Posts tagged ‘commerce’


What a great opportunity for New Zealand that lies before us

09.11.2016


Above: When I refer to Hillary in the below blog post, I mean the self-professed ‘ordinary chap’ on our $5 note.

As the results of the US presidential election came in, I didn’t sense a panic. I actually sensed a great opportunity for New Zealand.
   I’ve been critical of the obsession many of our politicians have had with the US, when they were in an excellent position to carve our own, unique path as a country. Aotearoa, with its bicultural roots and multicultural awareness, has the advantage, in theory at least, of appreciating traditional notions of Māori and what had been imported via pākehā; and on an international scale, our country has sought trading partners outside the Anglosphere, having been pushed into it by factors outside our control. The loss of the UK as an export market and the damage to New Zealand–US relations in the 1980s might have seemed anathema at the time, but they pushed this country into new relationships, which now looks prudential.
   New Zealanders are welcomed wherever we go, our passports aren’t looked down upon, and we still largely enjoy a freedom of movement and safe passage without much hindrance. And it’s a reality that the centre of the global economy has been shifting eastward over the last decade.
   We don’t need something like TPPA in order to form trading relationships with China, and when I went to India on two occasions, there was a great acceptance of the potential of a trade deal with another cricketing country. In fact, my audiences, whenever I gave a speech, were rather miffed that we hadn’t gone to them first. But we only make good negotiators when we deal with our own cultural issues successfully, for how else can we claim to understand others and then do a deal? Deal-making, regardless of what certain American politicians might tell you, comes from understanding the other side, and at our best New Zealanders are good at this. It’s why we need to confront our own racism head-on and to say: this shit needs to stop. In fact, this shit needn’t even be an issue. We’re too small a country not to be working together, and we need knowledge of all the cultures that make up Aotearoa now more than ever.
   We are frequently confronted with the need to look at our national character. Perhaps an early sign of it was in the 1970s with the Commonwealth Games in 1974; certainly I’ve noticed New Zealanders begin to find our own identity as a Pacific nation, not a post-colonial Anglosphere satellite. We’re beginning to discover our national brand. And wherever you were on the flag debate, at least that, too, forced us to consider who we are. The sense I got was that we want change, but we didn’t like the design—but certainly there’s no real fondness to be tied to Empah. Anti-Americanism over the years suggests that there’s no real desire, either, to keep importing economic ideas, corrupt governmental practices, and failed health care policies, even if certain political and economic élites seem drawn to them.
   We know where they will lead: greater divisions between rich and poor, educated and uneducated, urban and rural. Those tendencies exist but here is an ideal opportunity to nip them in the bud. History has taught us sensible solutions, more humane solutions, that at least recognize human actors, social responsibility, and kaitiaki. The younger generations have accepted these as they have grown up in a globalized world, and we can see that in their own consumer choices, where they favour responsible companies, those that have a cause. They believe in a form of global citizenship, and want to be treated as such—and those ideas are present in their politics, too. It is right for people like my friend Simon Anholt to run global polls on matters that influence us all, including the US elections, and realistically it will be our technology and the free sharing of ideas that will help with our progress as a planet. If we seek our own destiny, we at least will be able to show some leadership again—and then we’ll really have something to talk about.
   When I was in Reefton last month, the first place in New Zealand to get electricity, I noted that it was up to a bunch of mavericks who brought this newfangled technology in. New Zealand suffragettes won their battle first to secure women the vote. And another person called Hillary succeeded where no other had done so before when ‘We knocked the bastard off.’ Kiwi leadership isn’t new to us, but in recent years I held a great fear that we had lost our mettle. That did indeed spur me to run for office, among other factors, to say to people: stop listening to foreign companies and foreign-owned media who don’t have New Zealand interests at heart. New Zealand has been filled with people who call themselves ordinary but it’s always been those—like Sir Ed—who have shown real leadership, not some political lobbying group in another hemisphere. But you can only be great without following, and it’s high time we stopped following divided nations and recognized that we already have the right stuff—and by that I mean our smarts, our innovation, and our independently minded way of thinking.

