John Sheridan

John is CEO of Digital Business insights!

Plans and more plans...when we need action.

It’s 2017 and according to the ever reliable Roy Morgan Research poll, unemployment (9.7%) and underemployment (8.2%) now adds up to 17.9% - a total of 2.4 million people looking for work or for more work.

Not a good start to the year.

We have now set a new record for household debt, which the Reserve Bank chief says is a threat to the economy. Which affects spending.

Wages growth is historically low. Households are cutting back on consumption, hurting the economy and employment.

Well, duh! It all joins up.

And coming towards us through the wires and wireless is an enormous wave of change, with robotisation, computerisation and automation set to steadily eliminate 40% of jobs. New jobs will replace a proportion of those lost but nowhere near enough.

And what are we doing about it?


Government is good at creating plans. Not so good at action.

And one thing I have noticed from years of looking at economic strategies, roadmaps and plans is that they are all the same.

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

Sometimes they ARE exactly the same as the last one – the policy officer or consultancy involved failing to change all the names properly when delivering the cookie cutter report.

Why not download all strategies from the internet and just change the names. It would be cheaper and the outcomes would be the same.

There is a common structure to all economic development strategies and industry roadmaps.

The first section is full of research, the information that defines the uniqueness of a region or industry sector. The next section is full of reviews of what is changing, how the region or sector compares with others, and what the future trends seemed to suggest. These sections are where all the hard analysis and thinking are being done.

The last section is where the cookie cutter comes into action – future plans, the strategy for action and investment. This section is where hard analysis and thinking and uniqueness flies out the window.

Because this section required imagination and creativity which traditional planners and policy officers are not trained to deliver.

It’s not their fault.

So they fall back on platitudes and generalities often plundered from other strategies from around the world. And the uniqueness of the solution flies out the window with the rest of it.

Yet when it comes to objectives, there is universal agreement.

“We want things to be better”. Which is hard to argue with.

More jobs, more collaboration, more exports, more investment, better technology, skills and training, more large businesses moving into the area, state or country, more housing, better roads, better aged care, better schooling, more social amenities, more tourism, a better future for our children and grandchildren and so on.

And we want to be leaders in…(insert an issue here).

You name it and put it in. That is what most departments do. But there is never much detail on how all these things are going to be achieved…just a long list of wishes and dreams wrapped up in a professionally designed brochure, which the Mayor or Minister can be proud of.

Because thinking about the future is tough stuff. Action even harder.

Looking back is easy. Even pulling together all the statistics, tables and charts is achievable given enough time.

Looking forwards is very hard. And invariably wrong. Especially today with so many externalities, disruptions and connections shifting the solid ground we used to rely on.

And creating new solutions to old problems is even harder. It requires a different mindset. A joined up, creative mindset.

By default, we end up with a cookie cutter approach to regional and national, departmental and economic strategy. And the report, plan, roadmap, 2050 brochure is published and then nothing happens.

Which is a problem for us all. 

We actually need fresh creative thinking now like never before.

“We will be the smartest city, state or nation in the world”. We will attract the smartest individuals, smartest businesses and largest corporates to our city or country.”

Dream on

Every city will be the smartest city. Every obvious technological option will be milked by everybody…at slightly different speeds, but by everybody.

And in many cases the followers will become leaders, milking the technological possibilities more quickly because they carry no baggage and leapfrog the smug. The world outside our borders is not static. It is moving on all fronts at speed. We need to move faster and smarter.

The real strengths of any region or state are what they have always been. Its industries. Its people. The climate. Water. Environment. Culture. Access to the ports and airports. The interesting things to see and do.

Technology does not bestow unique advantage, but it can magnify and catalyse advantages that already exist.

That which is common to all is not a strength. But that which is unique could be.

Every region is different and should magnify its difference not copy anybody and everybody else.

In advertising terms, focus on the USP – the unique selling proposition. Polish the stone. Create a gem. Add value. And drop the commodity mindset into the rubbish bin where it belongs.

The fundamentals haven’t changed. Technology is just an enabler. A powerful and disruptive one.

And cities, regions and governments have to accept something has changed forever.

There are no edges any more. The influence of geography is diminished. The power of the media is fragmented. Information is instantly accessible. The customer is informed and empowered.

