, robotics and automation will radically change the way we work.

Looking at the current labour market, it is easy to understand predictions that much of “Working Australia” operating in unstructured environments and with flexible hours will be the first to face automation. According to a new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), approximately 36 per cent of Australian jobs face a significant or high risk of automation, and it is expected for young people without tertiary education will be most affected, given their higher rates of under-employed, non-employed or low pay. In short: more young people struggling to get work.

 

The Ugly:

Dunlop expects higher paying knowledge roles and lower paid essential caring and healing jobs to remain mostly unchanged.  Rather, he asks what jobs will be created and who will and won’t have access to them?  His prediction is that “Working Australia” will be most impacted by technology and automation, carving out a deeper hole in equality and opportunity. He says that for generations we have rewarded the stewards of extraction far more that the stewards of renewal, and without a significant refocus we are set to continue driving a greater wedge between the “haves “and “have nots”.

 

The Way Forward:

To counter this, Dunlop paints a vision for economic and social equality, that values participation and contribution to society, rather than just labour, which can be enabled by technology. Rather than leaving wealth distribution to the invisible hand and being fearful of the impending change, he says we need to lean into technology. Technology can allow workers to improve their productivity, but instead of lining the pockets of our shareholders with the margin earned from these efficiencies, use the reclaimed working hours to innovate, and create social solutions (or, solve social problems) and increase quality of life.

We've seen this already through the likes of Hire Up providing more choice to customers, OurSay allowing people to participate in local decision-making, or Square Up enabling electronic payment for any business.

Dunlop argues that we are on the verge of a technological shift large enough to impact us as much as climate change.  We need to decide what future we want rather than let history dictate our future.

Of course, this approach requires us to reimagine the way we value our work and a fundamental shift in prospering Australia’s rich (10% of Australians hold 49% of the wealth), which will in no way be an easy task.

These technologies have the potential to disrupt the very fabric upon which we have built our way of working. And these technologies will, on the whole, increase productivity and drive a surplus. So, if technology and therefore productivity is coming, how will you innovate, create or solve with the surplus?


Growing quickly? 5 tips to maintain your startup's culture

One of the difficult challenges facing startups as they transcend the boundary from concept to small and medium-sized companies and beyond, is the ability to retain the familial vibe and “can-do” attitude that makes their organisations successful. While change is inevitable, just like product development, sales, and business operations, cultural change can and should be planned by making it part of your business strategy.

 

1) Your culture is your brand

In every interaction you have, whether it be a sales meeting or interviewing potential employees, the values and behaviours displayed by you and your employees leave an impact on your company brand. Therefore it is important that you are clear and consistent regarding how you want your business to be perceived in the market, what values you want to be recognised for and how you differentiate yourself from competitors…

 

2) Understand what makes you great

By creating and understanding your cultural identity, your business has a framework for making decisions, engaging with customers, setting priorities and working as a team. Whether these are written down as “company values” or a “culture commitment” may depend on the size or the culture strategy of the business. Most importantly, though, is that everyone understands what is in line with these values and what is not.

 

If you are coming up short on what contributes to your culture then ask your employees. Collect feedback or run a short survey to gain a sense of general trends and benchmarks.

 

3) Live your values

When you set your company values – live them. Model them consistently throughout your business (for example, in client interactions, monthly one-on-one meetings and out-of-work activities) and reward values and behaviours that are in line with company strategy, while creating disincentives for those that are not. As leaders, you will initially have the most impact on shaping the culture.

 

Hiring “cultural-fit” (employees who are specifically chosen with the group’s culture in mind) is another way to maintain your company vibe. While experience and professional background is always crucial, seek like-minded individuals who aspire to a similar company vision, beliefs and way of working.

 

4) Communication is king

As a business grows there is the potential for company hierarchy to dilute healthy communication and an individual’s perception of impacting the business through access to senior leaders. For this reason it is important to maintain channels or forums for this type of communication to continue. This might be as simple as an “open-door policy” or more structured methods like scheduling time for employees to share improvement ideas. Maintaining small teams (even if part of bigger teams) will also give members the security, support and manager-access of small business structures.