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Posted in branding, business, China, culture, globalization, leadership, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, USA | No Comments »


How can we help those fooled into believing what their local brands are?

06.01.2016

How interesting to see a silly Tweet of mine make the Murdoch Press and lead an opinion column—I’m told it even hit the news.com.au home page.
   It’s a very old joke that I’ve told since 2002, when I walked along Bay Road in Kilbirnie and saw a locksmith sign in Futura. Back then, Dick Smith Electronics had its logotype set in ITC Avant Garde Gothic. I really thought it was a Dick Smith sign at a first, fleeting glance, seeing CKSMITH. The joke was born.
   Most in my social media streams got it except a couple of Australians who had likely come across it via Murdochs a day late, one calling me ignorant (not sure how you can get that from one Tweet), and another ‘ahole’ (is this a misspelling of aloha?). As the funniest guy in their media is John Clarke, who was born in New Zealand, maybe humour doesn’t reach a couple of households there if it has to be imported. And the number of times John’s taken the piss about us, to my thorough enjoyment, means that some of us can take a joke. Perhaps we just have a sense of humour. We have to: it was the only way we could deal with our PM appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman. It is, to quote the man, ‘a bit of banter. No drama.’
   The false indignation “on behalf of others” is always a comical one, because it’s usually founded on a misplaced and unjustified sense of superiority. During a political campaign, they’re the ones I find the most humorous and least authoritative. Thick skin came with that territory.
   Neither deserves a response beyond what I said on Twitter, but the second one (with a fresh new account to troll from, always a good sign of someone who won’t stand by their words) highlights a point that I have made on this blog before.
   “Ruby Pond” notes, ‘The guy is pure Oz and started when you were in nappies and tried! Stick to your foreign companies, they really help Oz.’ I’m not sure what I was tried about, not having been to court while I was in nappies, but maybe she’s depending on the fact that not everyone remembers back to their infancy.
   Well done. She got this from an American-owned newspaper website (remember, Rupert’s no longer an Australian, nor is the HQ in Australia and hasn’t been for a long, long time), and, for the record, I’m not as old as the business that Dick founded. There’s also a suggestion that I must be Australian, because, after all, everyone on the planet must be. No other countries exist. I didn’t want to get into trans-Tasman rivalry in such a situation, nor was it appropriate to give a list of Australian corporate misdeeds in New Zealand. The term off-topic springs to mind.
   I told her, ‘Stick to your foreign media, they really help Oz.’
   Hers is that simplistic thinking that gets people supporting foreign-owned businesses when they believe they are supporting local ones.
   Dick’s been one of my personal heroes since his solo helicopter flight and I’ve been a customer of the chain he founded since I was old enough to buy my own tech gear. Entrepreneurs like him are the ones I’ve always encouraged, through mentoring and through my policies. However, the sad story of the company, no longer owned by Dick, is one of corporate greed—which the founder himself has been critical of. We haven’t learned the lessons of so many economic crises: Gordon Gecko’s mantra of ‘greed is good’ continues to drive the corporate world.
   The reason so many multinationals buy local brands is to fool the public into thinking they’re supporting their own. We’re guilty of it ourselves, and I recall using the examples of Just Juice and most of our local newspapers on this blog. People closed accounts at the National Bank when it became ANZ here, because of a suspicion of, dislike of, or rivalry with Australia, perceiving National to be a local bank. The problem there: ANZ had owned the National Bank for years before the rebranding of its own subsidiary, and prior to that it was part of Lloyds TSB in the UK. A lot of Australians think Ford and Holden are domestic players (though, oddly, not Toyota, which probably builds as many, if not more, cars there), just as many Britons still think they are buying British when they shop at Ford and Vauxhall.
   The situation with news.com.au differs slightly in that that business was started in Australia by Rupert Murdoch’s Dad, and it has grown from there—but the fact remains that its HQ is overseas and that’s where it pays its tax. Help to Australians: not a lot. The Murdoch Press’s globalization agenda won’t be one that the “buy Australian” crowd would support for the most part.
