Sharing ideas

I spent few days in Beijing recently on my way back to New Zealand from Europe. Many years ago I’d lived and worked in Taiwan where I’d had to learn to speak some Mandarin to get by. So I was keen to see how much Mandarin I’d retained. I soon found myself inhabiting grey zone with enough residual memory to still be able to confidently ask most questions but not quite enough to always reliably understand people’s answers. If anyone strayed from my expected script I was soon lost. The experience provided endless opportunities for both parties to innovate our way through the language barrier.
I can, for example, still rustle up the Mandarin for Beijing/Peking and restaurant but couldn’t for the life of me remember the word for duck. So maybe having someone mimic the sound of duck when giving me directions to the nearest Peking duck restaurant wasn’t the most orthodox approach but it worked: as one demised duck and one very full stomach soon proved.
All of which is long way to say there’s always more than one way to skin cat, or duck in this instance, and such highly creative ways can be refreshingly different and equally as effective.
Nor could the Chinese ever be accused of being afraid to nail their colours to the mast.
Among the plentiful street signs was series invoking people to embrace the Beijing spirit of patriotism, innovation, inclusiveness and virtue.
While some of the taglines may differ, that same spirit of outspoken innovation has long been invoked in pockets of New Zealand’s economy. It is an established catch-cry of our IT, agri-tech and creative industries to name but few.
That it is now being given serious exploration in our state sector is seismic shift indeed. (See Reg Birchfield’s cover story on page 26 “State sector shake up: Canterbury quakes drive change.”) I’m mindful that all such moves are relative, of course. I’m also mindful that public sector innovation is long overdue and any change is welcome. As Reg notes in his article, the mantle of responsibility to open up public sector agencies to new behaviours carries with it an inherent opening up to risk. Politicians will need to reframe their expectations of the public sector, and of its leaders and managers, for this approach to succeed.
In the same spirit of openness, I’ve teamed up with the New Zealand Institute of Management to invite the CEOs and senior executives of our leading Top 200 companies to join us in series of breakfasts over the coming few months.
Alternating between Wellington and Auckland, the breakfasts are an open forum for sharing ideas on the vexatious issues of the day, examining recent innovations and celebrating the successes that hold these organisations at the top of their game.
The first session, “Productivity in the workplace – Can we really make difference?” will be held in Wellington on Wednesday 5 September. For more information turn to page 39 of this issue or go to to book seat at the table. I look forward to hearing your ideas over breakfast and I promise there will be no duck on the menu, Peking or otherwise.

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