Sometimes we know more about what we don’t want, than what we do want.
This was certainly the case for me.
In fact, I had been clear on this for years.
Although on the outside you could think that I had a very successful career, interesting roles, progressive promotions and increased financial benefits. Yet deep down, I was far from being happy.
You see while I was achieving things as though they were some sort of checklist (warning to you bucket list advocates), what this was not, was fulfilment.
Possibly because I had known no other way, after all this was my conditioning – get a good education, then get a good job, work hard, be loyal and fit in.
Yet for me, as I got older, I could see patterns…
Like in the education that you invested in your early 20’s, does not cut it today.
Promotions are not necessarily always based on performance, as other factors that you may miss, are always in play.
Diversity is key, but you still must fit in and conform.
Job security is not guaranteed, even in the most profitable companies, no matter how good you may be.
And Machiavelli is alive and well in large companies.
At the same time, I could also see things changing.
Huge global changes in how we work – in what we call today as the New Economy.
Of course, the financial crisis was a significant impact almost ten years ago, but I could also see how technology and a global market place could open up opportunities, even for the smallest of players and how you could “punch above your own weight” and become a disruptor.
Sure, I am no Elon Musk, who I have enormous respect for, but I started to see a crack in my own world that enticed me to rewire my thinking and take a different path.
But the epiphany did not happen straight away, it had to sit idle for a few more years until the day I was travelling in a long boat down the Mekong River in Cambodia…
It was a hot steamy mid-afternoon just north of Krong Stung Treng. The noise from the outboard seemed to settle into the background from what I was seeing, as we passed by local Cambodians doing what they have always done, living on the great Mekong River. Every now and again, I had glances of men, woman, children look across from the river bank to me, but mostly they were engrossed in going about their daily activities.
I thought about what I had been doing up until then, ticking off the list, but not really living.
So at that moment, I asked myself for the very first time…
“what is it that I want?”
I then reached for my diary and wrote down ten words which ultimately changed the course of where I was heading…
“to live and contribute anywhere in the world, at anytime”
Now, these words may not mean anything to you. But for me, they imply that I have the choices and options and my focus is not about work, but that of contribution – and this is vastly different to how I had thought in the past.
But of course, how do I make this big dream a reality?
So, I changed my initial question and asked…
“what must be true, for me to live and contribute anywhere in the world, at anytime?”
It was this subtle change which then led to more specific ideas and subsequent actions. Some of these I must say were complete disasters financially, but experience nevertheless. Others however, have led to the creation of a profitable and growing global business.
Now some of my academic colleagues might call this the start to a Blue Ocean Strategy.
Well it is to some extent, though I like to refer it to as being part of The Three Forces Of New Economy Businesses™ (Rewire, Disrupt and Engage) but I can even simplify it further as this…
“if you do not like what you have, then bloody well do something about it” strategy, because that’s what it was for me at that time!
So, if you are sitting there, right now, focusing on what you do not want, sure that will provide some fuel for the burn.
But if you want to become unstoppable, start focusing on what you really want, something that grabs you emotionally with passion, where your beliefs and values are aligned, your congruent, where you can honestly say it’s your calling – because that will be the difference to where you are now, to where you want to be.
With more than 60,000 kilometres of coastline, Australia has some of the strictest and most comprehensive biosecurity practices in the world.
When you arrive in Australia, say at Sydney International Airport, you will be greeted to routine inspections and are required to make statutory declarations of what you are carrying and where you have been.
An inconvenience yes, but the ramifications of pest and disease outbreaks can be catastrophic for Australia.
What many people do not realise though, that even once you arrive in Australia, there are specific exclusion zones across the continent, that prevents the movement of targeted pests and diseases.
Once such pest is the fruit fly, or specifically the Mediterranean fruit fly and the Queensland fruit fly that together, threaten a substantial portion of Australia’s AUD 9-billion-dollar horticultural industry.
One of the very first jobs I had when I left high school thirty-five years ago, was to go fruit picking on a pear and stone fruit orchard near Shepparton in regional Victoria. I remember the farmer, Mr Burns, explaining to me of the problem of fruit fly!
Now this was also the time when I embarked on my “first career” as an agricultural scientist – where traditional farming methods was typically using chemical controls. In fact, it was the beginning of what we called “no till or conservation farming” in which the use of broad spectrum chemicals such as glyphosate (i.e. Monsanto’s Roundup) was applied to kill “weeds” reducing the need for the farmer to plough their fields keeping more organic matter in the soil structure.
But it was also a time when a different type of farmer, or land custodian, started to be heard. These voices were often ridiculed by the so called agricultural scientists (like myself) because they challenged the accepted norms, but slowly people did start to pay attention to.
