Three questions from Kerry Packer

26 05 2013

I attended an interesting conference the other day. While most of the conference alternated between content and hard-sell (which was quite tedious – and may be the subject of another posting later), there were a couple of speakers who were not there to sell anything. Of these, the best speaker by far was Mark Bouris.

Mark Bouris is the Donald Trump of Australian television’s “Celebrity Apprentice”. I don’t watch this program, but a surprisingly large number of my female friends do – apparently just to watch Mark. Fair to say he was easy on the eye – also personable, interesting and relevant. I had little knowledge of him and therefore no preconceptions or expectations, but of all the speakers, he was by far the best and most interesting.

And easy on the eye. But I digress!

Mark told one story which really stuck with me. I can’t of course recant it word for word, but have aimed for the emotional truth instead.

Mark’s first great business success was Wizard Home Loans. If you are in Australia, you will probably have heard of this company. One day his friend James Packer, son of Kerry Packer (Australia’s richest man at the time) approached him to buy 50%. Mark gave an entertaining exposition on what it was like making a deal with the Packer Empire, but eventually a deal was struck and he was summoned to the office of the great man, Kerry.

The office he described as massive, in dark manly colours and lined with expensive paintings of deer being disembowelled by hunting dogs and other aggressive hunting types of scenes. Mark approached the desk and was given a seat to sit in – which felt some inches lower than the chair that Packer – a very tall man to start with – sat in. Very 1980s power games!

Kerry, according to Mark, asked him three questions.

1. What business are you in? Mark said “mortgage industry”.

“NO” came back the answer! “You are in the hopes and dreams business. You are selling hopes and dreams in the form of homes.”

The aim of this question, according to Mark, was to get to the emotion truth of the business – and only then can you effectively connect with and sell to your audience. He went on to say that for instance a coffee-shop owner was in the business of nurturing – what could be more nurturing than giving someone warm drinks? Therefore if you are in the nurturing business, that is the atmosphere you need to create in the shop.

The second question:

2. Who are your customers? Mark said he got this one right – he knew the demographics etc.

The third question:

3. Have you ever failed in business?

According to Mark, Kerry later explained this question to him. A leader who can lead in good times is all very good – but it is easy to get people to follow you in good times. If you can get people to follow you, if you can be an effective leader in the bad times, when the business is going down the tube – then you really have good leadership skills.

Like him or loath him, Kerry Packer was a very successful businessman. I found this anecdote provided a fascinating insight into the way he thought about business and leadership.

So if you happen to have a chance to hear Mark Bouris speak – it is worthwhile. He was better than the headline speaker at the conference, Richard Branson, whose presentation was unfortunately over-controlled and free of new content.

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Is Ritalin the new “Mother’s little helper”?

5 05 2013

pills

IN the 1960s and 1970s, Valium (and associated benzodiazepines – benzos) were known as “Mother’s Little Helper”- a drug prescribed to stay at home mothers to help them deal with their lives – fundamentally, a way of sedating them so they would accept a life they were unhappy or bored with.

What a drag it is getting old
Kids are different today,
I hear ev’ry mother say
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she’s not really ill
Theres a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day

(Mother’s Little Helper, Rolling Stones)

By all accounts, it was an epidemic of medico-sanctioned drug abuse. A generation of women rendered passive, incapable of dealing with their dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Stepford wives.

Fast forward to the 1990s and 2000s. the drug de jour is Ritalin and other uppers to deal with ADD. ADHD, adult ADHD, etc.

Now I am not saying these syndromes do not exist. Nor that the drugs don’t work for some people. But then the Valium worked pretty well for women in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the explosion of diagnoses, and of prescriptions makes me suspicious. Are we waiting for someone to write a song about how we medicated our difficult children? What cost will they pay in their adult lives, when they haven’t learned to deal with their concentration, focus and behaviour without medication? What physiological effect will the drugs have one them?

And whose “illness” are we medicating?

For the full Rolling Stones Song, click here: Rolling Stones: Mother’s Little Helper





Memories……

1 04 2013

Memory is a funny thing. What one person remembers can be quite different from another person. Some of it is perspective, some of it might be personal views on the important aspects of an event. Apparently what language you speak and hence what words you have at your disposal also affects what you understand and remember about events. Presumably NLP works differently in different languages.

