How Do You Keep Up With the Massive Changes Affecting Your Business?


How do you keep up with the changing environment you live and work in? Technology is a moving target as are many other elements that shape our environment. There are so many facets to our industries that constantly change while you are trying to keep your business going the best way you know how. 

There are a  number of options. You can join business groups, buy industry magazines, search the Internet, follow social media and talk to others in your industry. So now you are working a 16 hour day and not necessarily making much more progress. Why? Because you are so focussed on doing Business As Usual and your view is based on your insider knowledge, bias and training.

What else can you do? One option is bring someone like me in as a consultant. As a Futurist I scan data using tools I have learned, my own experience in business and a wide focus on STEEP, whilst also having no skin in your business and therefore an objectivity that is hard to find when you have been making decisions that you are financially and emotionally attached to.

What is STEEP? It is about looking at the world and elements within it from the perspective of a wide range of elements and wild cards which make up the world. These key 5 elements are Society, Technology, Environment, Economics and Politics.

Take those 5 elements and apply them to your Business Plan. What is going on in your world right now in relation to STEEP? How might each element impact on your new product launch or sales plan? I would welcome your comments. 

One of the elements of foresight is being able to find connections between seemingly irrelevant  factoids or situations and understand what they mean. Then on top of that sometimes there are wild cards to be considered. What would happen if……..

When you look at information in isolation there are many risks. People form opinions based on snippets of information without seeing the full picture. They assume other people’s opinions, perhaps also based on bias or limited information. People often form opinions or carry them forward based on old data, often not even knowing that it is old data. For example, you may see a RT on Twitter and think it is current information, when in fact it has been retweeted by people for a week. Think about the disinformation that went around in Boston recently. Once it flies around it is very hard to know which information is current and correct.

Unleashing the Road Warrior

Unleashing the Road Warrior

Currency of information is hard to find these days. When a book comes out, by the time it has been printed it is already out of date. When I published Unleashing The Road Warrior, which took me about 6 months to write, it had a currency of about 2 years. After that, all the technology I wrote about was out of date.

We are frequently bombarded with little pieces of information, parts of stories, brief nuggets of 10 ways to be better at something, or 5 ways to become a social media superstar and double your sales. If only it was that easy.

Is there a simple answer? No, there isn’t. However in today’s world, we are connected to many people who are experts in certain areas. There are also people who maintain they are, when they are not. Start by connecting to people who really do know what they are doing. Ask people you know and trust. Check out their credentials. LinkedIn is a good place to start from a business perspective. Are they well connected? Have they been endorsed or recommended? Do you know people that they are connected with that you can talk to?

There are 3 types of people in the world. Those that make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. Don’t be in the last group if you want to go forward, but also be careful where you get your counsel from.

As a footnote, if you are in New Zealand, or somewhere else where similar things are happening. Fairfax is said to be closing down in both print and online Computerworld NZ, PC World and Reseller News. So where will you be looking for information on your next technology investment or foray? I welcome your comments.

Consumption 2.0 and Mobile Society


I’ve just read an article by Hugo Garcia of Futures Lab in Portugal in the latest issue of The Futurist. He was outlining how younger people today are more mobile, more focussed on consuming goods, services and experiences, rather than being attached to things and places. One area that he was strong on was the fact that people are now so mobile and keen to explore the world and their environments.

Location becomes far more important because you are continuing moving around as opposed to tied to a fixed location in the world. He said that one example is the trend towards not owning a home, perhaps ever. I always hear talk about how hard it is to get into property, I don’t think it has ever been easy. When we bought our first home (to give ourselves and our children some long term security) we bought in a cheap neighbourhood and at one stage were paying in excess on 20% interest. For a couple of years in the beginning, we went without pretty much anything, just to pay the interest. Today many don’t want to restrict their lifestyle, making it a choice, their choice is to live for today.

The ‘office’ is for many people today, especially knowledge workers, not somewhere we need to be a lot of the time and the cost of maintaining an office, commuting, car parking (you could almost rent a room for the cost of my Auckland City car park). We go to the office when we need to, for meetings, teamwork etc, but otherwise I can be much more productive from my home office.

White BikesHugo talks about shared mobility. This is not a new concept, but certainly one that is coming back with a vengeance. Back in the 1960′s the Provos introduced white bikes that anyone could use. The idea was that you grabbed a bike, rode it to where you wanted to go and left it there for the next person to use. Their concept, same as today was to reduce pollution and traffic congestion and promote community engagement. They were certainly engaged as very quickly the bikes were stolen and repainted, but the idea was very good.