 

Regular one-on-one meetings are another great way to explore and reflect on:

  • What are we doing well?
  • What could we improve?
  • What things are you looking forward to?
  • What do you need to make your work easier for you?
  • How are your relationships with your peers?
  • Do you understand the business strategy and where you fit in?
  • What makes you stay?
  • How can we support your career interests?

Note that even though your employees may be aligned in culture and values, each of them may have his or her own individual communication style. Try to tailor your style to address these differences.

 

5) Share your vision and its reasoning

Share the vision and strategy, and enable people to understand and have emotional investment in the direction of the business and the decisions being made. Having access to the reasons behind decisions and understanding where their role and outputs fit into the wider strategy of the business show that they are performing meaningful work and contributing to the success of the business as it grows.

 

Summing up

While this may seem to some like time and energy that could be better spent on driving income generating initiatives, in reality this could be no further from the truth. Investing in your company’s culture will reap long-term performance and financial rewards, and help to safeguard your company’s most precious resource – its people.

 


Investing in more than a business: Investor engagement with Essence of Fiji

Recently we took Deb Sadranu, Founder and Managing Director of Essence of Fiji to meet with our investment partners, Enterprise Angels in New Zealand.

We have been working with Essence of Fiji, in partnership with   since mid 2018. Enterprise Angels generously hosted TDi and Essence of Fiji for the week and provided us with a unique opportunity to present informally to their network and observe their pitch night.

has facilitated over $40M of investment in 80 different early stage and established businesses since launching in 2008. Founder Bill Murphy and Impact Investment manager, Kristen Joiner (pictured below) are proactively building interest in impact investing amongst their members and many have expressed a strong interest in doing good and making money. 

We chatted with Deb at the end of her trip to get her key insights.

 

Tell us about the experience… 

Deb: I’ve had a fabulous week!  I’ve spent this week learning and preparing for a final investment pitch in August and the experience has been invaluable.

I got the opportunity to attend my first pitch night and listen to others pitch.  The main thing I got out of this was actually what I should avoid when I pitch in August.  It was also good to see who was in the audience and what they ask.

I also got the opportunity to share my pitch and field questions in a more informal setting over breakfast with some of the investors. This confirmed all my strengths as a business: 20 years of history, my knowledge and expertise, and our sustainability focus. It makes you appreciate things that you bring to the table.

I would not have been prepared without the input and support of TDi, especially on the financial side of things.  As an entrepreneur, I know my business and customer well but not the financial jargon.  For example, on the first night when I was watching the pitches, one guy was doing really well but fell apart at the end because he couldn’t answer some of the questions. I can’t help but feel like had he had support of TDi, he would’ve been more confident, and able to answer those questions.

 

What have you learnt?

Deb:  Without this experience, I don’t think I would have considered things that would seal the deal.  Like, being prepared for questions, reviewing and knowing my financials and using the right language.  It gives you such an advantage in being able to answer all questions asked of you and following through with validation.

You get an idea of what investors care about.  In the past, I’ve been quite optimistic in my business forecasts.  What TDi taught me during this process, is to represent my projections more conservatively because it takes the pressure off myself to meet returns on investment.  I feel relieved because analysing things a bit more closely, we realised we could reduce the size of the building [our planned investment] without impacting earnings and it’s actually more efficient than the original proposal, and takes the pressure off the investment.

It also confirmed our value as a successful, Pacific Islands-based social enterprise.  None of the Angel Investors I spoke to had a background in impact, so it was an exciting opportunity for Essence of Fiji to set a benchmark for impact, and success in the Pacific Islands.  The impact message really resonated with investors, and their advice to me was to lead with it. I’m proud that, come August, we will be the first impact pitch for this group.  It shows it can be done and puts the Pacific hub on the map!

The best part was, I left with the confidence that we can do this well.  So much time, effort, money, psych prep goes into a pitch like this – you’ve got to make it worth it.   As an entrepreneur, instinctively, you want to do it all, but every bit of outside help, helps to see the bigger picture. I’m so glad I did this.

