Ten critical leadership steps for navigating COVID19 – In conversation with veteran Emma Grigson.
Within four short weeks, leaders have found themselves catapulted into three lines of fire:
DISORDER Confronting their own and their organisation’s preparedness to deal with a crisis event
REORDER – Enacting business continuity plans, protecting their people and pivoting strategic direction of their value proposition
NEW [WORLD] ORDER – Attempting to map the imminent restructuring of the global economic order
Last week Emma Grigson and I had a robust conversation about crisis leadership skills. Our interview addressed resounding requests from the LinkedIn family for skills and steps to navigate COVID-19. As an ADF veteran of 15 years, Former Health Operations Executive trained in strategic leadership and with experience in disease management in Washington D.C., Emma provided pragmatic advice on how leaders might tackle the challenge we are facing today, as well as plan for those we will inevitably face tomorrow. I asked her “why the ideas of preparedness and planning seem at odds with the disruption and chaos brought on by crisis”. She proceeded to give a compelling view of planned disruption and disrupted plans.
Let’s break it down…
Not only is COVID-19 a health pandemic, it’s also a test of leadership skills. As the extent of the economic and social impact continues to evolve, leaders, organisations, and governments are revealed in various states of preparedness, credibility, and adaptability. When contingency planning has not been factored into the fibre of an organisation, leaders and companies miss critical opportunities for honest communication and decisive action in the heat of a crisis.
In our chat, Emma outlined some critical steps that can be embedded into teams right from the planning stage:
1. Planning (to have no plan)
Whether you call it red teaming, wargaming or stress-testing, planning to have no plan should be part of every organisation’s source code. Why? Because this gives businesses a chance to hack their own strategy before an irretrievable amount of money, time or material resources have been invested.
Skill: Red teaming is a relatively simple process of fast iteration of scenario testing and has additional benefits. The process of making a plan and encouraging counterfactual arguments reveals not only weakness but new opportunities for innovation and growth. The practice also reinforces open communication, two-way respect and increases the responsibility the group feels for owning successful outcomes in the face of uncertainty.
2. Preparation (rehearsing innovation as an auto-response)
Skill: Rapid-fire role-playing should be dynamic and involve the broader leadership team, serving as robust preparation to embed a level of trust which will prove critical in tough times. When team members are clear on their role, relationships and empowered with prior knowledge, they are able to react without a plan. Leaders need to build core self-checks into the team long before a crisis arrives. For example, improvised critical thinking can be tested for alignment to the company value system, so kneejerk responses are on track to achieve an organisation’s underlying purpose or end goal. When speed of response is critical, it’s this prior understanding and muscle memory that defines what team members will be able to enact.
3. Execution (never shoot the messenger)
Skill: Framing information to combat fear. Bad news must not be covered up. Leaders should have expert sources of information accessible and at the ready. Communication will be key to consistency when new information is rapidly emerging. While leaders often cannot give certainty in crisis, they can give consistency in the way messages are delivered. Calm, clear messaging that looks outward rather than inward and frames information in a regular style and format will provide reassurance and cut through. In a crisis, the audience will be highly attuned to contradictions, so it is imperative that leaders closely align information and actions (even if the two are changing daily). Business Continuity Plans have been used by many organisations to connect external factors with internal measures. In execution, leaders must take control of what is within their control and further, seek to give back as much control to their people as possible.
Leadership example: Jacinda Ardern successfully enacted a Stage 4 shutdown over four days with an 80% national approval rating. Key skills deployed: Transparent information-sharing, decisive action, utilisation of a familiar framework from bushfires, empathy, collective narrative-building including a kids’ press conference and live-streamed feeds from home.
As business as usual reinvents itself virtually before our eyes, leaders are piecing together the scale, pace, and depth of action required to stay solvent while the health crisis abates. Employee well-being, brand reputation, finance management, supply chain, people strategy and legal issues all require attention.
