Bookcase : Reinventing Paradise

Rod Oram • Penguin Books • $35

What I’ve always enjoyed about Rod Oram’s business columns is not just that they’re perceptive and well written – they’re also upbeat. Perhaps it’s because UK-born Oram is not as beset with Kiwi angst as those local business gurus who seem to delight in depressing us with New Zealand’s economic downsides.
The positive spin is evident in the title of his recently published book of collected columns: Reinventing Paradise: How NZ is starting to earn bigger, sustainable living in the world economy.
It’s not that he doesn’t spot the challenges – or the country’s rather urgent need to lift its game. It’s that he balances out the negatives by generating some passion around our potential and highlighting those who are already pushing the edges of possibility.
This may well be due to his own innate optimism. Or perhaps it’s because if Oram has barrow to push through his prolific business prose, it’s that Kiwis need to stop scuttling around in the dark and shine bit of celebratory light on what we have achieved and what we’re capable of. We need, he believes, to be more aspirational, more ambitious, more enthusiastic about embracing our unique position in the world.
The reality, as he sees it is that “our global opportunities are exceptional. The challenges are very tough but are do-able as few vanguard companies and organisations demonstrate. But to realise these opportunities we have to significantly increase our ambition.”
It’s theme that crops up throughout the book which, instead of being presented chronologically, is divided into series of themes: from ‘how we see ourselves’ and ‘where we fit in the world’ to rundown on our ‘crown jewels’ (environment, primary and creative sectors), our ‘vanguard’ companies and presentation on ‘reinventing paradise’.
Another theme that weaves through these is our rather sad tendency to look to government as instigator or scapegoat – as progenitor of success or of failure, depending on political preference or specific policies. As Oram notes after visit to the UK – the business scene there is less beset with politics, because they know they have fat chance of influencing anything so large and cumbersome. In contrast, says Oram, the “politicisation of New Zealand business is hugely constraining”.
Whether he’s highlighting Kiwi character flaws or celebrating successes like that of the late Russell Smith, Oram has insights aplenty to offer – and best of all, he writes well. Who can resist starting sentence like: “It’s easy to be smug about the smog you make.” That ability to make business commentary both accessible and entertaining generates its own value.
Oram talks at one stage about raising the quality and effectiveness of public debate in New Zealand. I think this collection of columns and speeches show that he has made his own significant contribution to that process.

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