One of these voices for many years has been Lynton Greenwood of Greenwood Orchards at Merrigum in Victoria. Lynton is the current custodian of the orchard founded by his grandfather back in 1906 – 109 years ago!
Under the guidance of Alex Podolinksy who championed Rudolf Steiner’s approach of a more environmentally stable agricultural method known as Bio-Dynamic, Greenwood Orchard became “Demeter” certified back in 1968. In other words, they have been producing certified organic produce for almost 50 years – long before organic was trendy!
This fact alone is a great story of business sustainability across three family generations and showing industry leadership despite what your neighbours may be saying.
But let’s get back to the main story and this is about where the problem of fruit fly control and organic farming collides.
In case you missed it, you cannot control fruit fly with artificial chemicals on organic farms. But I hear you say that Greenwoods Orchard is in the centre of a fruit fly prone area and when there is a threat of an infestation, you need to act fast so what do you do then?
Furthermore, complicating this, is the fact that fruit flies are tiny and they are highly mobile! So up until recently, when the fruit fly population started to increase, it was not recognised until they reached endemic levels.
Enter technology, smartphones, and community!
With the support from tech savvy partners like Advance Computing who are based at Kyabram, just down the road from Lynton’s orchard, the idea came about to develop a smartphone app which people could record fruit fly infestations. Then linking this up with the local hardware stores who provided fruit fly traps, the whole community (even supported by the local Rotary Club) could get involved recording fruit fly capture including number, time and GPS location data as well.
Then coupled with the support of another partner – a small company called “Microsoft”, Advance Computing was then able to build a solution around the Azure cloud infrastructure.
As a result, real time data of fruit fly populations across a broader geographical area are now captured via the “crowd” and be accessed immediately with decisions now made at the most optimal times. This means ultimately having the potential to save millions of dollars of damaged produce each year.
While the complete eradication of the fruit fly pest would be a desirable objective, this collaboration between the 109 year old Greenwood Orchards, the local technology partner – Advance Computing, and the local community, has from a holistic point of view, significantly enhanced the control of fruit fly infestations – and that has to be a good thing.
Imagine this… the Nutty Professor announces their latest invention – a robot that sits on your shoulders and feeds you tomatoes while you run in marathons!
Well actually you do not have to imagine it too much, because it has already been invented!
Let me introduce you to Tomatan and of course little brother / sister Petit-Tomatan!
You see the Japanese company Kagome came up with this idea for an automated tomato dispenser for a runner in the Tokyo Marathon in 2015. Perhaps a marketing stunt – who knows, but there we have it, wearable robots!
When Microsoft Australia invited me to visit the Kagome tomato operations located in the Goulburn River irrigation district of regional Australia, as part of my role as a Microsoft Brand Ambassador, nothing was going to keep me away… I wanted to face off with Tomatan because it might be my secret weapon for this year’s Sydney City To Surf marathon!
So, on a mild late summer day, I boarded my flight from Sydney to Melbourne, then took a three-hour bus ride to Echuca.
Everything was set for this show down… man versus machine – bring it on!
But what happened next was a little unexpected…
I met up with Nick Raleigh, Field Operations General Manager at Kagome and Bryant Alford who heads up Software Development at Advance Computing. They then took me on a tour of the Kagome plant and explained how they had been automating a largely manual paper based process, to real time data.
They discussed how they can provide some of the highest standards of quality in food production, with traceability of product (freshly harvested tomatoes) from farm paddock to finished processed, fit for market, goods.
As Nick explained to me:
“By leveraging the capabilities of the Internet Of Things (IoT) and Microsoft’s Azure functionality, we have streamlined production to such a point, that any additional efficiencies would be just incremental as we are close to, if not at the peak, of our efficiency curve in the whole process”
Now that is impressive what every you think, because their supply chain covers independent growers, harvesting, transporting and processing.
But I am being distracted by also thinking:
“Where was Tomatan in all this, will I get my face off?”
Have to focus…
So back to Kagome and the plant, this means a competitive product. For the local growers, employees and businesses of their area, a commercial and viable industry, in which their local tomatoes are being distributed all over the world.
But also for me, it showed how by being very strategic and leveraging the best technology solutions that is appropriate, and collaborating with the right people, can lead to scalability – because this whole production ecosystem is based on a tight period. Tomatoes are a seasonal product so you need to scale up rapidly and then as circumstances change like weather conditions, you need to scale down just as rapidly. In traditional operations, this is not always achievable.
Bryant put it to me this way:
“You have to be efficient and that means making the best decisions at the best possible times and of course this is achieved through information because this is a beast we have to keep feeding”
That’s when it occurred to me…
What Kagome with their partnership of Advance Computing and Microsoft Australia, had actually created was a Godzilla like big brother to Tomatan – a huge robot factory that was actually feeding the world with tomatoes… now that is really impressive!