4. Protect your people
Skill: Projecting a duty of care to stakeholders across the spectrum in times of crisis, is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fortify relationships, build trust and garner loyalty from our employee and customer base (MIT Sloan, 2020). To care, is to focus outward on the collective and find ways to serve and support others. Your people must believe that their wellbeing is top of mind. How we communicate that authentically and follow up with action will be a key indicator of how we make our people feel at their most vulnerable – a measure that will never be forgotten. More broadly, contributing to the effort to evaluate and solve for mental and physical wellbeing during COVID-19 will define leadership and organisational success, given an economic reboot will require a fully engaged and productive workforce and customer base.
5. Communicate leadership (not followership)
Skill: Communicating with influence requires leaders to listen at least as much as they speak. Good leaders are careful to ensure targeted comms that solve a problem directly for an audience. Great leaders influence their audience to solve wider problems for the collective.
Leadership cannot follow. To have influence, one must rely on purpose, credibility and relevance. The latter factor seems to be the one leaders are struggling with. To many people, COVID-19 continues to represent a crisis felt financially and emotionally, rather than as an imminent health threat. Rational explanations and reassurance need to be complemented by an emotional response (AICD, March 2020).
Quickly leaders must drive and own a compelling narrative that shows recognition of the danger; empathy for the predicament, comprehension of the latest available data, action to ensure infrastructure to deal with implications, and ability to influence a united behavioural outcome. In the world of COVID-19, there are two levels of technical skills proving paramount: interpretation of the incoming information data; and the competence to use online messaging well to maximise leadership potential.
Leadership Example: Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson successfully demonstrated powerful leadership communication in his message to stakeholders when he spoke honestly about the losses his company is suffering and committed to forgoing a salary for the remainder of the year and cutting those of his executive team by 50 percent.
6. Scenario planning
Skill: Scenario planning will play into agile strategy formulation across financial management, product design, workforce mapping and supply chain innovation. The definition of scenario planning is identifying a specific set of uncertainties, different “realities” of what might happen in the future of your business” (Mariton, March 2020). Each scenario should contain just enough detail to assess the likely success or failure of the strategic option. Scenarios may be built around one single question or sets of variables. These different realities could probe economic outcomes, product demand, supply chain resilience, competition manoeuvres, technology adoption, geopolitical instability, etc. One way to explore each scenario is to build in a SWOT analysis to weigh internal strengths and weaknesses against external threats and opportunities implicated.
7. Mapping talent and deployable skills
Skill: Resourced based value creation suggests that while in the COVID-19 holding pattern, leaders should consider the value of time. One million jobs lost equates to around one billion hours of potential reskilling or upskilling opportunity in the next six months (ABC, 2020). Australia’s economy has slipped to rank 93rd in complexity (WEF, 2020), meaning our resilience in the face of various crises is low. To retain a future competitive advantage globally, companies need to ensure that technology adoption, as well as tech literacy and proficiency are inherent in their business models. Some leaders are already utilising the downturn to clear up that database and rethink product delivery, but pushing further and automating legacy processes or training people in high-demand future skillsets will likely prove advantageous. Moreover, reviewing the underutilised or potential skills of the current workforce enables a fast pivot of resources when new demand for new products comes to fruition.
8. One eye on the ground, one on the horizon
Skill: Think slow think fast. Leaders who can retain an intimate understanding of where their employee, customer and shareholder sentiment sits combined with a big picture analysis of government priorities and policies, global epidemiological indicators and social behaviour trends will be on the front foot when competitive positions are reset. Mapping next horizons can drive sustained engagement, role clarity and productivity as the bounce back suddenly requires the workforce to rev up again. Optimism founded in fact is a leadership trait worthy of special mention. Optimistic leaders naturally inspire and motivate those around them, in turn manifesting and detecting opportunity sooner than others.
Leadership Example: Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh, who wrote a letter to employees encouraging them to focus on the crisis’ silver lining. “One of the things motivating me through this difficult time is the idea that we can learn and adapt and adjust so we emerge stronger as a result of this test,” he wrote. The crisis “will pass. We will get through this together and be a better and stronger company as a result of it.” (The Conversation, 2020)
9. Reimagining the entire business system within a new context
‘Institutions that reinvent themselves to make the most of better insight and foresight, as preferences evolve, will disproportionally succeed’ (McKinsey, 2020). Contactless delivery, supply chains closer to the end-user, technology adoption to drive productivity when labour is unavailable will likely prove to be competitive advantages.