Most people seem to have their first memories around 4 or 5, although if you try to remember your earliest memory it is difficult to separate what you remember from what you have been told and photographs you have seen. My mother in particular seems to have taken advantage of this and denies events that I specifically remember in an attempt I allege is a rewriting of history. Her brother, meanwhile, used to allege that he could remember being born. Clearly we are a family for whom the truth has been a malleable concept.

But while our memories are already somewhat fallible tools, imagine if, like Star Trek, you had a holo-deck, and could create completely fictional events. You could people your events with real colleagues, friends and acquaintances. And while to you, they would seem to be real experiential memories, the other people would have absolutely no knowledge of the events you created.

PS Stumbleupon just showed me a Wikipedia page on parataxic distortion which expands on this concept.





Stephen

2 03 2013

They say that in a group of 23 people, there will be two people who share a birthday. I have only ever found one person who shared my birthday and birth year. That was Stephen. This is a very small excerpt of his story, the little bit that he was in my life.

Stephen.

Stephen was creative, a lateral thinker in a creative way that was not in any way applicable to work. He would leave funny little messages in the communication book at work (and apparently had graffitied a number of them in the library at Adelaide University, where he studied medicine). He was bright, very witty, but somehow a little out of step with the stereotypic doctor. And he loved to laugh.

Stephen drove the “fast brown car” which was an appalling poo-brown falcon in terrible condition. He had to put the front seat back in so I could sit in it – and it probably wasn’t very safe. It was fast brown car mark two – the first one had been trashed at a party when people jumped all over it (quite probably encouraged by Stephen).

As we were the same age, and attended uni at the same time in a relatively small city, it was inevitable that we knew people in common – and in fact had attended the same parties (most notably one in some share houses in North Adelaide featuring a band called “Buster Hymen and the Penetrators”. Classy. We were young, we thought it was funny. And it was certainly a memorable name. I can remember it almost three decades later.)

I met Stephen when we worked together at a medical service. We briefly dated but nothing came of it and we became friends instead, companions in the still dark nights inhabited by the chronically ill and the drug seeking. The living dead. We shared gallows humour and kept each other going. At least he kept me going. He was funny, zany, and bizarre, creative. He loved to entertain and confuse with his very off-beat humour. We would go out to breakfast at the Hilton and the Hyatt after night shift ended, with a group from a few other medical services and the local hospital A&Es. It was great to be relaxing and taking our time, then heading home while the rest of the world rushed off to work.

Stephen killed himself when we were 26.

He went home after night shift, put a tourniquet around his arm and shot up 15 ampoules of morphine. He was a doctor, so he had access and he knew what he was doing – almost. He was a big man – tall and solid (he called himself fat boy), and he passed out before he could release the tourniquet. The morphine didn’t kill him, but he wasn’t found for 12 hours, when he didn’t turn up to his next shift. He had been breathing about once a minute all day and had wiped out most of his brain from lack of oxygen. I had last spoken to him three hours prior to when he would have done it, when my shift finished before his. I could not tell anything was wrong. Even in retrospect, there were no signs. Nothing.

He spent the next two weeks in a coma in intensive care, in the hospital where he had trained. I have never prayed for someone to die, but for Stephen, I did. With the brain damage – only the brain stem was still functioning – he could never be more than a vegetable. This was an appalling outcome for a man who had been so lively, so witty, so clever. He had lived from his brain, his intelligence, and his charm. Just as arrangements were being made to transfer him to a permanent ward – a ward of the living dead where bodies that refuse to die are fed and washed – mercifully, he died. I doubt his family felt that way at the time, and maybe they still don’t, but for those with any medical knowledge, it was a blessing.

It was still terrible. I lost one stone of weight in a week. I retreated into compulsive behaviours – horse-riding and playing the same song over and over – Baby Animals ‘Lights out at Eleven’, (below). Even now I occasionally think about him, what he is missing, what his family is missing because he chose the way out that he did, what could have been. No condemnation, just deep sadness.

I heard his grandparents couldn’t believe he had suicided, and believed he had been murdered. His sisters were of course devastated. His parents kindly sent me a photograph and a letter. I can no longer picture his face except for the photograph, which is etched in my mind. I can’t imagine his voice any more. The letter spoke of their ongoing disbelief at what had happened. Pride at the man he was and how loved he was by so many friends, disbelief at what happened and a fathomless grief at the utterly unexpected and inexplicable turn of events that had taken him from them irrevocably. Their lives altered forever.

