New Guinea Commerce

Governance, growth and next generation leadership in the Indo-Pacific

A modern lesson in ‘old school’ leadership: UK Prime Minister David Cameron

The British Prime Minister deserves more credit than electoral success

Sean Jacobs

Until the recent UK election it had become common, even among staunch conservatives, to write off the Tory leader David Cameron. The sum of accusations Cameron faced, from disfiguring conservative principles to peddling an overly cosmetic appearance, primed the Tories to predictable electoral defeat. No British party, the experts said, should fantasize of an outright majority. And certainly not the Conservatives.

While many were surprised with Cameron’s win the applause has, understandably, shifted rapidly to pressing issues of Greek debt and offshore terror attacks against British nationals. But Cameron’s triumph, especially in the context of a modern Western democracy, is remarkable.

A growing lack of interest in politics, alongside a fading sense of national identity, isn’t exactly the arena where extolling the principles of conservatism receive great traction. The modern Western democracy, with an addiction to debt-financing and government-led solutions, also presents obstacles for center-right leaders seeking less government and greater individual responsibility.

Attributing electoral success, too, isn’t always easy. In office, for example, larger elements present beyond the leader’s direct control – the fluctuation of capital markets, gaffes from candidates and, especially in Europe, Greek profligacy and German benevolence. Many have also argued that procuring the help of Australian pollster Linton Crosby enabled Cameron to simply fall over the line – manipulating electoral success rather than earning it.

What we can touch on with some certainty, however, is Cameron’s career performance, his conservative principles and, perhaps most importantly, how he has communicated these principles over the past few years.

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Benjamin Franklin in the Pacific Islands?

What an American founding father can still teach us about life and wealth

Sean Jacobs, Pacific Institute of Public Policy, 6 July 2015

For some time now I’ve thought about what the great Benjamin Franklin would say if he took a walk (or paddle) through the Pacific Islands.

Franklin, who helped found the United States, is one of the most well-known figures in history for contributions to writing, publishing, diplomacy, innovation and politics.

The most accomplished American of his generation, and arguably of all time, he has provided generations with universal advice on ‘the way to wealth’ through simple values like thrift, industry and frugality. He delivered this advice at a time when America, just like today’s Pacific Islands, was undergoing great economic change.

‘We can easily imagine having a beer with him after work,’ writes his acclaimed biographer Walter Isaacson, ‘showing him how to use the latest digital device, sharing the business plan for a new venture, and discussing the most recent political scandals or policy ideas.’ So, if Franklin visited the region’s market places, villages, resource projects, campuses, businesses and supermarkets, what thoughts would he deliver to Pacific Islanders about wealth and life?

First, I feel his observations would not be loaded with GDP figures or economic charts and tables. Indeed, contrasting most experts, writing report after report about the region’s un-shiftable poverty, he would likely talk about the values – the attitudes, priorities and behaviours – that typically build wealth and fulfilment among people, regardless of where they are and what circumstances they find themselves in.

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Staying out of prison? Odd but good advice

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

Clayton Christensen, the Harvard innovation expert, wrote an insightful speech a few years ago titled ‘How will you measure your life?’

Christensen, with unique perspective and a strong business mind, prompts his Harvard Business School (HBS) students with three questions: First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

This last question, he says, is far from flippant. ‘Two of the 32 people in my Rhodes scholar class,’ he notes, ‘spent time in jail. Jeff Skilling of Enron fame was a classmate of mine at HBS. These were good guys—but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction.’

It’s not hard to see people of iron will and heroic achievement – the Lance Armstrongs, David Petraeus’ or Tiger Woods’ of the world – possessing obvious flaws in their character. In their own lives, too, young Australians will notice people who, even though having fine attributes and sound achievements, run into similar bother.

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What’s so great about Australia?

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

‘There are far more tales of heroism and sacrifices in the penetration of the Australian outback,’ notes the eminent historian Paul Johnson, ‘than in the whole history of the American Far West.’