EY analysis predicts, “To operate successfully in this marketplace, businesses need a mindset of adaptive performance and a new framework to respond to volatility and grasp the opportunities that are now emerging.” The framework focuses on a reassessment of sustainable value, and can be overlaid with analysis of emerging conditions from the scenario planning discussed earlier.
Essentially, leaders must take this opportunity to disrupt themselves as well as their organisations. Many leaders are beginning to give voice to the suspicion that while COVID-19 will have devastating consequences, the world needed a reset. That our pace, consumption, way of life, was somehow getting away from us. Leaders who can recognise the opportunity to build a new normal, to dramatically restructure the economic and social order in which business and society have traditionally operated, will find themselves with a new plan, when the first bullet is fired.
And an army of new world leaders, ready for action.
Emma Grigson’s career with the Australian Defence Force has spanned almost 19 years. Within that time she has studied Leadership at the Royal Military College, trained and was appointed as a Medical Officer, trained in jungle warfare as well as intelligence operations and strategies, before being posted in Washington, to conduct analysis of disease and unusual health activities across the globe. Today Emma talks strategic leadership in crisis and shares tips and tools for “planning to have no plan.”
Here we are, signing off February – aka the psychological cemetery for 80% of New Year’s resolutions, according to the U.S. News & World Report (2018). Some of us are no doubt already feeling a little overwhelmed by everything we have set out to achieve in 2020. And some of us may be feeling downright crappy that we can’t seem to live up to our own high expectations of ourselves. But when it comes to change, there’s no quick fix… or is there? I think so, and the good news is that it is highly scalable!
The difference between who we are and who we want to be is a source of cognitive dissonance for many. I have long believed that the ritual of New Year’s Resolutions only serves to amplify and reinforce what we see as lacking in our selves. This perceived identity deficit, or gap, happens to be the engine room of our economy. The study of consumer behaviour has long known that to secure share of heart, mind and pocket, brands must promise to help close the gap between our current and desired state. The cynic in me knows however, that so long as each consumer purchase only goes part way to making us feel better, the gap will remain; the cycle of consumerism will continue, entwining emotions and economy as happy partners, and secure their measure of GDP growth. So how do we take back ownership of our gap and build bridges between who we are and who we want to be that allow us to grow sustainably?
My three top habit hacks
The science emerging around habits offers an alternative way to address the dissonance. The notion that ‘we are what we repeatedly do’ is a tangible and pragmatic way to master our goals, without expending significant money, time or even willpower in the process. As James Clear explains in his book ‘Atomic Habits’, it’s the tiny things that we do each day, that when enacted frequently and with consistency, define not only our behaviour, but our identity. Add to that accountability – the simple act of telling someone what we are hoping to achieve – and our chances of success increase by 70% (Matthews, 2015). Finally, own your start of day and end of day routines. These are powerful triggers in our daily cycle. Begin as you wish to continue, and continue as you wish to begin!
#1 MVH – Minimum Viable Habits
Minimum Viable Habits or MVH refers to the idea that successful behavioural change can be achieved by breaking down new habits into the smallest possible components. Think consistently placing a glass of water next to your bed each night if your end game is to drink 3 litres per day. Or simply putting on the gym gear every morning when you wake up if eventually, you want to do regular training. Due to the non-threatening and non-disruptive nature of MVHs, our brain doesn’t fight them. Once on the path to a new routine, the habits can be slightly tweaked to move you closer to real behavioural change at regular intervals.
The frame of reference I use to decide whether a habit is going to be worthwhile is whether I can do it frequently, and with consistency. The brain appreciates it when we can chunk routines down into a series of small, attainable habits – it gets to take a break! And that’s our chance to slide behavioural change in. The beauty of MVHs, is that humans have a tendency to want to be consistent. We like ticking off the list, showing we’ve made progress. The streaks app is a powerful tool that challenges its users: “Don’t break the chain, or your streak will reset to zero days.”
Science out of NASA traditionally holds that habits take 30 days to form. However more recently, research has shown it’s about the reps, if you are intentional about what you’re doing, small habits can be built, embedded, tweaked and scaled superfast.’