So why did he do it? I will never really know, but I heard much later that his girlfriend had got pregnant and she had had an abortion. He was brought up Catholic and couldn’t deal with it – in his mind, she had killed their baby. This post is not meant to be either anti-abortion, or anti-religion. There is no moral of the story, the meaning you overlay on the story says more about you than it does about Stephen or his girlfriend. The story is what it is, no more. And it may not be correct – it may be only the Chinese whispers that follow this sort of tragedy as people try to make sense of the insensible – and some try to lay blame.

There is no blame to be laid.

Thanks to the modern wonder of the internet, I can keep Stephen alive a little. I haven’t mentioned his surname, and I won’t post his photograph because he belongs to others – to his family. I can only share my memories, keep his humour, his bizarreness, his creativity alive in my mind. It was meaningful at the time. And we were young. This should never have happened, but it was his choice.

I am tempted to say, as they do, he will always be young, but he won’t. He is gone. He will never be anything now. He was my friend, but all I have is a photograph and a few scraps of paper.

****

If you are feeling distressed, please seek help. Don’t choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem, no matter how overwhelming it feels right now.





Let me ask you this……

23 02 2013

When I was at secondary school, there was a girl in my year called Alison. There were a lot of very clever girls in my year (it was a girls’ school so no clever boys), but Alison was acknowledged as the brightest of us all. Not only was she academically clever, she was also musical, sporty, unassuming (her parents made her ride her bike to school every day), obedient (she wore a helmet years before it became the law) and most importantly of all, nice. And as well as being very very bright, she also worked very hard. We might have liked her less if she had aced all the tests without working at it…except that she was also very nice.

Years before NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) became a “thing”, I knew about modelling – paying attention to the way others behave in order to take on qualities that you admire. And what I noticed about Alison was that she asked a lot of questions in class.

Alison’s question-asking meant a few things. Firstly, she was paying attention and understanding what was being said enough to formulate coherent questions. Secondly, she was adapting the information to make sure it “fit” into the way she thought about things. So if she was told information in one style and that style wasn’t her dominant style, she would ask questions in order to understand it from her dominant view. And thirdly, that she had a high level of curiosity, which exceeded the information she was being told.

And so I learned that asking questions was a good way of learning.

Fast forward two decades, to another question-asker. This time my boss. Now this woman taught me a lot about strategic thinking and organisational thinking. Again, the key was questions, this time questions to lead and direct people, questions that reframed the problem, and hence the way people were thinking about the problem, jump-started them in a new “track”, questions that gave people short-cut ways of memorising and understanding what they were doing at each level of strategic planning.

The key was….

1. Mission statements: WHY? (and sometimes WHAT?) (Why do we exist, what do we want to achieve / what do we do?)

2. Strategic / executive level : WHAT? (what are we doing?)

3. Operational level : How? (give that exec have told operations WHAT to do or WHAT goal to achieve, operations needs to sort out HOW they will do it / HOW they will achieve the goal.

The power of asking the right question goes further. A well-chosen and well-timed question can pull people out of analysis paralysis (what should we do, why do you want us to do that, what are the alternatives, what if we make a mistake, what are the pros and cons of each possibility, etc) and into HOW are you going to do this? This question skims over the quandary and directs thoughts to action. It can also empower people who aren’t sure if they should do something by essentially directing them to do it. Devil’s advocate questions can open up new expanses, and break down the barriers that contain thought, give permission to consider the (previously) unthinkable.

Does questioning work for you?





Hellooooooo…..is there anybody out there?

23 02 2013

A few years ago I lectured in public relations / communications. I was seeking some guest speakers from communications in various industries and decided, as an exercise, to make contact wit them via their websites.

Each of the organisations I made contact with was a fairly well known one in the local market, and included not-for-profits, educational, scientific and government organisations, each of whom had a specific communications section and a need to promote themselves.

Their websites we pretty good. They outlined who they were, their mission, what they did, and provided a range of resources and information that was well targeted to their stakeholders and audiences.

I emailed them using their general contact information on the website. And the response rate was around 10%.

So to recap – they were legitimate organisations, they had a need to communicate, they had communication staff and I was offering them an opportunity to come and speak to a group of students who might be potential users / customers / donors or volunteers.

Sometimes communications is about the basics. There is no point in a fancy campaign, social media, mega-dollars for a clever campaign if you don’t ANSWER YOUR EMAILS!





Viva Venezia!

2 02 2013

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It’s been a while since I posted – and even longer since I posted something on travel.