In a digital environment where any statement or commentary is checkable and discussible…honesty and authenticity is mandatory.

So strategies of all kinds – social, political, economic, environmental and digital - have to align with the new reality to be useful and have to be rewritten to recognise the reality of the change.

This is what has taken politicians by surprise.

Across the planet, along with every other sector in society, politicians and political parties are being disrupted by the digital revolution.

Trump, Hanson, May, Le Pen, Brexit and hung parliaments are all symptoms of this disruption. There is no going back.

I repeat, in a digital environment where any statement is checkable and discussible…honesty and authenticity is mandatory.

And in a digital world where connection, collaboration and integration are inevitable, joined up thinking and joined up solutions are also mandatory.

Which creates a problem for government, because it is not structured to manage the new digital environment. It is still structured for the industrial revolution with its departments (19th century). And the digital world is not organised in that way (21st century).

No departments. Internetworks.

19th century thinking in a 21st century digital revolution is where we mostly live today.

Like it or not, we have to start thinking in a different way.

That means collaboration and that means shared value. It means harvesting the best ideas, and they can come from anywhere.

Left wing and right wing has lost meaning. Connected and joined up is the new operational modality.

Our left hand does not rebel against our right hand. The body politic must integrate for the good of the nation.

One side of parliament does not have all the good ideas. Good ideas are anywhere and everywhere.

The digital revolution demands a management model that reflects the new reality, or we will not flourish in the digital age. Shared value.

In many ways it doesn’t matter what entities we use as the basis for collaboration. We can use those that exist – councils, states and territories, corporates and individuals.

What does matter is the required “joined up” thinking and vision, and as a result the “joined up” strategies to reach the “joined up goals.

In the absence of visionary government, what can we do about jobs and growth?

We are not helpless. There are a lot more of us than there are of them. Which means access to a lot more brains, a lot more experience, a lot more ideas and a lot more enthusiasm.

And the internet provides a platform for collaborative action that has proven itself time and again. So let’s use it.

And focus on productive industries - agriculture, creative industries, defence, manufacturing, medical and health, METS and tourism. These are the industries that offer the possibility of high value, high wage jobs.

Add value through design, branding, licensing, promotion and advertising. Match productive industries with R&D from universities.

Connect businesses for collaborative action. Share successful case studies and projects across, within and between regions. Connect regions for collaborative action on jobs and regional growth.

Export. Showcase our value-added productive industries to the world. Target the 20 or so major overseas markets with our value-added products and services.

Keep doing the above.

Simple. Pragmatic. Practical. Agnostic.

We need more money for Australia - money to pay for education, health and aged care. For business investment and innovation.

And we need that income to come from selling a wider range of value added goods and services to the world.

So we need to export more things. We need to export to more markets and we need to add value to as much of what goes out the door as possible.

More money coming into Australia will lead to more jobs. More value adding will lead to more high value jobs.

Robots are great. Automation can be a very good thing. Software is changing the world. But we have to go back to basics on this stuff. These are all tools. They are all mechanisms to help us become more efficient, more effective, do things quicker, more reliably and intelligently.

But for what? What is the objective of this vastly increased and automated efficiency?

Health. Happiness. Justice. Welfare. Tranquility. Peace. Add your objective to this list.

We humans are the most important part of the digital equation.

This is a revolution and we are still in the early stages. CEOs, boards and managers have to understand that technology tools are still imperfect. Technology tools do not yet have the agility and flexibility or intelligence that humans do.

And moving too quickly can create more trouble than it’s worth. The Census, Queensland Health and Centrelink are the most immediate examples of poor implementation of technology, but there are many others.

So we should never lose sight of what the revolution is all about. It should be about improving the status for all. Lifting the game. Fair go. Leaving nobody behind.

And leaving the “room” we entered in a better condition than when we arrived. For our kids and our grandkids. Like farmers do.

We are all heroes in the digital revolution. We have to be a 21st century team of collaborative but independent thinkers.

And our focus has to shift towards shared value so we can all benefit in our much bigger competition with the rest of the world. In the digital revolution no man is an island and no island is an island either, no matter how big it is.

The digital revolution takes no prisoners. And the countries that move fastest to reorganise around share value will be the winners.

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Friday, 21 September 2018