According to some sources, the ten most valuable commodities traded today are Cotton, Wheat, Corn, Sugar, Silver, Gold, Brent Oil, Gold, Natural Gas, Coffee and Crude Oil.
These commodities feed us, clothe us, allow us to make things, to transport us and to conduct commerce all over the world.
But in my opinion there is one commodity that is traded today that is the “big daddy” of all commodities. Not from the value of its trading, but the impact and what it means, in fact for all us, all of life…
Panhi, Maji, Vatten, Wasser, Agua or Water!
Yes water, the stuff that falls from the sky and melts from glaciers high up in the mountains like in the Himalayas.
The stuff that as children, we run outside to play in, or as adults we hide from!
That phenomenon that arrives as monsoons in which communities celebrate with thousand-year-old rituals.
That phenomenon of drought, that when there is no water, can lead to uprisings like in Syria today, or the complete destruction of civilisations as historians believe occurred at Machu Picchu in Peru, or Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
For most of us though, we take water for granted. We live in communities where it is generally abundant in supply.
However, if our whole sense of existence revolved around water, it is likely we would start to look at it very differently.
When I started my career, it was in agricultural science, in which has taken me around the world including the vast and ancient irrigation schemes along the Indus River in Pakistan, where I worked with Asian Development Bank funded projects, to ensure the effective supply of water to local Pakistani farmers to grow food.
So, it was with much enthusiasm, I accepted a recent invitation from Microsoft Australia, in my position as a Brand Ambassador, to visit regional Australia where Microsoft and their partner Advance Computing, is supporting the Kyabram based Waterpool Co-op to transform themselves for the digital age!
You see, the Waterpool Co-op was founded by a group of local farmers back in 2012 to provide a transparent trading platform for water users. Now five years later, they have transformed themselves digitally, or as Peter Lawford, Chairman or the Waterpool Co-op explained to me:
“Think of Waterpool like the stock exchange of water. You can visit our trading room and website to find out more about how water is trading, or if you are ready to trade, then you can sign up and trade with us 24×7”
Now you can imagine to be able to a provide 24×7 service you need to have significant automation and real time data connectivity in place, instead of manual processes and paper! So what Advance Computing did was to provide a Microsoft Azure cloud based solution for the Waterpool Co-Op which has now completely transformed the way farmers and irrigators are managing their businesses.
Tim Humphris a local dairy farmer and Waterpool Co-op member has found that the approach to locking in prices immediately for water as soon as new information comes to hand, has saved him a lot of money. In fact, has given him some degree of comfort as he is more in control.
Waterpool’s transformation in my opinion though, is only just starting…
There is much more to what can be possible now that they have the Azure platform in place. In the future they will be able to do some exciting things for their members like keeping tab on micro weather information, satellite mapping and farm usage records to provide production data – all of which can include historical and predictive data! All of which will lead to better decision making by the farmers and irrigators.
So while the rest of the world are trading all sorts of commodities, spare a thought to what is the most valuable commodity that we all have a stake in, and what the Waterpool Co-op are doing to ensure that this scare resource is being managed as efficiently as possible.
We hear so much about digital disruption these days. How it is impacting us in our jobs and the opportunities people are making because of it.
We see footage of these great co-working spaces created out of old factories and warehouses where coffee and beer is on tap 24×7. Where people get around on roadster bikes and there are walls to write on and cushions to kick back on!
But guess what? That is only a small part of the story when it comes to digital disruption.
There are countless other stories of the quiet achievers chipping away and making a huge impact in their own communities.
One of these quiet achievers is Advance Computing who’s head office is based in the regional Australian town of Kyabram – check them out here on google maps so you get an idea where they are:
As part of my relationship as a brand ambassador for Microsoft, I had an opportunity to travel to Kyabram and meet the team at Advance Computing and learn about how they are punching above their weight.
To set the scene, Kyabram, which is 200 kilometres north of Melbourne, is possibly not the first place most people would think of, when it comes to digital disruption. But actually, it is positioned right in the heart of the Goulburn River irrigation district in the Shire of Campaspe.
I had a chance to meet up with Councillor Leigh Wilson of the Shire of Campaspe who shared with me that the council is responsible for over 36,000 residents across 4,500 square kilometres (Greater London for example is only 1,569 square kilometres!) and is a source of diverse agriculture as well as a solid manufacturing and services base.
So, I guess it is really no surprise after all, to see how the need for digital transformation was there across this diversity of businesses, local establishments, and community.
