a personal tribute

Yesterday we celebrated my dad’s 70th birthday. It is right that such times are full of in-house jokes and stories that only family and close friends appreciate. In my little speech however I tried to take a different tact.

I was prompted by relatively recent experience when I was back in my home town for the launch of a book that Dad had written. The topic of the book, a history of a Trust Fund that had been a vehicle for civic leaders in Ulverstone to give back to the community, brought together a large gathering of people. Throughout the evening, the recurring comment made to me was, “Great man, your dad.”

This helped open my eyes to the man my father has been from a perspective other than that from within the immediate family, where the moment is overtaken by forever, the depth of knowledge trumps the reality of public contribution.

So in preparation for yesterday, I did what you do these days if you want to find out about someone … I googled him. One of the things I found was a transcript of a speech he delivered to a public works conference in 2002. Having spent his career in local government, he offered some perspectives on the BASICS of public service. These, I realised as I read, were things that my father had valued highly, and although rarely verbalised in the family context, he had modelled these and instilled them in me and my three siblings. As is my dad’s custom, he used an acrostic:

B stands for ‘Back yourself’. Dad has always been an outstanding problem solver, particularly when it comes to engineering or ‘handyman’ related challenges. He taught me to believe that there is always a way.

A stands for ‘Attitude’. I struggle to recall a time when people were criticised openly in our home. Dad has passed on to me the value of giving people the ‘benefit of the doubt’. In reality, everyone acts in ways that are reasonable to them. Acknowledging that for the most part people act with positive intention is a trait that I think has served me well. All behaviour is ultimately rooted in an attitude, it is therefore imperative to make sure it is our attitude that is right … behaviour will follow.

S is for ‘Simplicity’. Edward deBono famously distinguished simplistic from simplicity which he suggests lays on ‘the other side’ of complexity. For my dad, life has appeared uncomplicated. There are a few things which have been important to him … other things in life get moved around to accommodate these. I admire the simplicity that this generates.

I is for ‘Innovation’. Dad has been incredibly inventive over the years. Whether organising his workshop, renovating, making things, solving problems, he has set his mind and hands to some outstanding creative endeavours. He has taught me the value of discipline, productivity and diligence in the process.

C (and the S) stand for ‘Common Sense’. My father has always valued rationality over emotionality. His ability to dissect something objectively is a real strength. I hope that some of the ‘sense’ he has expressed through his 70 years has rubbed off on me.

Thankyou Dad for demonstrating and passing on these ‘basics’.

classic purity

One of the many things I have learned from my wife and soul mate Maria is an appreciation of minimalism; the beauty of simplicity and the freedoms associated with un-cluttering life. Over the years I have become drawn to those things that are ‘classic’, that have a sense of purity derived from their uncomplicatedness.

I started thinking about this again yesterday on the drive home from the beach. My enjoyment of being on the water with my board is beyond the physical and the rational. There is something pure about catching a wave in idea conditions like there were yesterday. There are some other sports that I think are similarly uncomplicated. Getting a little ball white in a hole … golf; team up and don’t let the ball hit the ground … volleyball. Of course there are multiple layers of complexity and difficultly in the execution, but the idea is simple.

It extends beyond sport. Don’t you love the idea of fresh pasta with a classic sauce, garlic, crushed tomatoes and basil? There is something ‘right’ about blue jeans, a white T-shirt and a pair of Blundstones. Who hasn’t felt the emotion of a live acoustic set with only a guitar and vocals. And the list goes on.

There are a few things that I think help cultivate attractive simplicity.

  1. Design
  2. Layers of complexity behind the face value
  3. Unpretentiousness

How do these ideas applied to business? We are more likely to talk about clarity and focus. We know what it is that we have to do and we go about doing it with unrelenting intentionality. Yet behind that single mindedness there are other dimensions:

  • Design – the way we go about it will have a huge impact on the outcome. Do we execute with wisdom, emotional intelligence and holistic acumen, or are we simplistic, careless of others and negligent of the unintended consequences of our activity.
  • Clearly, there are competencies and knowledge sets, the mastering of which allow clear and precise execution. (Just ask the weekend golfer whose attempts at the simple task of getting the ‘little white ball in the hole’ are accompanied by large doses of frustration peppered by sufficient seasoning of perfection to make them believe nirvana awaits them at the next tee.) The same in business. The simple tasks associated with our core business have multiple layers behind them. This, however, should not distract us from the clear and simple objectives we set for ourselves.
  • The most attractive businesses, I think, do not pretend to be other than they are … there is a sense of integrity about how they present and who they are.

To change the subject completely, let me pass on a couple of things from my recent reading …

  • The Hay Group recently completed a study to try to determine what the Boards of the world’s most admired companies (WMACs) do differently. When evaluating CEO performance, most company Boards unsurprisingly focus on financials and strategy implementation. 81% of WMAC Boards on the other hand, had a strong emphasise on the CEO’s performance in building human capital in the company. (Reported in the Company Director, the magazine of the AICD.)
  • The annual Eye on Australia Survey confirms that considerable confusion still exists in the community about Green issues. For example, 71% of respondents either ‘agreed’ or ‘don’t know’ with respect to the statement ‘carbon offsets and carbon credits are the same thing’. Read this as an ad for our Business Sustainability Round Table.

Have a good week.