Today carpooling continues to grow, Zipcars, recently purchased by Avis, which is currently being debated as to whether it was an anticompetitive manoeuvre, is an example of car sharing, which in principle makes a lot of sense. People share ownership in boats, holiday homes and other items and many people are travelling around the world using the services of portals like Airbnb. There are loads of companies sprouting up like Whipcar, which lets you rent out your own vehicle when you don’t need it.

Globalisation is also an area that is changing rapidly. I remember reading history books about the great depression and how people moved from town to town looking for work. Mobility today is something far more international and international borders are being crossed continually by people in search of work, whether it is because they can’t find it at home, want a better life, or simply enjoy the itinerant lifestyle. Over a million Kiwis are working and living overseas, while British and other nationalities are moving to New Zealand to work on projects such as the reconstruction of  Christchurch.

Hugo points out there are pro’s and cons. “Unfortunately, some areas may become abandoned because they lack competitive advantages. The war for talent between countries will increase, but regions that offer good living conditions may gain an advantage.

I note again that knowledge workers, one of the biggest industry segments today can often work from anywhere and travel when required. I know many journalists and developers that live in small towns for the lifestyle, but can still perform on a global stage.

This mobile society opens up huge scope for innovation and disruption, particularly with location based services, applications for mobile use, which can support the new mobile lifestyle. Kiwi developers can and are developing applications used globally, despite those that say you can’t be successful unless you are in Silicon Valley, things are changing. The money may be there, but they don’t have a monopoly of good ideas.

If anyone knows about a mobile lifestyle its Kiwis, anywhere is a long way from New Zealand. We know how to travel, we absorb and learn and we love new technology. Where we need help is harnessing our smarts, to help our innovators and entrepreneurs to learn how to scale and think big. That’s a tough ask and I don’t think our Government is doing anywhere near enough to ensure that smart people are able to grow from small concepts to large global enterprises.

I was just asking myself how I suddenly got on my soap box, but then I’m not sure I ever get off it:)

How far away is Peak Oil and what is it?


Lately there has been renewed interest in Peak Oil and while we are talking about Emissions Trading and allowing larger trucks on New Zealand Roads, the fact is that oil is running out.

What is peak oil? Wikipedia has an extended description, but in simple terms it is when the amount of oil being extracted is at the highest rate and from then on, the amount of oil becomes terminal. In other words, the amount of oil being extracted from the earth will be less than is being consumed, while demand, along with population, increases.

The Space Collaborative paints a scary picture of what the near future could look like without oil. Of course oil doesn’t just drive our cars, our ships, our planes, but it also helps to generate electricity.

Now of course for New Zealand it’s not a big deal because we have geothermal power and arrangements with countries like Japan to access oil, when it starts running out. Major gas guzzlers like the USA will gladly give us a share of their emergency stocks because we’re nice people.  We shouldn’t forget that we have more vehicles in New Zealand than we have licensed drivers.  Of course the price will sky rocket and you will need to be very wealthy to be able to run your car. Just as well we have natural gas.

It was interesting to read that Australia voted in November, not to put together a plan for peak oil, so we probably won’t find any help there.  New Zealand has been working on plans for a number of years, because in 2003 we were dependant on oil for 48% of our energy production. This means that brown outs as predicted in the diagram above, within the next 20 years could become a reality. Yet besides emissions trading, the Kyoto Protocol, which as I have blogged about before will require that instead of spending money to protect our own infrastructure will have us sending money to other countries who have lots of trees.

I don’t think we’re talking about science fiction here, where it will be a problem for future generations, long after we have turned to dust. I think this will be a problem that anyone reading this blog will face. So what are you going to do when you can’t get petrol or diesel for your car and there isn’t enough oil to generate electricity or even make candles?

It bears thinking about doesn’t it?

Food scarcity and arid land


In my last blog post I wrote about the importance of agriculture to our economy. Then I started hearing stories that farm sales were down, especially dairy. Apparently of over 4,000 farms on the market, only around 200 sold last month.

Good news for some of the farmers who want out, because there are foreign investors who want to buy them. One company wants to spend $1.5 Billion dollars buying NZ farms. You would have to wonder if we can’t make a good living out of farming how can other countries do it? If we do sell them, where will the earnings from those farms go? Not into our pockets I would suggest.

China has a problem. They have a large dry land mass and not enough water to grow the crops they need and a huge and growing population. What are they doing about it? They and other countries such as Middle East are buying good arable land wherever they can get it for a good price. For example China is buying farming land in Mozambique, Angola, Malawi, Nigeria and even Zimbabwe. It’s not all bad, they are teaching local farmers better techniques in animal husbandry, improving crop yields etc.