#2 Identity Habits – Say it Out Loud
Returning for a moment to the notion of cognitive dissonance, we all tend to portray ourselves to the world in our desired state. Whether that be the images we allow to appear on social media, the parts of our lives we select to portray when people ask how we’re doing, or simply preferencing carrying out tasks we already know we’re good at. Identity-based habits leverage this natural tendency in a positive way. We have a strong desire to be consistent with the version of ourselves we put out there, and so voicing a newly committed habit out loud, to people we care about, immediately makes us accountable.
The benefits of ‘saying it out loud’ however, seem to require careful selection of our accountability partner. Recent research out of The Ohio State University finds that people tend to be more committed to their goals after they share them with someone who they see as “higher status,” or whose opinions they respect. A Dominican University study found that more than 70% of participants who reported their progress to a friend were successful in goal achievement, compared to only 35% of participants who kept their goals to themselves. Numerous apps have popped up to facilitate social sharing of habits online, allowing users to select which goals they share and with whom they share their goals. The takeaway?
As humans, we are subconsciously strategic about the self we put forward to the world. In living up to this ‘self’, we benefit from being consciously strategic about sharing these goals with trusted and respected allies that will help champion our change. Who will hero your habits?
#3 Habits as Rituals – Own your start and end of day
For my 2020, I’ve been more attracted to wellness goals than productivity goals. This has brought into sharp focus the importance of setting the right tone each morning and closing out the day on the right note every evening. When we think of rituals, we tend to conjure tribal ceremonies, religious celebration or even tricky looking yoga poses accompanied by green juice. However, not all rituals need to be ornate, just quietly meaningful and easily repeatable.
When it comes to beginning and ending your days, simple rituals that embed intentionality can be extremely useful. The etymological meaning of ritual in zoology pertains to ‘giving each animal the time to assess the prowess of the other’. Therefore, ritual is about preparation, intentionality and ultimately, thriving in a sometimes hostile environment.
“Morning Sunshine” – my favourite a.m. habits
The morning rituals I have garnered along my journey involve:
1) a daily focus on the personal values I wish to live by
2) iterative realignment on both short and long-term goals
3) routine exercise and meditation
“Sweet Dreams” – 5 key p.m. habits
The other powerful point of intentionality happens just before we go to sleep. What is the last thing we think of each day?
1) a brain dump helps me transfer everything I have to do tomorrow to somewhere tangible so that it’s no longer on my mind
2) the Grateful app helps trigger a sense of humility, perspective and contentedness
3) my MVH is reading one chapter of a non-study, non-work book each night – thanks to this achievable practice, I’ve read three additional books already this year!
These small moments string together as a touchstone – helping steer the course when life throws unexpected challenges our way. These habits are less about closing the gap on our own cognitive dissonance and more about sitting in our true selves. As many leaders are realising, constant striving for growth is not necessarily socially healthy, environmentally sustainable, nor economically smart in the longer term. On a personal level too, ambition can start from within, rather than without.
I’d love to hear how you are getting along – what habit hacks work for you and what throws the routine out of whack? I’d even love to hear which New Year’s Resolutions you’ve buried.
The legacy we pass on to future generations will inevitably involve challenges, but must not be founded in hopelessness. The least we can do is track a road forward, most of all when the decisions of leaders seem to signal a dead end.
Interviewing former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other prominent leaders as MC for the Professional Convention Managers Association (PCMA) in San Francisco this month, we discussed how to move forward when the stakes are high and the path is unclear. Ultimately, she said, “you have to keep your wits about you, you have to trust your instincts and your gut, and those around you. You have to make the decisions, because not making a decision is making a decision.”
As the youth of today see the news of devastating bush fires in Australia, read the twitter trail of a global leader spreading divisive ideology across the world, experience underemployment even in the most developed countries, we can understand why statistics show an estimated 10–20% of adolescents globally experience mental health conditions (World Health Organisation, 2019). Add to this, almost half of all millennials think it’s more likely than not there will be a third world war in their lifetime, a new Red Cross surveyfinds. Are we going to let history write the future?
As a leader of today, Rice is clearly focused on empowering the leaders of tomorrow. She emphasises the need for those in charge to demonstrate trust in their people by delegating and investing in training. ‘We must allow them to colour outside the lines’ she says.