In October 2012 I travelled across the north of Italy, starting in Venice, then travelling to Verona, Milan (with a side-tripe to Lake Como) and then to the gorgeous Cinqueterre.

Venice is, it is true, very touristy. But I love touristy places. Being surrounded not only by locals, but by travellers from the world over. I love that everything is there, available to the tourist, when you want it. Being able to wander around and just pick a restaurant when you are hungry without having to book in advance. I love the touristy shops, displays and the sightseeing, all available and on tap. And I love that everyone is so patient with my very poor language skills – after all, I am unlikely to get fluent in every language for every place I want to visit.

And we were lucky enough, arriving in the beginning of October, to miss the height of the tourist season, when Venice is packed, but still got good weather.

Venice, like all the best tourist cities, is a city for walking. Yes there are the famed canals, and a multitude of water craft to choose from – the very expensive gondolas (85 Euro for a 40 minute tour through the canals, with specific sights pointed out – Casanova’s House, Marco polo’s House, Mozart stayed there, etc), the comparatively cheap water buses and easy to use (20 Euro) or water taxis. However, having experienced all of these, wandering through the back-streets of the city centre will show you the sights as you (and, it has to be said, hundreds of other people) discover quiet canals, picturesque bridges and charmingly distressed buildings.

And of course, high-end shopping. Every designer worth their salt has a shop in Venice. Quite how they manage to save their stock and their shop-floors in the regular flooding – well I don’t know. But window shopping in this town is amazing.

Venice is also known for Venetian glass – or more accurately, Murano Glass. The Island of Murano is one of many that make up the city of Venice. A scenic water bus journey of about 50 minutes, or if you are in a rush, a water taxi of about 10 minutes, away, and a variety of glass techniques, glass blowing, and much to buy from museum grade pieces to cheap necklaces and tiny glass animals.

Below is selection of some of the best of my many (many) photographs of Venice.

Enjoy!

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Tables with a water view…..

VeniceVenice sinks at about 1cm per year, so the buildings are constantly under strain as they sink unevenly into the mud.  Many Venetian buildings have damaged facades from centuries of slow subsidence, which only adds to the charm.

??????????????????????????????????????????????The famed Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal.  Note the traffic on the Grand Canal, where slow moving gondolas do battle with water buses, water taxis, private vehicles and the Venetian equivalent of trucks – boats moving everything from building supplies to retail goods to post office delivery trucks.

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???????????????????????????????????????????Gondola station on the Grand Canal.  There is a centuries-old law that says gondolas must be black.

??????Water buses leaving and approaching the floating bus-stop at the Rialto Bridge, on the Grand Canal.

??????Traffic on the Grand Canal, lined with restaurants and gondola stations.

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????????????????????Gondola Station.

???????????????????????????????????????????View along the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge.

??????Parking lot for gondolas.  Just to the left around the corner is the Hard Rock Café.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Piazza San Marco, viewed from a gondola.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Another view of Piazza San Marco from the gondola

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????One of many quiet canals, viewed from under a bridge.

?????????????????????The Island of Murano, where Murano glass is made.

?????????????????????Shops in Murano.  The entire island seems to be glass shops, souvenir shops, and restaurants.

?????????????????????Main canal in Murano Island.

?????????????????????Main canal in Murano island

?????????????????????Murano

?????????????????????Murano.  We had lunch at the restaurant on the right, under the white canopy.

?????????????????????Canal in Murano Island, taken from a bridge.

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?????????????????????Canal in Murano Island, taken from a bridge.

???????????????????Gondoliers ply their trade on the Grand Canal near Piazza San Marco.  Photo taken from a restaurant.  Note how many people are in the one gondola out in the water.  Given the price, this is not a bad solution!

???????????????????Gondola station near Piazza San Marco

????????????????????????????????????????????????????Detail of one of the shopping arcades that line Piazza San Marco.

?????????????????????????Basilica San Marco, and tourists.  A moth after we were here, the entire piazza was underwater in one of their frequent Acqua Alta – which appears to be a very high tide.  News photographs showed people in bathers floating over the top of the chairs in the foreground.

?????????????????????????Tourists in Piazza San Marco, and the very distinctive pink glass street lights.

????????????????Gondola station near Piazza San Marco (another photograph taken from a restaurant table).

??????Venice is a town for walking, with narrow laneways, stepped bridges over smaller canals, occasionally opening up to massive stone churches, elaborately decorated (above and more detail below)

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