Commentary and insights on where the digital revolution meets the small and medium business community
John Sheridan

The equation for success.

James Kirby, Wealth Editor of the Australian raised some interesting points recently, under the heading “The four big housing market lies”. It’s worth reading the Australian just for that commentary alone.

He points out that Australians are able to pay their mortgages each month because interest rates are so low. When rates move higher, as they will, there will be a problem.

Most deposits are 20%, which makes saving for a deposit just about impossible, without help from mum and dad. If that help is available.

Nearly 40% of the market is in interest-only loans. They rely on price appreciation to make money. Any change in conditions – negative gearing, tax deductions, rising interest rates, China shutting the gate, drop in house prices – and the overall market will shudder, disrupting other parts of the economy.

Anecdotally, Chinese housing investment is a subject that is regularly and quietly discussed in offices, living rooms and at barbecues when the subject of who bought the house at the end of the street comes up…”a nice Chinese couple. They outbid everybody.”

And there will continue to be Chinese investment in Australian capital cities for as long as Chinese and Australian regulators allow it. Blocking the dreams of young Australians to own anything in the city.

John Sheridan

One job at a time...

Work as we have known it is dying. Careers are dead. Offices are disappearing slowly. Intriguingly, there is still a Careers Advisors Association in Australia, though I wonder what they know that nobody else does.

Work is now contracts, part time and freelance. Even academia, government and professional services are increasingly shifting into contractual insecurity.

There is still stability at the top of course, which is what you would expect with senior managers, vice chancellors and directors looking after themselves, but it is now virtually impossible to steadily climb the “ladder” unless you begin at the top by starting your own business.

So how easy will it be for our children to navigate this new world of work? We continue to make it increasingly difficult for them compared to how it used to be. Free education for instance.

Are we preparing them properly for this much harsher world or still selling them ancient myths and dreams based on our educational years and working experience?

For what is this madness, that a generation of politicians who received a free education that gave them a chance of success in a job rich world, condemn the current generation to pay for their own education in a world where jobs disappear daily?

And we are doing this to them. It is not their fault. It is our fault.

John Sheridan

Export. Export. Export. Full STEAM ahead.

Alan Kohler is a good bloke. Of all the journos writing for the Australian he consistently tells it as it is. In simple English. Which is what we all expect of journalists of course, but such commentary is rare and hard to find.

The “Treasurer’s debt dilemma” is a very good piece.

It highlights the problem the treasurer has in needing to cut spending to placate the ratings agencies (which Mr Kohler points out quite rightly have little real credence after rating collateralised debt obligations - CDOs - as AAA in 2006). What do they really know and why do we listen to what they say anyway?

It’s a crazy and bizarro world we live in, trying to see through the blurry spiders webs of perception, fake news, PR and hyperbole.

Alan Kohler blows a lot of that fluff away. Regularly. In the Australian and on the ABC. Malcolm should make him the Treasurer. In the US he could, but not here. I wish it were that easy.

While the government’s attention is focused on “not” spending money, we need to shift our attention to how to “make” more money in the first place.

John Sheridan

17.5% unemployed or underemployed. What are we waiting for?

According to the Roy Morgan poll, unemployment in Australia is now at 10.4% with underemployment at 7.1%. Which means 2.249 million Australians are now looking for work, or looking for more work.

Add the ever increasing impacts of digital job destruction, ageism, lack of leadership and swiftly shifting job requirement skillsets and those figures will soon move higher, not lower.

And quicker not slower.

Inaction by federal government is hard to understand. It’s been a year now with no meaningful action. Just lots of empty words. Even Clarke and Dawe from the ABC have now turned government inaction on our economy into a parody.

See “The importance of a strong team in sales and marketing” on the ABC website. Amusing, but far too close to the truth to be completely funny.

Why so little action?

Is the scale and scope of the “no jobs and no growth” problem just too large and wide reaching?

Is it too hard to respond to, because we can’t simply look overseas for a quick answer like we normally do – because they face the same problems themselves?

Have the federal rabbits just frozen in the headlights? Do they even have a clue?

Waiting is not an option. We have to do something. The problem will only grow. And it does so day by day.

And allied to this problem is the slowing economy, increasing household debt, near zero interest rates across the world leading to diminishing returns for investors, pensioners and those heading towards retirement.

Less work, lower wage growth, more debt and increased stress on mortgages and retirement funds.

Waiting is not an option. Action is required.

John Sheridan

The future of work isn't the issue... the future of jobs is.