   But this is how brands work, because they encourage us to make mental shortcuts for the products and services we consume. I’ve devoted a good deal of my professional life to it. Some should encourage scrutiny because of the power they have (Wally Olins noted, many years ago, how some brands need to adopt notions that were once reserved for states), and it was hoped that, post-No Logo, we would be more inquisitive about the backgrounds to the organizations we support.
   Even though it’s our money and time, the sad thing is that this level of inquiry remains the province of the few, those people who are willing to scrutinize their own behaviour and practise what they preach. Social media have helped spread news of corporate misbehaviours (Volkswagen will attest to that) and more people are aware; but to counter that we get more information than we ever used to, and unless something resonates, will we just forget it?
   Therefore, it can only be something where people who have done the proper investigation get to have a say. And like all human endeavours, it can be scammed, so safeguards have to be built in.
   One of the reasons the Medinge Group awarded its Brands with a Conscience accolades for close to a decade was to champion the organizations that were getting it right, inviting transparency and scrutiny, championing good corporate citizenship, and engaging in socially responsible programmes. Among them were companies devoted to doing things right by the communities they were present in, whether it was Dilmah Tea, Tata Steel or Hennes & Mauritz.
   By our championing them, selected by a think-tank of leading brand professionals, we would be able to highlight shining examples of branding, as well as give them the sort of boost they deserved. If positive companies could increase their custom, and if positive non-profits could increase their influence, then we can do some good in the world.
   As people rightly want shortcuts in their busy daily lives, then the work at Medinge, if seen as an endorsement, would help them make a decision about whether to deal with that organization or not.
   It’s nice to be in that bubble, which makes me ever-grateful to get reminders that we still have a lot of work to do. If you’re genuinely desirous of helping your own, then we need to help create more ways of reminding people which organizations do just that. The Brands with a Conscience programme was definitely a very good way of doing it. What shall we do, in the post-peak-Facebook world of the second part of this decade, to get word out? Is it through video, thanks to greater bandwidth, that allows us to experience and understand more? Is this the coming of age of some form of virtual reality? Or, as we did when we first started exploring bulletin boards and email, time again for us to reach out to people in communities very foreign and different to ours through video chats—something like Google Hangouts but actually with people? (Yes, I know, Google fans, I was taking the piss.) Is Skype the service on which this can be built?
   I would have said that technology is the great democratizer, and maybe more of us should be giving out awards to truly deserving organizations, voted on by more of the public. But we come across the issue of quality versus quantity again: the Reputation Institute surveyed 60,000 people in 15 countries and still wound up with Nestlé among the most reputable firms in the world. Nestlé may do very good things in some quarters, but it hasn’t been able to avoid a lawsuit by environmental and public interests groups in California over its water-bottling operation there, or accusations by activists who believe the company wants to privatize water at the expense of public health. Volkswagen was there in the 2014 survey. We decide on image, and that image is the very thing that gets us making bad choices.
   The next innovators are already on to it, and we don’t even know that we seek it. But, in order to self-actualize, maybe organizing us—individuals, not corporations—into global communities is the next stage. We have seen Kiva work so positively, so how about making it more interactive? Naturally we will tend to choose to help those in our own countries first—crowdfunding campaigns show us that—but allowing us to understand another human being’s situation could be the challenge in a time when governments pursue their austerity agenda. Somehow, we can restore, at least to some degree, the optimism we had when we in the first world accessed the World Wide Web for the first time.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, globalization, humour, internet, marketing, media, social responsibility, technology, UK, USA | No Comments »