Established in 1999, Advance Computing has filled this gap by providing IT services that range from software development and support through to even a local retail outlet for computers where farmers walk in and just say:
“fix it – I will be back in the morning”!
As Managing Director Mark Schumman explained to me about the products they had developed for financial services:
“you do not have to be based in the cities to deliver compelling offerings”!
They also recognised the need to build local capability which for them meant supporting the schools and providing entry positions into Advance Computing – a legacy of this success is with one of their senior leaders, Bryant Alford, responsible now for Software Development, who started as one of their first trainees!
But of course, it is the clients that tell the story of how Advance Computing is making a huge impact.
This is where Chris Motton, Services & Sales Director, took me on a tour across the Shire to meet three of their current clients – Waterpool Co-op, Kagome and Greenwood Orchards. All very diverse businesses and also with very different challenges in which technology was to play a key part of the solution.
This just emphasised to me how important it is in any business that you need to be flexible in your own service offering if you are to be able to deliver great outcomes for your clients.
But the other thing I was impressed with was the level of support Microsoft was giving to regional Australia to support businesses like Advance Computing (who is a Microsoft Gold Midmarket Solution Provider). Steven Miller, SMB Director at Microsoft Australia explained it this way to me:
“digital disruption is everywhere – it is not just in the cities, no one person can claim ownership”
The days of the one size fits all is over.
If you want to leverage global digital disruption. If you want to set up, scale and sustain a business today then bespoke services and sustainable relationships are key.
Developing unique and innovative solutions to solve problems must be an imperative and this is best achieved when working in collaboration – not going at it alone.
What the team at Advance Computing is demonstrating is precisely this, and it was very inspiring for me to see this first hand and through the eyes of their clients.
Where were you this time in 2008?
For me, I was with Capgemini, the global consulting, technology and outsourcing firm and was temporarily based in South Korea helping a large client with their global sourcing strategy.
To ensure I was keeping up to date with what was happening around the world, I took an interest to read various articles and publications including one at the time that applauded AIG’s global strategy.
They were interesting days…
On the 6th May 2008, I recall the Wall Street Journal quoting Hank Paulson, US Treasury Secretary from 2006 to 2009 saying…
“I do believe that the worst is likely to be behind us”
Then two days later, AIG posted a larger than expected loss and as Bloomberg reported…
“After the market close on May 8, the world’s largest insurance company reported a net loss of $7.81 billion”
But as we know, it was only getting started.
By September, I had my bags packed was heading home with The Wall Street Journal publishing the headlines on the 16th September…
U.S. to Take Over AIG in $85 Billion Bailout; Central Banks Inject Cash as Credit Dries Up
Emergency Loan Effectively Gives Government Control of Insurer; Historic Move Would Cap 10 Days That Reshaped U.S. Finance
What struck me at the time was the speed of the collapse.
Price Waterhouse Coopers would later publish a report that estimated by then end of 2008 more than 7 million jobs had been obliterated in developed countries alone.
People would lose their jobs.
Businesses would close down.
Lives would be impacted for ever.
Economies are still struggling – eight years later.
When I returned back to Australia, I was asked to reduce my work days to just three a week.
Now in my industry, that of course meant you still had to put in the time. However, I was one of the lucky ones, meaning that I still had a job and I lived in a part of the world where we were least affected from the fallout of the GFC.
Yet, what I observed impacted me to the point that I wanted to learn what could prevent this from ever occurring again, or at least, how can a business, or an individual prevent this from happening again.
In other words, how can you become “recession proof”?
You see what I discovered that despite the collapse of businesses, markets and economies, there were businesses and individuals who were either not impacted from the GFC or actually did very well.
Call them smart, call them opportunist if you want, but these businesses and people had different strategies than most of us who suffered.
Furthermore, while there were differences in these individual’s education, background, personal resources or the tactics they deployed to ride out the GFC.
This realisation, or “epiphany”, led me to develop what I now call “The Five Imperatives Of Highly Successful Businesses” and I share these to my clients, or my students so that they can recession proof their own businesses and careers.
Now while I consider it essential that you need to have all five imperatives in place and in the right balance, I recently obtained a further distinction on this when I heard Tony Robbins share his thoughts on high achievers and their “burning desire”.
They were prepared to do what it takes. They were uncomfortable with their current situation. People like Oprah Winfrey who overcame incredible obstacles and Tony Robbins himself – both now making huge positive differences to the lives of many across the world
Their mind set, or psychology, has been transformed to drive them.
The problem is, for many of us, we are just too comfortable to change and it is too late when we are forced to like during the GFC. I know this because this happened to me until I decided to change.
That is why the first of the five imperatives you need to have in place and master is about having a Strategy that Empowers.