Banks don’t invest in small business any more. They promote credit cards instead. No social contract. Only dividends and shareholders.

They will only lend money with a lien against property, which then makes property even more collectively important as a backstop against financial disaster, and increases the risk for everyone.

We cannot build Australia’s future through investing everything into one non-productive asset class - housing. That just steals investment from scaleups and startups. It steals investment from farmers. It steals investment from manufacturers. It steals investment from small business.

And it pumps up the housing bubble, because there is nowhere else to invest money. Central banks across the world have driven interest rates so low that the traditional investment options of bonds, shares and bank deposits are broken.

Leaving property the only choice.

John Sheridan

Australia has voted. And we can all be winners.

We live in digital revolutionary times. The world is changing. The evidence is everywhere. And it impacts everything we do. So why do we act surprised when the digital revolution impacts politics?

The revolution has shifted power from “vendors” to “customers”. Permanently.

Simply replace “vendors” with politicians and “customers” with voters.

The politicians use digital tools to leverage what they have always done - for research, for marketing and communication, to push political messages through a range of digital media but they haven’t really understood what digital has done to change their customers.

John Sheridan

Which way to the future?

The latest ABS job figures are interesting. And also misleading.

According to the ABS, unemployment is down to 5.7%. Yet, according to the Roy Morgan poll, unemployment sits at 11%. And 18.8% of the workforce is either unemployed or under-employed.

ABS figures are under question and it is worth visiting the Roy Morgan site to understand why. As it says on the website, “Roy Morgan measures real unemployment in Australia, not the perception of unemployment.”

So why is this important?

Because 5.7% unemployment doesn’t sound too bad. And even suggests the country could be heading in the right direction.

But 18.8% sounds like a big problem. And suggests that we are heading in the wrong direction. Because 18.9% means less tax, less discretionary spending, less confidence, less opportunity and we need to do something about it.

John Sheridan

Can government really transform?

There was a song written by Tom Lehrer in the 60's that had a line, "Once the rockets are up who cares where they come down. That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.

There are other lines in the same vein that we all hear regularly, "It's not your job," "That's not what you are paid for," "It's not our core business," "It's not in your job description," "Do what you are told," "It's more than my jobs worth," and so on.

These sentences all describe the frame of mind that perpetuates industrial revolution thinking in a departmentally structured society, in the midst of a digital revolution.

And that "frame of mind" is in direct conflict with the mindset of digital revolution.

That tortoise "frame of mind" doesn't like the digital revolution.

It wishes "digital" would go away.

John Sheridan

Think tanks and do tanks. We need both.

Innovation happens in laboratories and workshops in every university across the land. They are think tanks.

And innovation happens daily in the real world laboratories of small business, in the biodiversity of the marketplace. Innovation is in the very DNA of every startup and small business.

Without fresh ideas, agility, responsiveness, constant adjustment and change a business will stumble and fall.

Most big businesses left this degree of insecurity behind years ago. They learnt lessons, improved their systems and processes and reinforced what was learned through training, reward and management.

The ability to repeat and incrementally improve is what gave the big business its edge, its ability to deliver day after day what the customer wanted. That is why it became big. Repetition and reinforcement created success.

Documented systems and training reinforced success. Over time the system became the foundation of the workforce culture, with individual workers and managers rewarded for supporting the drive to more sales, more profit and more happy customers and repeat business.

John Sheridan

Digital collaboration - how to do "more with less"

The potential and opportunity presented by the tools of the digital revolution grow every day.

Because, the currents of change and disruption – more connection, more collaboration and more integration – create an ever-expanding number of people able to contribute, engage and participate.

We have never had this before. Ever. This is brand new.

And as people become familiar with the tools, the focus shifts from “How do I use this” to “What can I use it for?”

People become ready, willing and able.

And that is exciting. Because the limitations for action are only in the imagination and the extent to which other participants can be engaged.

John Sheridan

Only castles burning

One thing I have noticed over years of looking at digital strategies and regional economic development strategies is that they are all the same.

Change the name and the pictures and a few words, and bingo – another strategy saying exactly the same as the last one.

Sometimes they ARE exactly the same as the last one – the consultancy involved failing to change all the locational names properly when delivering the cookie cutter report to the next government customer.

So why do councils pay large amounts for strategies they could create themselves?

Is it laziness? Or fear? Lack of confidence? Stamp of approval?

Why not just download the digital or economic strategy from another region and just change the names. It would be cheaper and the outcomes will be the same.