Responding to blog comments—and where to from here?

28.10.2013

WordPress, with its automatic deactivation of Jetpack after each update, messed up, so I have no metrics for the last two months of this blog. Nor did it send me emails notifying me of your comments. It would have been useful to know how the last couple of posts went, to gauge your reaction to them on the day, rather than seeing comments now after the election. Essentially, all I have of the last two months’ stats is the above: apparently 12 people popped by yesterday. I’m pretty sure the numbers were healthier during the campaign!
   In fact, Jetpack does not update automatically any more, which shows what a faulty product it is. I’d prefer to see WordPress get back to offering statistics separately, since it’s clear that the plug-in does not do what its makers claim.
   So I apologize to the two commenters who gave me feedback on the Kapiti Airport idea and the flyover. It’s true that if blogging were a more important platform for the campaign, I’d have noticed the foul-up with Jetpack, so I take some responsibility—and maybe it is naïve to think that software works out of the box. It very rarely does. Take it from a guy who spent three days post-campaign reinstalling software.
   To David, I am talking about a long-term plan, for something to happen mid-century. However, your idea of going even further north has merit. If we regionalize, a major international airport located there could service Taranaki, Manawatu, Hawke’s Bay and the Wairarapa as well as Wellington.
   To Leon, sorry I didn’t get your vote, but this might explain my opposition to the flyover.
   There are a few issues here at play. First, it’s not a single flyover, but two. The first might cost in the $100 million region, and the second, I guess, will be about the same.
   As you and I know, whether it’s funded by rates or taxes doesn’t make that much difference to everyday Wellingtonians: we’re still paying for it.
   The time saving gained is minimal because, eventually, the flyovers will be choked with traffic. The bottlenecks will remain exactly where they are: the Mt Vic Tunnel and Tory Street.
   Now, if there was a plan that cost under $10 million for the immediate area and delivered the same traffic flow improvement, then it’s worth looking at. The good news is that there is: Richard Reid’s proposal, the one that seems to get no traction in the media, yet it’s elegant, and it works.
   Richard’s had a lot of expertise looking at these solutions and if Wellington indeed favours innovation—though the council’s decision to abolish the ICT portfolio is a retrograde step that signals the opposite—then we need to be hearing from him.
   When you think about the entire project as central government has envisaged it—two Mt Vic Tunnels (though I am beginning to see the merit of this part at least), two flyovers, and even more changes at the Terrace Tunnel end—we’re looking at $500 million.
   I’m just not convinced it will get us bang for the buck, especially if we ratepayers haven’t been told what the options are. All we tend to get, especially in the mainstream media, is “one flyover or no flyover”. If those were the sole choices—and they’re not—then I can see why you’d feel I might be letting the side down, especially since (I’m guessing) we both get stuck in traffic jams around the Basin Reserve on a regular basis.
   I’m deeply thankful for those who voted for me—18 per cent once the preferences were distributed is an improvement, as were 10,000 votes (or least a whisker shy of the number). We ran a grass roots’ campaign that was dismissed by some media, but we showed that Wellingtonians can think for ourselves and that we have a voice. We should create conditions in which our best private enterprise can do its thing, and not, as some of my opponents were so keen to do, go cap-in-hand to central government, thereby going against global trends by centralizing more power with national politicians. This city still needs a rebrand to overcome a tired one. On the campaign team, we have a desire to continue the points in my manifesto: it shouldn’t matter who is mayor. We should still try to identify the high-growth firms, promote innovation in our capital, and act on as many of the points as possible. Wellington is looking at a game-changing decade and we should grasp the opportunity.

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Posted in business, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »


A farewell to Sir Paul Callaghan, and the next step for our innovators

24.03.2012

When I attended Sir Paul Callaghan’s talk at the Wellington Town Hall last September, I felt vindicated. Here was a man who was much better qualified than me to talk about economic development, effectively endorsing the policies I ran on in 2010. But not being political, he was a great deal more persuasive. Since then, I’ve noticed more New Zealanders become convinced by Sir Paul’s passion—and wake us up to the potential that we have in this nation.
   This great communicator, this wonderful patriot, this sharpest of minds, passed away today after a battle with colon cancer.
   I wrote on Facebook when I heard the news that the best thing we can do to honour Sir Paul was to carry on his legacy, and to carry out the dream he had for making New Zealand a better, more innovative nation.
   Sir Paul wasn’t afraid of tall poppies. He knew Kiwis punched above their weight, and wanted to see more of that happen.
   All those tributes today saying his passing is a great loss to the nation are so very accurate—and I hope we’ll continue to see his dream realized.

