summits and samosas

Congratulations to Mark Ingram and Simon McKeon for assembling such an impressive group of presenters for the inaugural Business for Millennium Development Summit. The summit opened with the world premier of ‘8′, a feature length collection of eight short films by directors including Wim Wenders and Jane Campion, one on each of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

James Wolfensohn, Jeffrey Sachs, Bruce Jenks (UNDP), Adrian Hodges (Int. Business Leaders Forum), plus local leaders including Steven Smith, John Brumby and many others were among the stellar cast.

The overwhelming positive for me was the reality of the summit itself. Although views on the mix and responsibility of business vary, all agree that business has a vital role to play if we are going to achieve what Nobel Prize winner Mohammad Yunus has described as the most ambitious project humanity has ever set out to accomplish collectively. It was fortifying to look around the room at the suit brigade and know that all these people had chosen to attend a conference with the MGDs as the focus.

Less positive was knowing how far we’ve got to go. For the most part, business appears reluctant to face the fundamental issues around motivation: what is the purpose of business? Unfortunately, some of the case studies admitted to being accidental heroes, entering the so called emerging markets at the base of the economic pyramid for purely profit motives. The subsequent social and economic wins for the communities were not part of the original incentive. Or even in the case of some very impressive community engagement policy, this was framed as a necessary foundation for successful business.

I hope before too long forums such as this will showcase leadership that is prepared to go another step and call for business leaders to recapture the role of business for the common social good. Profitable, yes. Captive to quarterly growth for the sake of financial stakeholder return? … someone has to lead the way out of this.

The programme was naively ambitious. It amazes me that people persist in running conferences as a series of monologues by presenters who feel compelled to ‘answer questions’ that no one in the audience is asking. Yes, there are other models … which leads me to digress.

Inspired by some sensational tastes from the iconic Vegie Bar on Saturday, I set out to cook samosas for the first time yesterday. Luckily the strip shopping centre out our back gate includes an Indian groceries and supplies store. It is one of those places where, despite being a small supermarket, when you walk in the attendants ask what you want and walk you around the aisles to serve you. The two gentlemen were as excited about my venture into samosa-land as I was and were forthcoming with multiple tips on method and ingredients that, as good as The Cook and the Chef are, elevated the bar considerably.

The point being, when you are doing something outside your core competency, ask someone who knows – really knows. There are many things that people consider ‘general’ skills that can be done well by anyone with some nous. Cooking samosas and facilitating summits among them. However, we can learn a lot from those who specialise, helping us move from good to great.

It reminds me again of how important it is to know what we do best and to build our businesses around that core competency. If we want to move from good to great, we need help from those who specialise in the other stuff.

buck your own system

So there goes another weekend and here comes another week … people all over the city have pressed play and their weekly routines are underway again. Routines and habits give us security and efficiency. Here I am sitting in one of my favourite cafes Don Vincenzo, the familiarity allows my mind to focus on what I’m here for rather than the distraction of novelty.

But routine and habit have a dark side. They can rob us of so much that life offers us by narrowing our experience. We are told that our brains are like mounds of dirt … when water drips on top it creates tracks to run down, the more water runs through the tracks the more ingrained they become – and the more difficult it is to change directions. We end up doing things the same way, we end up thinking about things the same way, our lives become a long stretch of the same.

A few months ago I was listening to a radio interview about Alzheimer’s. The conversation gravitated to prevention, and one of the key elements was the exercising of our brains. Naturally a part of this is regular thinking activity, but the other dimension was about using parts of our brain that we aren’t accustomed to. Since hearing that interview I have been holding my toothbrush in my left hand while I clean my teeth, every time.

Not that I am worried about Alzheimer’s at this stage of life, but I am interested in living life to the full. Learning to develop strength beyond what comes naturally is part of this for me.

I am looking forward to attending a Summit later this week hosted by B4MD, Business for Millennium Development. Following blog action day last week I am curious to participate in a forum where business takes seriously the challenges associated with the reduction of extreme poverty. I expect I will be able to blog some reflections next week.

Meanwhile, try bucking your own system this week.