Month: January 2018

9 issues we should address in 2018. But don’t just stand there…do something.

We face a few issues at the moment.

They are all connected, but usually people talk about these issues separately as though they have nothing to do with each other. Which is a problem of course. Because they are all connected in some way.

We have a jobs issue.

There are not enough jobs. And not enough well paying jobs. The “new” well paying jobs are only available to people with rare skills. And there are an ever-increasing number of low wage, contract, part time and “slave class” jobs. And there is deliberate fudging of the employment and underemployment figures for political comfort.

Real unemployment and underemployment in Australia is near to 20% of the workforce, which is a big issue. Thank goodness that Roy Morgan is doing a good job at keeping the record straight. Unemployment and underemployment is 19.4% or 2.6 million people looking for work or for more work.

We have an education issue.

We are educating for the disappeared and disappearing world. Parents are a major contributor to this problem. They haven’t yet woken to the “lack of work” and “changing nature of work” environment and continue to support school curricula based on their own personal school experience.

Teaching coding at school is not the sole answer. Promoting STEM is not the sole answer. Both ideas presuppose no real change in what “work is and what a job is” when traditional jobs and workplaces are both seriously challenged by digital disruption.

We must first clarify which workplaces will survive and what a job will become, then we may be able to create a curriculum that delivers for the new world.

We have a skills issue

Digital disruption is affecting all industries and business categories, but it particularly impacts individuals – all of whom have differing capabilities and skills. Not everybody is good at Maths and Science or English (brain). Some people have strong design skills (eye), some people have strong practical trade skills (hand). Some people have a mix of those skills. Some people have no skills. We have to support all of them.

We have a creativity issue

What can’t robots do? Be creative. We need to nurture creative skills, imagination and innovation more than ever before. We need to promote Art and English and History actively in schools and universities. We are doing the opposite.

We need to teach children to experiment, “try things and see”, launch and fail, launch and learn. We need to ask “what if?”

We need to ask hard questions more than any time in our history. Yet we are squashing questioning and creativity in our educational system. And in our political system. And in our media.

Free education sponsors experimentation, trial and exploring options. Having to pay for education encourages the payer to look for the likeliest and quickest return on investment.

“I need a well paid job to pay down my loan.” Just at a time when the very notion of a well paid job or finding a job of any kind is under threat. Wrong direction.

We have an inequality issue – the 1%

Given that 8 men now own the same wealth as half the world’s population, or the top 10% of the population now own 85% of the world’s wealth, we are creating a condition that is toxic, explosive and dangerous.

And we did this. Not God. Not Mother Nature. Us. Human beings. In fact our politicians did this.

Apparently “World leaders are concerned”. But concern has not yet translated into action. Big businesses and the super rich dodge taxes, using their power to influence politics and drive down wages. And 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day. So it is up to us to fix the problem. There is a lot that can be done. We just need to do it. Which brings me to the next issue.

We have a leadership issue

Jobs are eroding steadily, moving from full time to contract, part time, freelance and “no chance”, and from high wage to low wage and wage slave.

As a country and collaboratively, we need to push back intelligently against this erosion. To give us time to think about the broader implications of digital disruption on society as a whole.

And this needs leadership. In the absence of political leadership, business leaders have to put up their hands. And all of us have a part to play. Leadership from behind, from below, from the sidelines, from anywhere.

But let’s do something and go somewhere, not just stand around talking.

We have a perception issue

The digital revolution is personal. On the one hand, it destroys businesses. It eliminates jobs. It shifts people from high wage jobs to low wage jobs. It challenges individual sense of purpose and value. It impacts councils and regions, and states and countries. It creates second-class citizens and digital divides. It’s seen as bad.

On the other hand, it offers easy access to information. It provides a platform for startups and scaleups. It creates new opportunities for high wage jobs. It helps small businesses “punch above their weight”. It connects, collaborates and integrates. It’s seen as good.

Two faced. The digital revolution brings threat. It brings opportunity. It brings threat to one person and opportunity to another. And the viewer defines the view. It is neither good nor bad. It is a transformational revolution that is changing the world. But we need to see it clearly for what it is.

We have a “response” issue

For us to be happy in hindsight (2030), we can’t just let the ”day to day” happen to us passively. We must manage this revolution sensibly starting now. It is a real revolution and its effects are broader and further reaching than we might have expected. And it’s happening everywhere, all at the same time.

But we are out of balance in our response. It’s not just jobs that are disappearing, businesses are. The entities that employ people, and offer the jobs in the first place. Whole industry sectors are under threat. And a few extra jobs in aged care and disability services are not the panacea to our jobs problem.