Sir Paul Callaghan had a vision, but at the more micro level, it’s important to get a grasp on what the market will bear. There is a fine line, of course, between testing a market and relying too much on a rear-view mirror, and Jenny Douché’s new book, Fool Proof, addresses that, with case studies featuring some very successful New Zealand businesses, including No. 8 Ventures, Phil & Ted’s, Cultureflow and Xero. She stresses dialogue and engagement as useful tools in market validation, and she’s so passionate about the importance of her work that she’s donated copies to 200 organizations, including business incubators, economic development agencies, business schools and chambers of commerce nationally. Find out more at foolproofbook.com.

A Reuter story today talks about Sweden’s growing inequality in the last 15 years—something I’ve certainly noticed first-hand in the eight-year period between 2002 and 2010.
   We often aspire to be like Sweden, but much of that aspiration was based on a nation image of equality and social stability. Certainly since the mid-2000s, that hasn’t been true, as Sweden embarked on reforms that we had done in the 1980s, with selling state assets and cutting taxes.
   Inequality, according to the think-tank quoted in the article, has risen at a rate four times greater than that of the US.
   The other sobering statistic that came out earlier this year was that Sweden has the worst-performing economy in Scandinavia.
   None of this is particularly aspirational any more, and perhaps it brings me back to the opening of this blog entry: Sir Paul Callaghan.
   Given that we had the 1980s’ economic reforms, but we have scarcely seen the level playing-field promised us by the Labour government of that era, our best hope is to innovate in order to create high-value jobs. On that Sir Paul and I were in accord. Let’s play in those niches and beat the establishment with smart, clever New Zealand-owned businesses—and steadily achieve that that level playing field that we’re meant to have.
   It’s about cities creating environments that foster innovation and understand the climate needed for it to grow, which includes formally recognizing clusters, identifying and funding them, and having mechanisms that can ensure ideas don’t get lost beyond a mere discussion stage—including incubator and educational programmes. The best ideas need to be grown and taken to a global level.
   Ah, I hear, many of these agencies already exist—and that’s great. Now for the next step.
   It’s also about cities not letting politics get in their way and understanding that the growth of a region is healthy—which means cooperation between civic leaders and an ability to move rapidly, seizing innovation opportunities. It means a reduction in bureaucracy and the realization that much of the technology exists so that time spent on admin can be kept to a minimum (and plenty of case studies exist in states more advanced than us). Right-brained people thrive when they create, not when they are filling in forms. The streamlining of the Igovt websites by the New Zealand Government is move in the right direction.
   We know what has to be done—especially given how far down we are based on the following graph from the New Zealand Institute:

   As the Institute points out, many of the right moves are being made, and have been made, at the national level. But it is also aware that an internationalization strategy is part of the mix—the very sort of policy I have lived by in my own businesses. And this begs the question of why there have not been policies that help those who desire to go global and commercialize their ideas at a greater level. That’s the one area where we need to champion those Kiwis who have made it—Massey’s Hall of Fame dinners over the last two years celebrate such New Zealanders in a small way—and to let those who are at school now know that, when they get into the workforce, that it’s OK to think globally.
   If we’re wondering where the gap is, especially in a nation of very clever thinkers, it’s right there: we need to create a means for the best to go global, and make use of our million-strong diaspora, in very high positions, that Sir Paul pointed out in his address. Engagement with those who have made it, and having internationalization experts in our agencies who can call on their own entrepreneurial experiences, would be a perfect start.

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Posted in business, leadership, marketing, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Sweden, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


Will we dump tabloids now we know more about the Milly Dowler hacking?