 

What does it mean for you…

Deb: Over the past 20 years, I’ve never had capital injection into the business – everything has been done from the company – and I’m proud of that.  However, with the expansion I’m attempting needs a big injection.

It’s a crucial stage of expansion and growth, where we want investment to build a purpose-built building, which reduce overheads dramatically (tens of thousands a month which could be better spent elsewhere).

More than that, it’s allowing us to prepare for the bigger picture.  I moved to Fiji and began Essence of Fiji ten years ago because I could see the need for education for girls.  Once I set up the school and employment pathways were created, I saw a bigger responsibility beyond providing employment.

The business has become a community for the women I employ who would otherwise feel isolated and struggle to find the support they need. Through the business, we have nurtured equality, their understanding of their social standing within their family, and more recently creating a safe environment for transgender people.

TDi talk about doing ‘good and making money’.  For me, one doesn’t work without the other.  When you’re passionate about impact, and you run a business – the balance happens naturally.  They interact and evolve together.  The business evolves, because I have empathy – I know and work with the women in villages – and understand their needs. Without this, the business would not be sustainable.


Avengers: Endgame - an analysis

A few of us in the TDi office contributed to the Avengers: Endgame’s astonishing $1.7b opening week at the box office.  For one of our Consultants, Erin, however, it turned out to be far more meaningful than expected, leaving her with pearls of wisdom relevant to much of the work we do, and the philosophies we follow at TDi.  Her analysis is below.

For me, I took away two key messages from Avengers: Endgame:
1. vulnerability, and
2. new types leadership

Now for two key warnings:
1. spoilers below
2. I’m about to go full film nerd

Let's start with vulnerability. This was key to Thor’s storyline of “accepting who he was, not who he ‘needs’ to be” – straight from the works of Brené Brown.

It also came up in Thanos’ “inevitability” storyline in that the Avengers couldn’t accept what happened and were trying to change the course of things... and yet they ‘inevitably’ still landed in battle with Thanos over the infinity gauntlet.  Again, this aligns with Brené’s work:  stop hiding behind perfectionism, trying to “fix” things or make things “right”.

At a macro level, I think Marvel as a brand were also being vulnerable by firmly ending the Avengers series. This is generally a big deal for film companies! They will try and milk a cash cow until it’s insulting to audiences (cough - Fast and the Furious - cough) but Marvel were brave and chose to end the legacy. Let it be what it is, rather than trying to make it more. And the risk has paid off, the finality of the film has taken the record for highest grossing opening week, and on course to highest grossing film of all time.

The message around new types leadership is potentially more subtle, right at the end of the film when all the white, male, superheroes ‘retire’ as leaders, handing over responsibility to minority groups represented in film:

  • Celebrating the strength of Captain Marvel and Black Panther
  • Thor handing over the ‘ruling’ of Asgard to Valkyrie
  • But perhaps most poignantly Captain America handing the shield to Falcon.  Cap asks “what does it feel like?” to which Falcon replies “someone else’s” to which Cap replies “it’s not” …  !!!!!!!!!!!!

I believe this was an intentional metaphor to say, it’s time to see other versions of leaderships in the spotlight...  It also highlighted that in exchange, both Thor and Captain America received happiness and love respectively in exchange for leadership – giving them equally as fulfilling lives.

Again, at a macro level, this reinforced for me the importance of good storytelling. These films are a powerful vehicle hitting nearly 2 billion eyeballs globally. Like, what if the starting point for this film was messages of vulnerability and recognising new age leadership?

I know most cinema-goers don’t go full cinephile taking away such deep messages, and rather walk away saying “that was awesome!” But if behavioural economics has taught me anything, it’s that these things don’t have to register front of mind, to stay with you and affect you. And if the value proposition canvas of a Do Good Make Money business has taught me anything, it’s that you give people something they want, and then educate them on your social purpose.