Such an accolade, from such a distinguished observer of history, is worth unwrapping for many younger Australians. Certainly, Australia is a unique nation. Few others in history have been as stable, prosperous or carry as special a heritage.

But we tend not to celebrate in a way that’s expected of people rising to such heights from such humble beginnings. Indeed, ANZAC Day and Australia Day aside, moments of national pride are rarely expressed loudly. Our patriotism, thankfully, is subtle and not boisterous.

By examining the past we see the reasons for this. And we see what makes Australia a unique nation with traditions worth replicating, sustaining and taking advantage of.

America, the most powerful nation in history, was founded in 1620. But Australia was founded a century and half later in 1788. A great deal happened in between that, arguably, set Australia up for a more successful start.

In 1687 Sir Isaac Newton – a candidate for the smartest person in history – produced Principia Mathematica, kick-starting the English Enlightenment and stoking an unmatched period of human innovation and enterprise. Under a spirit of progress and an expanding market economy the list of ‘game-changing’ inventions grew: telegraphy, photography, the rotary press, the telephone, the typewriter, the phonograph, the transatlantic cable, the electric light, movies, the locomotive, rockets, the steamboat, the x-ray, the revolver, and the stethoscope.

It was a unique and beneficial time to settle somewhere new. In 1788, the Sydney Harbour Bridge certainly didn’t exist. There were no buildings, no streets and no airports. Not even a jetty or pontoon welcomed the First Fleet. Australia, as put by one historian, was a place where ‘not a wheel had turned, no permanent structures existed and agriculture was unknown.’

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Goals: the ember in the ash heap

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

In around 2004, at the height of violence and carnage in Iraq, the town of Fallujah was described as ‘the ember in the ash pit of the insurgency.’ I remember thinking that, despite its context, it served as the perfect metaphor for your goals and aspirations. Because despite the noise, the doubts and the circumstances that inevitably batter your path to success, what’s truly important to you will sustain itself.

Since leaving school ten years ago I’ve noticed that highly successful people often talk about a ‘destiny’ or an ‘inner calling’ propelling them through the inevitable peaks and troughs. Success to these people isn’t a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’.

Take, for example, the acclaimed actor and performer Jamie Foxx. ‘When I was growing up in Terrell, Texas… there was something inside telling me I would go far,’ he says. ‘It’s like energy – an intangible destiny.’ Richard Parsons, the former Chief Executive Officer of AOL Time Warner, puts it in another way. ‘I always knew I’d rise to the top,’ says Parsons, ‘it never occurred to me I wouldn’t.’

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What reforming the NYPD can teach you about self-improvement

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

A story I’ve always been fascinated about is New York City’s crime turnaround. In the early 1990s the city had over 2000 murders a year. In 1997, it dropped to less than 800. Other crimes throughout this period, from public vagrancy to assaults, descended to record lows. New York, from its globally notorious reputation as a violent and dangerous place, emerged to become the ‘safest city in America.’

Central to this success were the reforms undertaken by Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his first New York Police Department (NYPD) commissioner William J Bratton. Bratton, dubbed ‘Robocop’ for his no-nonsense policing tactics, advocated cleaning up the city’s public places, putting more officers onto the streets, swiftly prosecuting offenders, enhancing community expectations and actually enforcing the law over extending even greater leniency to offenders.

‘No police department in the country has come close to achieving what the NYPD has,’ reflects the policy analyst Heather Mac Donald. ‘Today, 10,000 minority males are alive who would have been killed by now had New York’s homicide rate remained at its early-1990s levels.’ This is clearly an astonishing achievement.

But there are lessons here not just for crime fighting. To complete its turnaround, for example, the police had to apply discipline, be realistic about what they could and couldn’t do, undertake constant self-assessment and pay attention to the small things. Applying the same strategies in your personal or professional life will also take you far.

