We have celebrated the collapse of the dotcom (quickly ditching our black Italian designer gear in favour of the reliable, solid suit and tie) and delighted in the difficulties experienced by Air New Zealand in Australia – spending many hours (and column inches in the media) explaining why we knew it would never work.
The current language of New Zealand business is all about avoiding risk: staying home, sticking to your knitting and avoiding technology investment at all costs.
This approach is wrong. It consigns the country to irrelevance – remote, backward community which, appropriately has brown flightless bird as its national symbol.
For New Zealand or New Zealand businesses to succeed and grow we need to be aggressively searching for new world markets. We need to embrace technology, using it to become more efficient and to break through barriers created by our distance from key market places and we need to be looking for new opportunities to utilise the skills and capabilities of New Zealanders and of New Zealand.
None of this is new. Reports over many years have indicated the need to change. Why have we been so slow to heed the call?
The simple answer, in my view, is that our leaders, including our business leaders, have failed us.
We have been comfortable as big fish in small pond unwilling to take the risks necessary to reposition the country for sustainable growth. We have been paralysed by fear of failure and lacked the confidence and strength to take the hard decisions worried about what people would think or what it might mean for this year’s profitability!
This fear is misplaced. It demonstrates how remote many of our leaders have become from the people of our country.
New Zealanders are not stupid. They know that hard decisions must be made. They are in chat rooms talking about the challenges facing the country or company in which they are working, and developing agendas for change. They have the capacity to engage in the debate and to embrace and support effective decision making. They will support people of vision and courage – despite occasional failures.
We need to get out of our offices and engage with our people. We need to embrace the world, new technologies and innovators. We need to understand and learn from failure encouraging people to walk different paths and try different things. We need to improve the quality and diversity of our conversations about the future. In doing so we will rediscover the strength and vitality of our country and our people and draw strength and confidence from them.
We need new business vocabulary – understandable to people at all levels of our community. language of risk, of change, of opportunity and of success. The conversation will be loud, it will at times be uncomfortable but from it will come real change that will ensure our future together. It will be future greater than our past.
John Allen is CEO, Letters and Enterprises Group of NZ Post.