Modern Slavery - it is closer than you think

Modern slavery refers to slavery as it exists in the world today, which entraps people through forced labour, being owned or controlled by their employer, dehumanised or treated like a commodity, or physically constrained.  More than 40 million people globally are in modern slavery.

In March, TDi was invited to Stop the Traffik’s inaugural modern slavery conference.  This came about because the Modern Slavery Act passed in parliament last year. Stop the Traffik campaigned for years to make this happen. The Act is a landmark achievement which will push significant reforms across many sectors.

The conference covered modern slavery from a range of perspectives to create a comprehensive understanding of the issue but focused in particular on forced labour in supply chains.

We heard from an on-the-ground activist, Government representatives, organisations addressing modern slavery within their own supply chain, and practitioners who provide ethical supply chain solutions.

The conference finished off with a series of practical workshops so attendees could start addressing modern slavery in their own workplace, at either an individual or organisational level.  TDi’s CEO, Anthea, ran a workshop on private and public partnerships to create shared value as an innovative solution to develop ethical supply chains.

The conference was a call-to-action for organisations to identify and address modern slavery in their supply chains that could be summarised in the following three steps:

 

  1. Identifying the connection to the problem

Modern slavery is an issue that affects all of us, whether we know it or not.  The conference dispelled the commonly held myth that modern slavery is associated with forced sex labour.  This does make up an awful part of modern slavery, however, the majority of people – 64% – are enslaved in the supply chain, which is reinforced by the demand for cheap consumer goods.  As much as AU$17 billion gets spent on ‘slavery tainted’ products/services in Australia every year.

Therefore, in a business context, modern slavery needs to be identified in the deep layers of an organisation: their partners and supply chain. Again, highlighting how close to home the problem really is, one speaker noted the modern slavery that exists on our doorstep.  Globally, 40 million people are affected by modern slavery, and upwards of 30 million are in the Asia Pacific region, some even in Australia.

 

  1. Taking ownership of the problem

Actually, at a macro level, Australia is playing a decent part in eliminating modern slavery from the system.  We are the second country (after the UK) to have had a Modern Slavery Act passed in parliament.  The Act requires organisations of $100 million to report on their risk of modern slavery in their supply chain and supports smaller organisations to voluntarily report. To read the Act, click here.

One point raised during the conference, however, was an overreliance on the Government to hold all responsibility for responding to the issue – but what about our role as individuals or organisations?

To provide perspective, we heard an account from one organisation who were very publicly vilified after slavery was found in their supply chain.  They used the crisis to overhaul their systems and set an example for and promote what good practice looks like.

Another organisation that spoke, Elevate, works with companies to assess the risk of modern slavery in their supply chain and implement solutions to remove it.  In Elevate’s own words it has to go beyond compliance to integration.

Our CEO, Anthea, provided a proactive and innovative solution: creating an ethical supply chain through shared value. Using the YuMi Tourism Program as an example, Carnival Australia has built a more inclusive and equitable supply chain, which provides access and any required training for Indigenous tour operators to fairly be procured at Carnival’s destination ports in the South Pacific. Like Elevate’s motto, shared value projects are a truly integrated solution which ultimately looks to create cultural change at a large scale.

 

  1. Taking the first step and leading with courage

So once you’ve identified the problem, and you can see a solution, how do you go about creating the change?  At the conference, this was again addressed at an individual and organisational level.

One of the workshops at the conference was about how to be a champion for change within your organisation. Modern slavery is a confronting (and shameful) subject that is hard and costly to solve.  It takes the courage and persistence from an internal champion to lead change. This comes back to point one and two – identifying and owning our part in the problem.  One anecdote that really drove this home was a quote from a victim of modern slavery. She said “they [criminals who create slavery conditions] are just bad people doing bad things, but where are the good people doing good things?”.

It also takes courage for an organisation to be the externally-facing champion for change.  From the perspective of the organisation who had experienced the crisis around slavery in their supply chain, courage was key to turning the situation around.  To borrow from Brene Brown, they had to continually enter the arena against scepticism of the public, media and activists until they had built a track record that proved otherwise.