05.07.2011

I don’t think there are too many people prepared to condone the News of the World’s alleged hacking of the cellphone of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler in 2002. Not only did the Murdoch Press paper hack the phone, but when her voicemail filled up, The Guardian alleges that the News of the World began deleting newer messages—giving the Dowler family hope that their daughter was still alive and checking messages. By that time she had already been murdered, though it didn’t stop the same newspaper from interviewing her parents and asking them if they had hope that Milly was still alive.
   There’s an outcry today, of course, as this news became public, and the Murdoch Press has said it would cooperate with authorities.
   Although it must be noted that its article in The Sun on the subject this morning merited a grand total of 95 words.
   The best punishment that everyday consumers can make is to stop buying their papers. But I don’t think it’ll happen.
   After the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, we received so many comments from readers at another publication along the lines of, ‘I will never buy a tabloid again.’ What happened? Those readers might have stuck to their commitment, but tabloid circulation actually rose after Diana’s death.
   I’ve no doubt that the print numbers have since fallen—we are now in the 21st century, and the daily dead-tree industry looks increasingly anachronistic—but the appetite for tabloids and tabloid journalism remains.
   We still live in a world where ‘sources close to’ are interpreted as gospel, even by some so-called qualities and broadsheets.
   If Milly Dowler’s case is to mean anything, these commitments to dump tabloids, on- or offline, had better stick.

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Posted in business, internet, media, publishing, UK | 1 Comment »


What’s wrong with our values now?

11.05.2011

Alistair Kwun always finds great articles on personal identity. The latest is from Wesley Yang in New York, discussing the Asian-American experience, and why, despite having such good grades at school, are there so few Asian-American leaders in the US? (Incidentally, this is a strange term: what do Americans call non-oriental Asians?)
   I applaud Wesley in writing this piece, because it’s an issue that needs a voice. Whenever you write an article that covers an entire race, it’s always going to be tough. The debate he’s generated is very valuable, and it’s through that that we can improve ourselves and our systems.
   You almost need to base part of it on stereotypes, no matter which race you talk about. And Wesley highlights that there may well be racism in the US against Asian-Americans (just as there would be in China against Caucasian Chinese if someone did an article from that perspective):

If between 15 and 20 percent of every Ivy League class is Asian, and if the Ivy Leagues are incubators for the country’s leaders, it would stand to reason that Asians would make up some corresponding portion of the leadership class.
   And yet the numbers tell a different story. According to a recent study, Asian-­Americans represent roughly 5 percent of the population but only 0.3 percent of corporate officers, less than 1 percent of corporate board members, and around 2 percent of college presidents. There are nine Asian-American CEOs in the Fortune 500. In specific fields where Asian-Americans are heavily represented, there is a similar asymmetry. A third of all software engineers in Silicon Valley are Asian, and yet they make up only 6 percent of board members and about 10 percent of corporate officers of the Bay Area’s 25 largest companies. At the National Institutes of Health, where 21.5 percent of tenure-track scientists are Asians, only 4.7 percent of the lab or branch directors are, according to a study conducted in 2005.

   But here’s what I don’t get. The idea that because we retain our values, we’re worth less as leaders. That somehow, having decent values means we lack some kind of ability to take risks.
   Wesley doesn’t generalize. In fact, he points out numerous examples of Asian-Americans who did take risks. And, when I think about it, among my peers, our propensity to take risks isn’t far off any other group’s.
   Here are the two paragraphs that struck a nerve:

Chu has a pleasant face, but it would not be wrong to characterize his demeanor as reserved. He speaks in a quiet, unemphatic voice. He doesn’t move his features much. He attributes these traits to the atmosphere in his household. “When you grow up in a Chinese home,” he says, “you don’t talk. You shut up and listen to what your parents tell you to do.”

And the attempt to connect that with the following idea:

Aspiring Asian leaders had to become aware of “the relationship between values, behaviors, and perceptions.” He offered the example of Asians who don’t speak up at meetings. “So let’s say I go to meetings with you and I notice you never say anything. And I ask myself, ‘Hmm, I wonder why you’re not saying anything. Maybe it’s because you don’t know what we’re talking about. That would be a good reason for not saying anything. Or maybe it’s because you’re not even interested in the subject matter. Or maybe you think the conversation is beneath you.’ So here I’m thinking, because you never say anything at meetings, that you’re either dumb, you don’t care, or you’re arrogant. When maybe it’s because you were taught when you were growing up that when the boss is talking, what are you supposed to be doing? Listening.”