We have to act with vision and purpose. Collaboratively.

People only see their piece in the puzzle. “It is good for me (I can do my job better)… or it is bad for me (I just lost my job).

Like frogs in wells we experience a personalised view of the sky. And take action in our interest only.

Partial. Circular. Narrow. Parochial. Personal. Which is what you might expect.

But it is the wrong perspective. Action and response has to be national. Holistic. Universal.

We have an “overload” issue

It is an enormous revolution. Overwhelming.

There is too much information and human beings are good at doing “one thing at a time”. We have no time. We make no time.

Most of us have little time, energy or inclination to investigate and comprehend the full extent of the digital revolution’s disruptive impacts.

It’s easier to ignore it for now. Ignore all the “elephants in the room”.

We are only interested in “how is it going to affect me?” not “how is it going to impact my region, my country, my future, my kids, my grandkids?”

The big questions are for someone else to consider, but we are not quite sure who that somebody else might be.

That person doesn’t actually exist. Not in government, or commerce or elsewhere. This is something that can only be fixed collaboratively.

And nothing, nobody and nowhere is immune.

Though some folk think they are.

Let it just happen to us and we accept an even wilder jungle to live in. That seems to be our current strategy (if you can call it that).

Manage the change with intelligence and we can establish a new “digital agriculture” – generating new wealth and farming new value.

Can we do it?

We managed the shift to food security over 12,000 years ago, moving from hunter gathering to farming. With benefits for all.

We now need to do the same thing with technology, moving from “leave it to the market” to “manage it or rue the consequences”.

We have to manage the business of “generating wealth” and its distribution with intelligence. Action and reward need revisiting.

And Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have made it very clear what they think, with recommendations based on their unique perspective and insights. And they all worked hard to gain that perspective and insight.

There are too many things now connected, integrated and interconnected, for us just to let things happen.

Revolutions require governance. Intelligent design. Management.

There is a lot of stress and tension at the moment.

Job stress adds to the tension. Mortgage stress adds to the tension. One in six borrowers now face a real problem. And when you add Amazon, Alibaba, Uber, AirBnB, blockchain and countless software developments into an already highly strung, and leveraged business environment – and just let it happen – there is only one outcome ahead.

If a straw can break a camel’s back, what happens when you add a haystack of straws? Which is where it gets interesting, because Australia is not an island in the digital world.

Jobs and businesses go hand in hand. Businesses need to be profitable to provide jobs. If a business can install technology to become more efficient, then the overall cost of employment can be reduced. Payroll is often the largest cost for any organisation. So the equation is hard to argue with.

Technology in = people out. Unless the CEO and board decide otherwise.

More software. More devices. More automation. The current of change only moves in one direction.

It is time to push back. Or at least hit the pause and think button. To offset job erosion and loss, we need to actively support the growth and profitability of our productive industries.

Productive industries – agriculture, creative industry, defence, manufacturing, medical & health, METS, smart trades and tourism can spread and mitigate our risk and reliance beyond just mining and agriculture, important as they are to us at present.

Productive industries can all leverage the advantages and benefits of technology.

Thereby generating income and profit across a broader base than now. Thereby enabling CEOs to use that profit to employ people – buying time while we wrestle with the wider issues of disruption.

We need to convince CEOs that there is a social contract in employment not just a financial contract. Most CEOs understand this already, but we have to reinforce that view with support from the board.

The digital revolution offers long-term opportunities not just short-term savings for the next quarter bottom line.

Any fool can use technology to increase efficiency. Any fool can save money by letting people go. It is a smart CEO that uses technology to create a sustainable and profitable business, maximising the benefits for all partners in the organisation – whether board, management or operational staff

The knowledge economy requires people who are curious and imaginative, with creative problem solving skills, teamwork and collaboration skills, analytic and critical thinking skills, initiative and entrepreneurialism.

People enthusiastic about starting a business. People comfortable with moving from task to task and role to role, loyal to inspired ideas, meaningful goals and real vision. People with a fresh approach to what work is, whether it is with hand (trade skills), eye (design skills) or brain (thinking skills).

These people won’t arise by accident. We have to create the conditions to produce them. In our schools, our universities and our TAFES. And we aren’t.

The disruption is happening much faster than our response in government policy and legislation. We are still generating policy for the old world in education, job creation, employment, health, regional development, industry and export. In a joined up interconnected new world, we need joined up and interconnected policy and thinking. But government departments are not structured to create it or deliver it.

It is the biggest challenge we face as a nation. A joined up, interconnected revolution being addressed by slow, political cycle driven, short term, single-issue policy with an “eye on tomorrow’s ministerial headline and photo opportunity”. And most digital innovations are in cyberspace with nowhere to cut the ribbon or wear a hard hat for the television cameras.