What are the motives of China and Arabic countries in buying this land? They need the food. In Ethiopia, one of the worlds poorest countries, not only are they selling land to foreign countries, they are giving them tax holidays for a number of years, but what is of greater concern is the expectation that most, if not all of the crops will be going back to countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

I ask myself therefore, again, why can’t we produce high yield crops on our fertile soils and sell it to the countries that need it. Once those countries have bought our land, we won’t be getting it back and I wouldn’t expect us to gain much in GDP from the crops they grow.

As I said in my last blog, the ‘good old days’ were when we were largely an agrarian economy, we had plenty and we also had plenty to export. Now we have fantastic biotechnology and the ability to increase yields, quality and in many cases without using GM technologies.

I would hate to look into our future and see a country that can’t feed itself, that grows crops on farms owned by other countries, go straight offshore to feed them with minimal economic benefit to us. I would welcome someone to explain the logic of this.

We have expertise, maybe we should be assisting some of those countries who are unable to maximise the return on their land, help them thrive and clip the ticket. That would be a win win. While we do that, we also continue to research and improve product, the grasses and other food sources for animal feed etc. We do have some successes such as Fonterra, Livestock Improvements and many other thriving areas of research and results in biotechnology. We should stick with what we are good at and rather than give our farms to the Chinese, Arabs and others who want them, let the Government buy them. They could be run by unemployed people, who would get training on the job and perhaps even interest free loans to purchase some of those plots and use the skills they have obtained to build themselves a healthy asset and income, while increaseing our balance of payments. Is that silly? What’s wrong with my thinking?

In February this year there were around 168,000 people unemployed. Lets put them to work on those farms, teach them a trade, help them make something of themselves and help them earn the money to buy there way in with low interest loans and subsidies. What could we produce with 168,000 people working instead of paying them to do nothing. The single person benefit is around $160. That works out to a wasted loss of around $26,880,000 per annum. I say lets buy those farms and keep them in New Zealand hands.

This Video from TVNZ gives an example of what is happening.

I’ve been thinking


Do what you do well, is advice that is often given. Get back to basics. So let’s think about this for a moment from a New Zealand perspective. At the moment our economy, like many economies is looking grim. We are borrowing lots of money to stay afloat. We look to electronics, bioengineering and other things that we are good at, but aside from a few exceptions we don’t seem to capitalise on it. We are great with ideas, but not so good at doing something about it.

We have some success stories sure, wine does ok, lamb was doing ok until they invented food miles and we are pretty successful at controlling segments of milk and fruit, particularly apples and kiwifruit. The legacy of people like Angus Tait (who I had the privilege of working for 7 years) continues, but without his innovative attitude. We have some success stories, but they are really far and few between.

Many years ago, when we all took it for granted, we were an agrarian economy and very successful at it. We’ve been successful food exporters, right back to when the Dunedin, the world’s first refrigerated ship left New Zealand full of frozen meat carcasses, back in 1882.

New Zealand fed many parts of the world for over a hundred years and life was good. Live sheep have been exported for over 100 years, although a number of incidents where thousands of sheep died have had a negative impact on this. My biggest argument, besides the inhumanity of keeping live animals penned up for so long, was that much of the stock was exported for breeding purposes, which of course reduced the demand for our own product.

But I digress. In today’s economy, we seem to have turned our backs on some opportunities, such as creating large call centres to look after communications needs of other English-speaking countries in other time zones, a market that South Africa has made a huge industry out of. We aren’t doing enough in areas such as science and medicine, possibly because the people with the smarts go offshore.

So lets look at what problems the world is going to face in the near future, in fact many parts of the world are facing right now, food! Scarce water resources, growing populations and growing tracts of land that are becoming so dry and depleted that nothing will grow on them. Then of course we also have oceanic dead zones, which are killing fish and other sea life.

Is this something we could look at with a different De Bono Hat on? Oceanic Dead Zones thrive through a combination of fertilisers and nutrients that leach into rivers and down to the sea, causing large algae blooms. These compound as the phytoplankton absorbs available oxygen and pretty much kills everything off.

Could this be another opportunity? When I need some extra energy before a run, I swallow a pile of Spirulina. Spirulina is actually algae. Of course the algal blooms often contain toxins, but there are many algae that can be used as a food source. Perhaps we could turn a bad situation into a good one.

In New Zealand, since we signed the Kyoto protocol, it has become relatively economic to grow forests (which while gobbling up Carbon Dioxide also use up a lot of water). We have lots of land, a good climate for agriculture and a need to find new sources of income. In fact I have heard that NZ can no longer feed its population without importing food. So why don’t we start looking at ways of growing bulk food?