   So being considered, taking in everyone’s viewpoints, and not being brash about something is a bad thing?
   In a decent, multicultural society, one would hope that we can appreciate different norms based on how someone is raised. And it’s not just between two races. Even in a single race, you can have someone whose parents taught them to be quiet and another whose parents encouraged lively debate. Is one person worth less than the other? Is one less suited for leadership? I don’t think so: so many other things need to be looked at.
   Surely the “weapon” for any race is the ability to have perspective and to be proud of all your cultural norms? While Wesley’s examples are about a few Asian-Americans who want the recognition they deserve, those of us who are proud of our culture and have done all right because of it—and being smart enough to bridge our traditions with the host nation—might think the following, as one of Alistair’s friends did:

My issue with articles like this is that they seem to encourage disdain for our heritage. I am trying to raise my daughters to have pride in their ethnicity.

   My view was this, initially, and I’m still quite happy with this comment on Al’s wall. Naturally, I could not extend it to our other oriental cousins because it’s a statement founded on personal experience, but I’m sure some would agree with this. I added the italics for emphasis here:

I would have thought that because we are “different”, it would make us more suited to challenging “the Man”. We can question them because we come from a culture that affords us perspective—and it’s not just us Chinese, but anyone with any ethnic background. (I was even chatting about this to a white Irish–American New Zealander recently.)
   But is there a ‘traditional’ pathway? If there is, I don’t know of it, and was never told it. Maybe I won some genetic lottery and had parents who were smart enough to realize that having values is not an impediment, if you can make them work to your advantage. I also had parents who took risks—the risk of going to a new country, the risk of starting their own businesses—and where my mother, when she was working for someone, refused promotion because she didn’t want the extra responsibilities.
   But isn’t risk-taking something instilled in all Chinese émigrés? In the US and here, it was those who headed to the 金山. Those were the pioneers and they had a hard time. Those of us with grandparents who fought the Japanese. Those of us who came out with our parents. If we respected their histories, we should realize—and maybe this is me talking in hindsight—that we have our own mark to make like our forebears, and that means having our own adventure.

   I don’t believe there’s something about our culture that holds us back from speaking our minds, being subservient or taking risks. We invented enough stuff to show that we have decent lateral thinking among our ranks. What about Honda? It’s a motorcycle and car company now making jet planes—how many companies started doing bikes and now makes planes? I have always thought the “meekness” that Wesley writes of is, in itself, a stereotype: if you buy into it, then you’ve just hurt yourself by conforming to someone’s false idea of what it means to be Chinese.
   Goodness knows the number of times I’ve heard (though, interestingly, not last year) ‘I thought Asians weren’t interested in politics.’ Well, obviously, we are, and we’ve had more of them for a lot longer than a lot of other cultures. (Try telling Peter Chin or Meng Foon of their supposed disinterest over the years.)
   The mark of an open-minded society is one which values people equally, realizing that everyone has a different way of doing things.
   The mark of maturity is having perspective, which has come about through contact, dialogue, travel or endeavour.
   If the failure of an Asian-American to speak out prevents them from being promoted, then maybe we need to look hard at that organization.
   Because I honestly don’t think blame should be levelled at the person for being the way they are.
   What it does show is that there are systems that are inherently racist. When it comes to denying Asian-Americans their rightful place, it’s apparently now our fault once again for being who we are.
   I’m hoping to high heaven that the stats in New Zealand aren’t as dire as the ones Wesley cited, though we sure are under-represented politically. I don’t blame the voters, and I don’t blame the potential candidates. But it should make us wonder about the fairness of the system and the institutions behind it.

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Posted in business, culture, leadership, New Zealand, politics, USA, Wellington | 2 Comments »