In a joined up world, somehow we have separated the high speed, telecommunication infrastructure – the NBN – from the initiatives it would have magnified, enhanced and supported. We have separated the stage from the actors and the actors from the structure of the play.

It all joins up. If we want a cohesive knowledge economy “the knowledge economy story” must be told, “the play” must be written. The acting parts must be defined and the show must go on. And this needs policy.

And we need action.

Which is what the RED Toolbox – https://theredtoolbox.org supports.

The RED toolbox is a collaboration platform for regions, RDAs, councils and other organisations to share insights, ideas and activities. So if you aren’t already a partner, then become one.

It is a place created for discussion and action for those interested in both those things. And now that 2018 has begun, you are invited to sign up and make a contribution.

The elephants in the room, outside the door, lining up down the street and flying in by jumbo jets are all being ignored at the moment, in favour of easier issues to address.

Which is not unusual. It is always easier to deal with the problem pile, one small problem at a time and leave the bigger problems till later (ie never get around to them). It’s loosely called “human nature” though that is not really an apt description.

Which is why we have to start lining these issues up in parallel, which would also help us to understand their connected nature.

The ‘wicked problems” all require collaboration. Nobody has all the answers. But collaboratively we do.

Which is why we have collaborated with people like Stephen Alexander to include his “Can it work? “ methodology to better define problems and solutions.

Why we have collaborated with ConsenSys to work on blockchain solutions. Why we are collaborating with councils, RDAs, SEGRA, CSIRO and a host of others.

Why we are creating a library of projects that can be shared and copied. Why we are reaching out to business leaders, not –for-profits and others to come on board.

Because we appreciate the digital world is “all joined up”.

So WE need to get on with it. And take action.

And WE can get on with it. Human beings are pretty capable once they get lined up properly. It’s all the dithering about with the small issues, which is the problem.

So become a Toolbox partner today – https://theredtoolbox.org

Join Groups and discuss business. Collaborate and share ideas and projects. But don’t just stand there, do something.

It’s 2018. Time for startups, scaleups, productive industries and jobs

It seems obvious that we should be focussing our limited national resources and economic energy into supporting and enhancing our productive industries – the industries that can support jobs, pay higher wages, generate more exports, build a sustainable future and so on.

We are a rich country. But we need to manage that wealth of resources better than we do today. We have extractive industries aplenty and a good job too…or we would be much worse off than we are.

Our productive industries – agriculture, creative industries, defence, ICT, manufacturing, medical and health, METS, smart trades and tourism can all be expanded, and value added to collectively create a sustainable platform for the future.

We also have service industries though some of them do a very poor job servicing and supporting our productive industries eg – the banks that should be providing investment to SMEs don’t, and are about to spend a heap of money telling us otherwise. Money they should be channelling into supporting productive industries.

And we have a small number of parasitic industries that extract wealth from wallets and purses rather than generate wealth and health for the country. You can work out who they are for yourselves.

In fact, Australians lose more than $11.4 billion a year on the pokies, so if we nationalised the pokies, we could clear our budget deficit in just three years.

Every industry across the planet is being impacted by the digital revolution. Automation, computerisation and robotisation are stripping jobs out of the economy at an ever-increasing pace.

Predictions are that 40% of jobs will disappear from the economy over the next ten years, though there are already signs that it could be a much higher percentage than that.

People with high-level insight into the tech sector, like Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have all commented regarding the speed of this change, and its likely impact on the society we live in.

Most people see what is happening in their own back yard, but don’t look over the fence. Digital disruption is widespread, worldwide and now includes every industry sector. Nobody has escaped.

Even the protected spaces of government employment are being impacted by digital disruption, though many governments are choosing to maintain business as usual, rather than add more fuel to the ever increasing number of people unemployed or underemployed.

Household debt figures are higher than they have ever been. So there is very little protective buffer for when interest rates rise again.

The true unemployment figures are groomed to hide the truth. Visit Roy Morgan Research for a simple explanation of why the employment figures are consistently misleading.

Unemployment figures can be fiddled and fudged. Underemployment, part time employment, contract employment, freelance employment, occasional employment and non-participation are where the problematic figures continue to climb.

The percentages just keep going up, month after month, year after year. Which inevitably leads to the resulting drop in household income, increased household debt and a generally frugal approach to shopping.

It all joins up. And this trend is only moving in one direction. Because digital technology is destroying jobs.

It is also creating jobs of course, but far fewer than it is destroying.

The jobs that are being created generally require new high-level skills, higher education and versatility. Not for everyone.