If we want to do the right thing, we could look at product that has low cost to grow, that we can export for a profit and help countries that have problems at the same time. More than 1 billion people (1 in 6) suffer from food deprivation.

Food Science is something we are very good at. Most universities have food science and biotechnology majors and there is even a Food Science Institute. Many people have a problem with GE Food. I don’t personally know enough about it, but one way or another we either have to put production into overdrive or accept that hundreds of millions of people will die soon through malnutrition and starvation.We have a food crisis now. Grain is scarce and with oil running out a lot of people are now growing grain to fuel cars, creating even less food source.

Whilst human population growth is slowing, there were still 74 million new mouths to feed last year. A large chunk of these are in countries where soils are eroding, water tables falling and wells going dry.

Water politics is becoming a new issue and it could be that future wars are fought between countries that share water sources. This is especially likely where low lands are reliant on water coming from highlands. Think Europe, where many of our recent wars have begun. But again I digress.

Can we go back to agriculture as something we are very good at and the world needs? Dairy is currently our biggest export and apparently Fonterra’s income represented 25% of New Zealand’s total export revenue 2 years ago!

So we are good at growing crops, but could we do more? I think so. First, we should be self sustainable. We can’t afford to rely on other markets, especially when things get to a crisis where 1st world countries start fighting over resources. Then we should look at how we can feed the world and get paid for it. As a country surrounded by sea, we do not face the extremes that occur with countries that have large land masses, including our neighbours Australia.

As to Food Miles, I’m all for sustainability, so lets look at this is an opportunity. This can mean focussing on closer markets such as Australia and Asia, but also on biotechnology to get more for less.

Sometimes I think we try to be too clever. Faster computers, cloud computing, cars, planes, rockets, 3D TV, all things I want to continue to enjoy, are meaningless to the ever rowing numbers of starving and malnourished people around the world. Because of our geographic isolation, we became very good at food. Let’s look for more and new ways to exploit this. Lets make sure that if everything turns to dung, we can still feed ourselves, then lets look at how we can help feed the world and pay off our national debt at the same time.

I’ll leave the last word to NASA who have remote sensing technology to monitor conditions affecting food resources and their management:

The Internet as a battlefield


I’ve been trying to work on this post for ages, but never seem to get it finished. The more I think about it, the more tangents I head in, so here’s a start anyway. Maybe you can add a comment to the thread.

When we, Joe Citizen think of warfare, the common picture is either soldiers, tanks and planes, or more recently terrorist attacks. Information warfare is not a topic that we think of very often.

Of course using media such as radio, print and TV have been used for decades to provide disinformation, but now that we have the Internet, there is potential for a new front that could cripple economies and cause massive disruption to life as we know it.

Last month 14 Virgin Blue flights were cancelled in Melbourne when a broken cable disrupted their computer systems, stranding thousands of passengers. A total of 48 domestic flights were cancelled as a follow on of this problem.

Periodically there are major EFTPOS failures, which can happen at the worst possible times. For example in 2005 the EFTPOS network in New Zealand broke down for 2 hours on 23rd December. The estimate was that around half a million transactions were lost on one of the busiest days for retailers in the year. Millions of dollars in transactions were lost because people don’t really carry cash any more.

In November last year Brazil and some of Venezuela lost their power. Nine of Brazil’s states were out of power, representing millions of people. Whilst many complained they couldn’t watch their favorite soap opera, traffic lights were not working, trains weren’t running and parts of the country pretty much ground to a halt.

If a country or a terrorist organisation wanted to cause chaos or in some way to a country or city in the modern world, it would be incredibly easy. In Holland a guy called Max Cornelisse has created chaos and recorded it on YouTube to show how easy it is to disrupt services we take for granted. Amongst other things he has meddled with electronic signs on freeways, opened and closed bridges over canals from his PDA, sent people running from one platform to another by controlling automated PA messages at railway stations and in this YouTube Video he controlled the autoprompter at a Dutch TV station causing confusion to the newsreaders on live TV. Unfortunately it is in Dutch, but you’ll get the idea.

This is just a guy having a little fun, but what could you do if you seriously wanted to disrupt a country or city. What chaos would you create simply by shutting down the Internet. How would your business function without the Internet? How would your community function without the Internet? Imagine no email, no Voice over IP, no web browsing, no IM, no Facebook or Twitter? No online share trading. No banking, no EFTPOS, no ATM’s and who carries cash?