Can we imagine a democracy wherein the government actively comes to the youth for ideas, for better questions, even for solutions? I have been fortunate to have seen the success of initiatives such as the G20 Youth Summit in action. I believe there is so much to be gained in bringing different voices together to explore collaborative policy design and development. So long as we are clear on who our decisions are serving…
How does our democracy serve us?
“We are only as strong as our weakest link” says Rice. And I wonder, what if our weakest link is in fact, a democratically elected leader? Democracy operates at its best when functioning as a platform for ideas, dialogue and debate. Democracy is founded not on consensus, but contention. As famously penned by Evelyn Beatrice Hall (and often mis-attributed to Voltaire!), ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ (1906).
When uncertainty is not met with curiosity but fear, democracy dies just a little. When injustice is met with depression and apathy rather than anger and outcry, democracy dies a little more. When our very existence is threatened by convenience and we continue on in indifference, then ‘democracy grief’ is real. The question is not how democracy is serving us, but how we are serving our democracy. “You can get through difficult times, but it doesn’t happen magically,” Rice says. She claims she doesn’t look to Washington or state government to take responsibility, but asks herself daily: “What am I doing to take responsibility?”
Like the air we breathe.
For those of us living in western countries, it is too easy to take liberal democracy for granted. Just as we are accustomed to each intake of clean air, each glass of pure drinking water, each child off to school and each purchase of the morning paper, the convenient assumption that we are free to express ourselves and steer our own course is pervasive. But is it true?
Democracy brings us convenience. But it’s a convenience built on consumption. And while we are consumed with consuming, we can’t step back with the objectivity, awareness and space to change our behaviour- our addiction to this convenient life.
What the young leaders of today are calling for is a new kind of democracy. One far more agile, active and connected at grass roots level. One typified by leadership that exhibits empathy and compassion, and is prepared to pioneer new policies and new ways of evaluating democratic health, like the government Jacinda Ardern is leading in New Zealand. One that is less lumbering, less strung out on political puppetry, one that doesn’t rely on never-ending growth to achieve the votes that will drive it forward. But globally, where is the alternative to growth? What is the political paradigm that will support this democracy of the future?
‘Democracy is like a muscle’ writes Carol Rose in the Boston Globe this month. ‘The more we exercise it, the stronger it gets.’ (Carol Rose, Boston Globe, 2019). As we move into 2020 and our own inconvenient truth becomes harder to ignore, I wonder, when was the last time many of us felt the energy of youth to fight against what has gone before? Where is the will to dismiss the diary appointments for today and instead dial up the challenge to the status quo – even when this status quo is paying down the credit card? Where does the will for activism come from?
Rice’s experience has given her perspective on the difficulties the nation faces today. In our interview she says, “I know it is a tough time, but we have been through tougher.” To be open when the inclination is to shut off, to take a risk when a calculated decision is impossible and to hope against despair – that is the legacy we need to leave the future generations.
Linguistically, democracy contains the idea of demonstration. So if nothing else, let us shake off the shackles of convenience and demonstrate our hope for the future.
Malcolm Gladwell has always been someone who not only pushes boundaries through stories but pushes the boundaries of stories. Earlier, this year I was privileged to have the opportunity to interview Malcolm at the Energy Disruptors 2019 Conference in Calgary. We delved into a wide-ranging discussion of his new book “Talking to Strangers” where he illuminates the many ways in which we misunderstand, mistrust and miscommunicate with each other. Our conversation made me wonder, if our natural instincts mean we’re wired in ways that limit and hinder our ability to foster connections with strangers, then how do we tell a different story? How do we navigate trust in an age where our value will rely on diversity and collaboration?
“We evolved as human beings in very, very close-knit family and intimate circles, and now we’re in a position where we have to deal overwhelmingly with people outside those intimate circles. And the skills we were perfecting for 100,000 years that worked on the intimate group, really don’t work that well on strangers.”
Malcolm Gladwell, #EDU2019
How to tell a different story?
