New Guinea Commerce

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

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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Rhodes, student politics and a small warning for PNG

Papua New Guinea has no place for hollow belligerence

Sean Jacobs, Online Opinion, 3 June 2015

Earlier last month South African students from the University of Cape Town rallied, threw excrement and tore down a statue of the historically prodigious businessman and politician Cecil John Rhodes (1853 – 1902). Rhodes is most clearly remembered for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, which has sponsored thousands of students globally – many of them African – to study at one of the finest universities in the world.

At around the same time similar public taunts emerged around South Africa against symbols of white colonialism and imperialism. These acts are clearly distressing in a number of ways but, to audiences in former colonies like PNG, they clearly express warnings of symbolic ignorance.

Among a list of vague grumblings from the students, for example, were empty suggestions for more black academics and thoughts that the university was too Eurocentric. ‘Nothing was suggested about a more African curriculum or more African modes of learning,’ observed Andrew Kenny in The Spectator. ‘Quite the opposite: there was an important silence about making any real changes at all.’

But, even among such ‘modes of learning’ and the worries of faculty complexion, this is hardly the most optimal way to look at tertiary education, especially in a poor nation trying to push forward in a globalising and highly competitive world. PNG, like many other growing economies, is undergoing seismic economic changes that require real skills and a real education. ‘If you want to know how to build bridges,’ says the economist Thomas Sowell, ‘you need to know something about maths.’ Accounting or finance, in turn, requires knowledge of numbers in the same way that medicine requires an obvious intimacy with hard science.

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