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Education versus employability

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

As a former policy adviser to a senior state education minister I’ve been to many graduation ceremonies. These are obviously proud moments not just for students but for parents and friends. A qualification, as multiple university lecturers reminded me, is tremendously important in a competitive, globalising world.

Yet I’ve often thought about the education that doesn’t come in a classroom or that’s easily transposed onto paper. This is an education with a great deal to do with you as a person rather than your formal pedigree. Being book smart, for example, doesn’t always translate into street smarts. And education doesn’t always mean employability.

We now have a situation in Australia where many young people are going to university for the sake of simply getting a degree rather than looking at the job market and seeing where their skills or aptitude match up. ‘Half a million graduates (more than 20% of the total),’ according to the Australian researcher Peter Saunders, ‘are currently unemployed or doing jobs for which university qualifications are not required.’

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Is the small stuff important?

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

Young people will often hear conflicting advice about whether the ‘small stuff’ is important. As a schoolboy, for example, I was encouraged to think about the ‘big picture’. But I also recall being told I should focus on the ‘day to day’ and ‘not get too carried away’ with the larger elements beyond my immediate control. This applied to everything from personal finance tips like saving through to advice on how to advance professionally.

Without approaching these two bits of advice with some experience, however, they can be intensely confusing. What is the ‘small stuff’? We usually take it to mean the tiny inconsequential matters chewing up our time at the expense of focusing on big deliverables. The financial advice guru Ramit Sethi provides a great example about sweating the small things when trying to save money:

It’s easy to talk about cutting back on lattes, disabling the oven light to save $0.03 over 2 years, and never ordering appetizers. Great! You’ll save $11,000 in 30 years and hate yourself every day of your life.

None of us wants to live like a penny pincher. Do you really want to know how to make your own laundry detergent and save $0.32/year? Who wants to live like that?

It’s much easier, he says, investing early, focusing on getting a dream job, starting a side business or optimising your credit. In other words moving away from the ‘small stuff’ and focusing on ‘big wins’.

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Give him a boat load of money

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

‘If you ever want to see someone be great at what they do,’ says the NBA superstar Kevin Garnett, ‘give them a boat load of money or anything they wish for and see if they go at it the same way as if they didn’t have anything.’

In school I can recall the painful and sweaty experience of hiking up hills on school camps. With maps and compasses in hand we’d clamber to the top of a hill and, thinking we were at the summit, almost collapse at the sight of another hill before us. This, our smiling instructor advised us, was a ‘false crest’.

It’s the perfect term, when leaving school, for staring at the path ahead of you and calculating success. If only, I remember thinking, I could just reach a certain income or get a job then all my problems would be solved. My friends and I believed that whatever sign of success it was – a car, winning a competition, a high paying job, a qualification or a girlfriend – if we could just get to a certain stage then it’d all be okay. We would’ve ‘arrived’, we thought, and our problems would’ve abated.

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The need for mobile individuals

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

‘He is as comfortable in a church pulpit,’ observed Bill Clinton’s adviser Stanley Greenberg, ‘as in a Wall Street conference room.’

Politics aside, Greenberg’s description of the former American President is instructive for the kind of individuals we’ll increasingly need in Australia. Australia’s social and economic trajectory demands young people who can acquire portable skills, generate strong networks and produce outcomes across sectors.

One of the most lethal developments to a society over the long run, and indeed a nation, is when people are rarely reaching out, interacting or speaking to each other. Our leaders, for example, often talk about ‘social cohesion’ in the same breath as economic growth because, quite simply, it’s as important. For a nation to work its individuals must ultimately share values.

However, despite advances in social media and the opportunities to ‘connect’, the capacity to live atomised lives, where people stay in their closed groups, is actually easier than ever. ‘Organisational membership is down,’ records the Australian Andrew Leigh. ‘We are less likely to attend church. Political parties and unions are bleeding members. Sporting participation and cultural attendance is down. We have fewer friends and are less connected with our neighbours.’

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