Interestingly, given all the banter we hear about how hard it is to get cut-through in this ‘noisy’ world, Malcolm argues that if we have an authentic story to tell, then there has never been a better time to tell our story. He asserts that the trick lies not in speaking, but in listening. In any given social media minute, 41.6 million messages will be sent over Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, 347,222 people are scrolling Instagram, 87,500 people posting to Twitter and 4.5 million videos on YouTube are being watched.
Who are these people and why would they stop their ergonomically scrolling thumbs to listen to you?
As he unpacks his reply, the beautiful mind of Malcolm Gladwell meanders between trust, inequality, social context and cultural subtext. I ask, “Do we have a trust crisis?” To which Malcolm emphatically replies ‘no’. He points out that 15 years ago, the concept of hitting a button on a cellular device, waiting for a random car to show up, hopping into the said random car, to be driven by a complete stranger, while relying on a phone to map the correct route and then hopping out with no exchange of money or credit card swiping… was simply incomprehensible. Trust, these days it seems, is crowd-sourced. It’s not lost but it has morphed.
Malcolm argues, “On a macro level we are so insanely more trusting than we ever were”. We simply don’t have the time to walk around wondering if we should trust the bank (even post-Royal Commission), if we should trust the childcare helper looking after the kids (pending another Royal Commission), if we should trust the café owner making our food (or perhaps, more accurately, whether they’re paying their staff…) or even the Uber driver in charge of our safety. ‘Evolution selected us to trust people implicitly, unless we are given overwhelming evidence to the contrary’, says Malcolm.
“Talking to Strangers” explores whether the innate trust humans have developed over eons, continues to serve us in this hyper-connected, borderless age. Historically, we are used to interacting primarily with people who were ‘like us’. We assume that a smile is acceptance, a handshake is a deal and any number of other broad-sweeping generalisations can be made simply because… well we just assume it to be so. This isn’t necessarily an issue until trust blends with comfort, melds with compliance and tiptoes into unconscious bias.
At that point, we become incapable of telling a new story.
If trust enables us to form groups, communicate and collaborate more effectively, does trust also facilitate us excluding or dismissing alternative people and viewpoints? In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, short termism and fake news, can we trust what is presented to us by known (aka “trusted”) entities? Research shows that echo chambers function not by closing off external voices, but by openly distrusting and discrediting them, because ‘trust is an essential ingredient in belief-formation’ (Syed, 2019:186). In “Talking to Strangers”, Malcolm terms this phenomenon “default to truth”.
This short-cut route to belief-formation means that, often without the time, resources or motivation to make anything other than an assumption, we consume narratives without a lens of critical thinking. How does this affect collaboration with diverse minds? Growth into new markets? Innovative products to new customers? Malcolm suggests that we ‘read people from across cultures, the same way we read simplistic TV’. Unless we have some imperative to know what another person thinks, we only ask questions relevant to our answers. And we only hear answers relevant to our questions. In terms of today’s need to disrupt by design, ‘like-mindedness’ is of course catastrophic.
As an example, Malcolm discusses tech innovation and the incredibly slow adoption of milestone inventions such as the telephone. The telephone took a generation to catch on because its inventors did not comprehend the social context of the innovation. Malcolm asserts, ‘Social context wins over technically useful innovation, every time’. He runs through the three typical cycles of product innovation by companies:
The 1st story we tell the market is invariably a reactive power play
“Look! We have invented a shiny new thing.”
The 2nd story is often a misguided marketing play
“Look at the shiny new thing we have invented for you.”
The 3rd cycle is where finally, the symbolic meets the functional and society evolves around a new story
“Here’s a couple of new things our thing can do, how much it shines is up to you.”
If trust is built on our own limited reference points (biologically embedded by clan-living over a few hundred thousand years) the question for leaders, thinkers, collaborators and decision-makers is really, can we trust ourselves?
In order to change the story, we need to listen.
The telling of the story is in the listening. Malcolm exemplifies this with his work on the influential podcast ‘Revisionist History’. Billed as ‘a journey through the overlooked and misunderstood’ the resource is an encapsulation of how we can cut through the noise. When I ask how we get outside the box to debunk traditional thinking and create a new story, Malcolm replies, “if you are willing to do your homework, you will automatically be in a position to tell a story that the rest of the media is not telling.”