And if you have spent a working life in academia, corporate or government and find yourself prematurely out of work (40+) in this new environment, where do you go, what do you do, who do you turn to? Centrelink? Linkedin? Family? Friends?

This is the place more people are finding themselves, alone and confused, with no training, experience or connections to manage this new condition. It wasn’t like this when they entered the workforce. Who would have imagined things would change so much in such a short time?

And a mixture of digital disruption and ageism is hitting people of both sexes over the age of 45. Ageism is rife, not just in our country but across most of the world. And nobody is doing anything about it. Age Discrimination Commissioner. Another commissioner with no teeth is no solution.

Many of the jobs that are being eliminated are the historic entry-level jobs for the less skilled, and less well educated members of our society. The jobs that used to provide entry-level training and an opportunity to understand “hands on” what a real job entails.

So there are problems at both ends of employment years – for young and for old.

And in the middle, even the traditionally safe territory of professional services is being hit as well. There are no jobs for life, no matter how well trained you might be.

Politicians are being knocked down like skittles as people wake up to the fact that it doesn’t really matter who seems to be running the country, they actually aren’t running anything at all. The multinationals are.

The change is enormous. We witness it. We talk about it. We hear about it. And we complain to no avail.

People continue to join the “dole queue” or whatever name you want to give to the place an individual has to go to deal with unemployment.

The support agencies don’t. Centrelink doesn’t. Displacement leads to confusion and despair.

We need to restabilise the ship of state. Money has to be spent on one side or the other – either supporting the unemployed or supporting productive industries that can then employ.

One endeavour is demeaning, non-productive and destructive. The other is constructive, empowering and supportive.

We need to start actively building a new economy based on our productive industry sectors.

It is good to support startups. But 60-70% will fail. Far better to support scale ups, those businesses that have stabilised and now have the capacity to grow and employ. 50% of new jobs come from scaleups. These are the businesses that should be helped with investment, grants, value adding, R&D and export encouragement.

These are the businesses that can be helped simply through better networks, connections, collaboration, information and advice, and enhanced channels to market. These are the businesses that will help us diversify and build a strong foundation for the future.

And we know who they are. Which is a real opportunity.

They are stable, over 5 years old and most have the capacity to grow and employ.

So is it better to invest in startups or scaleups?

It is better to do both. But currently more effort is applied to startups not scaleups, which seems misguided.

A quote from The Scale-Up Report on UK Economic Growth illustrates this point clearly, “Competitive advantage doesn’t go to the nations that focus on creating companies (startups), it goes to the nations that focus on scaling companies”.

There is evidence that shows scaleup companies help create high-quality jobs, which are exactly the jobs we need to support if we want a sustainable and “fair-go” country to live in.

There are five key challenges that scaleups face – recruiting people with the right skills and ambition, developing business leaders, selling to large companies and government and entering new markets, attracting capital, and accessing R&D.

Two of these are particularly problematic – capital and R&D. Banks won’t lend and universities are still only paying lip service to industry engagement at this time. We can do better on both fronts.

And also, we are pouring energy and money into startup support, only to see the startups with the most potential being wooed and encouraged to move offshore. Australian “innovation and ideas” is a nursery for the US, UK and the world.

We need to nurture our innovation and ideas here.

And that is best done by nurturing the collaborative ecosystems which scaleups depend on – the conversations, the networks, the ideas and examples of what works, what doesn’t and why.

We know what the productive industry sectors are – agriculture, creative industries, defence, ICT, manufacturing, medical and health, METS, smart trades and tourism.

We can identify scaleups. There are over 5,000 in the RED Toolbox for a start – https://theredtoolbox.org/index.php/home

Now it is time to bring more productive industries and businesses into active, collaborative conversations. So if you are a business in one of the productive industry sectors, then become a RED Toolbox partner. Visit the About page and become a partner. Set up your own group for customers and suppliers and your ecosystem. Join all the groups that can help your business.

If you are a council or an RDA, then become a RED Toolbox partner. Create groups for your region. Share ideas with other regions like yours. Collaborate with other councils and regions in your state. Discuss energy, jobs, projects, water, sport, agribusiness and tourism. Learn from others.

If you are a not-for-profit or an association, then become a RED Toolbox partner and engage with other associations or organisations with common issues.

None of us can succeed on our own, no matter how big we may be.

Collectively, we can create a fertile environment for profit and jobs.

And collaboratively we can address all the wicked problems and issues, and turn them into opportunities and actions. Right now, in collaboration with partners we are looking at health, aged care, mining, agriculture, blockchain, export, tourism and jobs. Join the conversations and the projects.

2018 is here.

A new year and a new opportunity. So let’s do it.


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