Wellington wants free wifi

17.02.2010

While I’ve been a LinkedIn member for many years—my LinkedIn ID has six digits, which gives you an idea of how long ago—I have to confess that I did not browse the brilliant Wellington, New Zealand group till quite recently.
   And free wifi is being talked up there, too, as something Wellingtonians genuinely want.
   We hear from expats who feel Wellington needs this as a major city, from Wellingtonians who believe this would be great for growing business, and from some concerned citizens who wonder where the money comes from.
   Fortunately, two of the posters there have experience in the wifi space, and can attest to the fact that the infrastructure already exists. As mentioned on my mayoral campaign site, we can make this profitable for the city. Secondly, it will provide an additional avenue for Wellington businesses to be found.
   Indeed, one of these experts notes that it was exceedingly rare for anyone to go mental over downloading things; in any case, I propose there will be a daily data cap on the service.
   When I made wifi one of my core issues last year, I knew instinctively it would be right for Wellington.
   I don’t live in a bubble, and I’m not part of the political élite. Which means I haven’t learned how to distance myself from the needs of Wellingtonians. I’ve been engaging with people for a long time with an eye on this campaign. Anyone with one’s pulse on the city knows that free wifi and new jobs are things that a world-class city needs—and I firmly believe Wellington is potentially world-class. I would hate for us to miss the opportunities that are before us right now, which can catapult us into the big league to become one of the world’s great cities.
   As those of you who came out to the two Asian Events’ Trust shows at TSB Arena in Wellington over the weekend know, I have returned to our shores after a wonderful trip to Europe. The warmest it got, I should note, was 2°C, which makes even a foggy, overcast day like today seem dreamy. (The coldest was –15°C.)
   Some of the conversations I had in Sweden still can’t be revealed yet (this isn’t about transparency—this is about legality), but I was there studying some benchmarks for transportation and the environment. I want Wellingtonians to know I travel on my money and I use the opportunity to benefit my city. I don’t miss these opportunities. (And yes, I was in København, too.)
   As some of you who have followed my career know, I am not talking about incremental improvements.
   After all, as early as 2001 I was talking about Fair Trade and social responsibility. By 2003, I had talked to the United Nations Environment Programme and convinced them that the best way of making environmental issues cool was to mainstream them through the world of fashion and celebrity—and Lucire’s partnership with them was born. The same year, we at the Medinge Group decided that Beyond Branding should be a Carbon Neutral book. The previous decade I was doing everything from web publishing (1993) to launching the country’s longest running online fashion title (1997).
   So when I talk about these ideas in Sweden, I am talking about game-changers that can benefit Wellington.
   You have to be a few years ahead of your time, given what politics is like. No one who seeks public office can afford to be reactive or behind the times. And I hope that in the last 23 years, I’ve managed to demonstrate a fairly good record of identifying the next big thing.
   And I owe a debt of gratitude to my good friend (and one of Sweden’s outside-the-box marketing thinkers) Stefan Engeseth for arranging my speeches and meetings. Thank you for entrusting me, Stefan, for being your first speaker in your Unplugged Speeches session—it was an extremely good, interactive morning. It’s not every day I get to interact with someone who works for NASA. (If you thought I was good, you should see speaker number two, who has a Ph.D. and is very easy on the eyes.) But mostly, thank you for inspiring me even more, because you, too, always seem to be a few years ahead of the game.
   As to France, the other country I spent heaps of time in on this trip, it was an honour to talk at the Sorbonne–CELSA campus with my colleagues at Medinge.
   While part of the Paris trip was occupied by a board meeting and with the 2010 Brands with a Conscience awards, I had the opportunity to discuss my mayoral campaign with the world’s leading brand thinkers in a meaningful, collegial presentation. Medinge, too, is filled with those forward-thinking from people who are nearly always right about their predictions of how the world would look in three to ten years’ time.
   And the session at La Sorbonne was, in my mind, a true highlight—where, again, Wellington got plenty of promotion, and I was able to share some thoughts with a smart, young audience.
   I’ll be letting voters know ahead of time what else was discussed with the Swedish companies, so you can be even better armed when you fill out your ballot forms for the local elections later this year.
   In the meantime, let me give my Facebook campaign page another little plug: click here for more. My heartfelt thanks to all those who have joined and have given me amazing encouragement for this campaign.

At the Sorbonne–CELSA
Cat Soubbotnik

Above At La Sorbonne–CELSA in Levallois. Below Presenting to my Medinge Group colleagues at MIP.

At Medinge Paris
Sergei E. Mitrofanov, copyright

StockholmRight I wasn’t kidding about Stockholm hitting –15°C. It was around –9°C when this pic was taken.

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Posted in branding, business, France, internet, leadership, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, Sweden, technology, Wellington | 4 Comments »