Today, with the proliferation of new technology applications driven by a homogeneous few, short-term efficiencies and pressure to deliver will propagate decision-making built on hidden risks. The lack of cognitive diversity will mean that reference points are cloned and outcomes fail to account for longer term and broad ranging impact and capability. As we bring our inspiring chat to a close, Malcolm asks “If technology is an engine of inequality, how can we hack the system?”
With hindsight (and a couple of months to ponder this question) I’d posit that by listening beyond our own need to be heard, we begin to hear the social context our words will fall into. By collaborating beyond the solution we think is needed, we will shift the zeitgeist of what’s permissible. And by being more generous with trust and the stories we choose to share, we begin to square the ledger on the trust account.
We choose to trust in difference, because indifference will get us nowhere.
As I look back on 2019, one of the absolute highlights was collaborating with the masterfully creative Adam Ferrier and CJ Holden to produce s p a c e – a gathering of unlike minds. The three-day event was an Australian first, built on a framework of peer-to-peer learning, with no speakers and no spectators. The event attracted a community of disruptive leaders -affectionately named our inaugural s p a c e cadets – to Byron Bay to disconnect, collaborate, and create in one of the most inspiring locations on earth.
s p a c e was built on a few big ideas:
We need to have more
In an age of intensifying digital echo chambers, breaking from routine thinking and giving ourselves over to unconventional collaborative experiences is paramount to creativity, critical thinking and empathy. s p a c e is designed to deliberately interrupt our norms, give us pause to reveal assumptions and seek out new thinking. Curiosity and play supersede self-consciousness. With no fear and no formal agenda, we are able to step up and own the collective experience. We give each other permission to be ourselves, rather than our job titles.
No passengers allowed.
There are intentionally no
official speakers or themes at s p a c e, the content is designed and led by
our attendees. In this way, a spirit of generosity runs through s p a c e, with
each attendee contributing something of their
choosing to the fully immersive and participatory program. This manifests in
the form of talks, workshops, skills sessions or whatever can be creatively
concocted! In fact, our participants’ creative interpretation of the brief (on
top of the wide array of interests and passions of the content itself) was one
of the standouts of s p a c e.
You do you. But make sure you ‘do’!
We know life-long learning is critical and cross-pollination of ideas extremely valuable, yet in an age where people fly for hours to attend a conference in person, practically every conference, festival or event retains a one-size-fits all, cookie-cutter approach. We want to shake up leadership in Australia by challenging the way we convene our leaders. The s p a c e format is a facilitated smorgasbord, allowing everyone to navigate the three-day experience in choose-your-own-adventure style. From sunrise Friday until well past sunset on Saturday, participants had the opportunity to attend as many different sessions as they liked, each led by peers. Often there were as many as ten different sessions running at once!
We designed the event specifically to ensure our s p a c e cadets were compelled not only to do as they pleased, but more importantly, to ‘do’. s p a c e has a real focus on turning conversation into action with ‘do-tanks’ providing the opportunity for attendees to pitch ideas and build a team of helpers to pursue their aspiration. This year, s p a c e do-tanks spurred 10 post-s p a c e projects covering everything from education to indigenous leadership development and urban evolution.
Our overarching goal was
to play a part in building a more ambitious Australia through shared ideas and
collaboration. What stands in the way of such collaboration? Australia does
seem to habour a few parochial handicaps. We think it’s time we kicked tall
poppy syndrome to the kerb and supercharged our country’s ambition. It’s time
we united the people who believe in constructively trying to solve problems versus
destructively denigrating the attempts of others on social media.
We believe, as Einstein put it, that the definition of insanity is thinking we can keep doing things the same way and get a different result. We hoped to create the conditions for new conversations and collaborations to flourish- the space to be challenged, to explore, to think deeply and to, after three short days, find yourself with scores of new friends, colleagues and potential partners-in-impact. And we were truly humbled by the reaction of the community who participated in round one… the letters, emails and calls we received in the weeks following s p a c e conveying the positive impact and emboldened focus of participants was awe-inspiring. This groundswell has energised us to take s p a c e into new territory in 2020- creating more immersive experiences, working on diversifying our community even further and taking do-tanks to another level.