That’s just for starters. I wonder how long it would take for a major city, like New York, London or Amsterdam to fall into chaos? What would happen after a day, a week, even longer?

Last week there was a story on NPR about cyber terrorism. It quoted USA Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blaire saying that “Every single day, Blair said, sensitive information is “stolen from both government and private sector networks” as criminals become increasingly more sophisticated.”

Interestingly on 16 February 2010 an event will take place in a simulated Whitehouse Situation Room which is scripted to emulate a cyber terrorist attack. Those taking part will include former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponter and former Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend, who will have to work out how to deal with it as it plays out.

This has happened shortly “after the House overwhelmingly passed The Cybersecurity Enhancement Act. Something that gives the Obama administration the power to switch off the Internet,” according to Techeye. For more on the Act, check here.

Just as a final thought for now. If you know how to defend against an attack, you also know how to initiate one. I’m not for a moment suggesting any Western power would do that, but given the right circumstances…….

I am very happy to be living in New Zealand in that respect. Although we have allowed ourselves to become very dependant on our friends and allies, not even able to fully feed ourselves if we bacame isolated.

Dead zones in the ocean


I was talking with someone recently about the Waikato River water that provides some 10% of the drinking water in Auckland. This was approved despite much protest, on the basis that Metrowater would only use it in emergencies. I suspect that Mayor George Wood at the time knew that it would end up being turned on all the time, as part of his deal with his crony mayors.

The water was declared safe by WHO standards, however councillor Joel Cayford, who is now employed by ARC said that it was unsafe. I attended the public meeting where he explained that WHO standards listed a number of quality requirements, but excluded many ingredients such as dioxins, heavy metals, fertiliser and more. In my opinion the meeting wasn’t helped by constant interjections from rent a protester, which didn’t help the cause.

Not long after approval was given by the regional mayors, including the Mayor Bob Harvey of Waitakere who approved it on the condition that Waitakere water would only come from local dams in the rainforest, thus not having to take this water.

What has this got to do with dead zones in the ocean? Well here’s the thing. A lot of the objections against using Waikato river water were because it contains huge amounts of leached chemicals from farms including fertiliser, antibiotics and much more. It appears that these same types of chemicals are flowing from rivers around the world into the sea and several studies are suggesting that the rise in industrial food production is increasing the number of dead zones rapidly.

Oceanic dead zones are areas where the oxygen levels in the water are so low that they kill of almost all forms of marine life. There are now more than 400 oceanic dead zones around the world and they are growing fast.

According to experts, including NASA a major contributor to these dead zones is fertiliser that flows to the ocean from farms both in the form of chemicals leaching from farms and from the animal manure which still contains these chemicals. The nitrogen and phosphorous feeds the algae and phytoplankton, making these plants grow rapidly.

In New Zealand, we have become aware of algal bloom. This is occurring more commonly now both in coastal waters, such as our local Waiheke Island, and also in freshwater lakes, including many in the Waikato, where 10% of our drinking water is coming from.

So what does this mean? We know that fresh water is going to be on of the important issues in the future, both from climate change and from man-made intervention. We know that our oceans are becoming polluted, much of it from man-made waste. We know that the fish stocks are becoming depleted in many parts of the world, due to over fishing, to feed growing nations. But fish are also now seriously at risk from the oceanic dead zones, where oxygen levels are so low that fish and other marine life can’t survive.

We seem to be in danger of creating the ‘unrealistic and unbelievable’ wasted planet that is often depicted on science fiction movies.Am I exaggerating? Well check these examples out:

A dead zone the size of New Jersey of the coast of Oregon and Washington, may be irreversible.

The Mississippi Delta dead zone is one of the smaller ones in the world, only 3,000 square miles. The US Government is investing $320 million to try to slow it down, but as long as the chemicals keep flowing down and farm production is increased, we have a problem.

The Baltic sea apparently contains 7 of the 10 worst oceanic dead zones and it appears that the surrounding countries haven’t been doing much about them. The end result could be the loss of almost all marine life in the area. This map shows how bad it is in places, where the red areas represent areas where the water essentially contains no oxygen.

It appears that the man-made damage to the oceans and lakes in the world could present an even greater problem than global warming and of course one that is compounded by it. If so much water ends up unable to sustain life, how will we survive, especially the poorer areas on the planet, where water is already scarce. The sea’s health is not something we can take for granted, no matter how vast it appears. The attractive colours of algae bloom that we sea coming back each summer in bigger areas, is evidence that we need to change some of our ways, and quickly.

I’ll leave the last word to Joanne from Rocketboom who explains it far more succinctly than I: