Sunday, November 22, 2009

All you need to know about Leadership and Management in one blog post!

Ken Blanchard wrote the famous book The One Minute Manager.  He has since gone on to write many more.  
The most useful Ken Blanchard book to me was The One Minute Manager meets the Monkey - which he co wrote with a guy called William Oncken.  

I recommend you read this book if you are new to management or just need a refresher. You will need an hour or so to digest it.

Or you can use these notes from an interview we recently heard when Blanchard was asked to summarise his thoughts on leadership and management (not the same things - but I think you need to be a good leader to be a good manager).

Blanchard said there were only 4 things to remember:
  1. Set down your goals and objectives (what you want to achieve with your team). and then tell your team. This is a top down process and must be done. You need to let your team know your vision, mission and strategy. You also need to clearly let them know what the deliverables are (some people call them targets or key performance indicators), and also what behaviours you will expect from your team.
  2. Then ask you team to develop an implementation plan. This is a bottom up process and must also be done. You are asking your team to "tell me how you are going to do this". Once you and your team area happy with the plan - get into it!
  3. Then - for your experienced staff - you support them, remove roadblocks and get out the way!
  4. For your inexperienced staff - you watch and guide them and redirect them before they get into too much trouble. You need to make time to teach them. This is the real sign of a good leader - over time you will bring your inexperienced staff up to the level of your good operators and yourself!
Only 4 things to remember and you will become a better leader.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Farmers Markets and the Food Revolution in the Developed World

Mt Claremont Farmer's Market in Western Australia was started two years ago in the playground of a government primary school of the Perth suburb of Mount Claremont.  It was started by some parents on the committee of the schools Parents and Citizens committee to raise money for badly needed facilities at the school.  It is now so popular that the local shire council is trying to tax the stall holders to raise revenue - always a sign that something is working! The school is now flush with funds to spend on improvements and the Government Education Department is looking at creating markets in other schools based on the success of this one.  And the locals are complaining about cars parking on their verges.  The irony here is that the market is only 5 minutes by car from a large and brand new shopping centre in the suburb of Claremont which has three supermarkets selling a range of quite good fresh food.  These shopping centres all have lots of parking (and pay the shire lots in taxes and parking fees).

Today I heard that the major radio station in Perth - the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's 720 AM station - is broadcasting from the market this weekend - which will publicise it across the whole of Western Australia.

I have friends and contacts who also work in the commercial food business and who complain about the growth in farmers markets around the world.  They argue that they are making it harder for small businesses to stay viable - and also that they operate with an unfair advantage.  They don't have to operate under the same regulation and rules as shops and shopping centres, and don't have the same burden of health and safety compliance and regulation.  Some of them are lobbying the government to try to stop the farmers markets.

I think trying to oppose this force is like King Canute trying to stop the tide coming in.  I think that people are tired of the commercial solutions offered by the large property chains and the commercial retailers - and are trying to reconnect with community.  And food - and the passion and melodrama of food - is part of this.  I actually think it is the sense of community - and a sense of rebellion against "the corporations" which is driving this.

I was in Paris earlier this year and visited an organic farmers market in the middle of a street above a subway station.  It is held two times a week and is packed with shoppers from all over Paris.  Interesting to see that the market is encouraged by the City of Paris - which is trying to set up more around the city.
I spent a fascinating hour drooling over the produce - and regretting I couldn't buy anything because I was a tourist staying in a hotel without any cooking facilities.  A couple of pictures:

In the New York Times there was an article on 21 March 2009 titled Is a Food Revolution Now in Season? by Andrew Martin.  

Some of it is clipped below:

AT the heart of the sustainable-food movement is a belief that America has become efficient at producing cheap, abundant food that profits corporations and agribusiness, but is unhealthy and bad for the environment.
The federal government is culpable, the activists say, because it pays farmers billions in subsidies each year for growing grains and soybeans. A result is an abundance of corn and soybeans that provide cheap feed for livestock and inexpensive food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup.
They argue that farm policy — and federal dollars — should instead encourage farmers to grow more diverse crops, reward conservation practices and promote local food networks that rely less on fossil fuels for such things as fertilizer and transportation.
Last year, mandatory spending on farm subsidies was $7.5 billion, compared with $15 million for programs for organic and local foods, according to the House Appropriations Committee.
But advocates of conventional agriculture argue that organic farming simply can’t provide enough food because the yields tend to be lower than those for crops grown with chemical fertilizer.
“We think there’s a place for organic, but don’t think we can feed ourselves and the world with organic,” says Rick Tolman, chief executive of the National Corn Growers Association. “It’s not as productive, more labor-intensive and tends to be more expensive.”
The ideas are hardly new. The farmland philosopher and author Wendell Berry has been making many of the same points for decades. What is new is that the sustainable-food movement has gained both commercial heft, with the rapid success of organic and natural foods in the last decade, and celebrity cachet, with a growing cast of chefs, authors and even celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow who champion the cause.
So where am I going with all this?  Essentially, my argument is that people in the affluent world are starting to understand that food needs to be both fun and good for you.  The commercial food industry needs to recover the passion and excitement of food - and think again about how to present it in healthy ways to a much more discerning buyer - or increasingly be left wondering why people drive past their smart shops with acres of parking to visit a farmers market in a school playground.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More evidence for a shift to gold

Reflecting more on the theme developed in my last post, I was fascinated today to  see the following chart and commentary today from David Moore of the Commonwealth Bank  (Commonwealth Bank of Australia ):

Chart of the Day:  Index of the gold price and the EUR/USD

Source:  CBA
  • USD fragility has been an important factor underpinning the gold price since early-November.  However, we have also observed something of a ratcheting effect in the gold price.  The gold price has continued to trend higher since early-November even as the USD, although being at a low level and having a fragile feel, has essentially fluctuated about a relatively flat underlying trend.
  • This pattern suggests that either there is a compounding of investment flows into gold as a result of continued USD fragility or that other factors have contributed to the strength of the gold price. 
  • Such other factors might include inflation concerns on the part of some investors or anticipation that central bank net gold sales will remain at a lower level in the coming year.
It will be interesting to see if individual investors follow the lead of the Chinese Government and continue to move to non financial assets like gold or commodities to store value.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Where to store value now? Not the US dollar!

I live in Australia and there is a lot of interest at the moment about the Australian dollar and where it is going against the currency of our major trading partners and against the US dollar - which most trade is nominated in as a reference currency.  Today one Australian dollar rose to a new high - it will now buy over 93 US cents - and just a year or so ago - it was about 60 cents.  The graph below shows how the Australian dollar has risen over the last few days.  Will it soon reach parity against the US dollar? This has only happened once before in my memory.

Australia imports a lot of consumer goods and a lot of its inputs for industry and construction - so a high Australian dollar is a good thing for most people on the street.  It is also good for Australian travellers abroad - and Australians love to travel.

However - Australia exports a lot of grain and agricultural products and also a lot of minerals (iron ore, alumina and many other metals) and energy resources (coal, natural gas and uranium) - which drives our wealth and standard of living.  For exporters a high Australian dollar is not good thing and damages our competitiveness compared to our major trading competitors such as Brazil, Canada and the US.

I came across this blog article today ( which has one of most thought through comments I have read recently on the dollar and the interdependence between the Chinese and US economies.  Bottom line is that the US will not hurry to protect the declining dollar because it needs to maintain the interest of external investors in US nominated assets relative to the value  of their own currencies.

And China can't rapidly liquidate the $2 trillion plus it holds in US dollar reserves because it doesn't really have any alternatives other than the Euro or the Yen - and neither are really attractive to the Chinese because they don't really have the trading depth or liquidity of the US dollar.

Then this article gets to the punchline - which is that the Chinese have developed a strategy to hold their sovereign wealth reserves also in  commodities - hence their buying spree over recent months in base metals, soft commodities and fuels.  Some of these have been going into the rebounding industrial production in China, which has been increasing again during 2009:

But a lot of the commodities bought by the Chinese are just sitting stockpiles - they have bought far more than than they will consume in the medium term.  So the proposition is that the Chinese are storing value in commodities to reduce their reliance on their holdings of US dollars.

Still getting my mind around that one - it defies a lot of contemporary thinking and academic training - but after the meltdown of the global financial crisis - maybe people (and governments) just don't trust paper based assets any more - and are looking for something that won't disappear down a computer screen!

So getting back to the US dollar.  Maybe it will start to be replaced as the currency of exchange - and we will see more trade in other currencies - or dare I  say it - in gold!  Look at the rise in gold (and silver) prices in recent years (source: ).  

We need to challenge a lot of accepted wisdom and really think about what is going on.  I have a few Chinese friends who tell me their families hold value in gold.  The Indians traditionally do too.  There just might be something in this traditional wisdom.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It pays to conserve

I have just come across this study (BBC story on TEEB) by The Economics and Biodiversity Study ("teeb") - reported by the BBC.  Essentially demonstrating that if we protect wetlands, coral reefs and forests we can get  back - in economic benefit - many times more than we spend.  For example - if we expand marine parks from 1% of the ocean area to say 30% - this would cost about $40 - $50 billion per year globally.  But the economic return would about $4-5 TRILLION.  How so?  By increasing fish catches, improving tourism revenue - and most significantly protection along shorelines from storm damage.

The picture is Longreach Bay just before the sun sets to the West - one of my favourite spots on Rottnest Island off the coast from Perth Western Australia.

With sea levels anticipated to rise by over a metre on the west coast of Australia over the next 20-30 years  - see the recent Australian Federal Government study( Australian Parliament Study)
Longreach will disappear - because scientists in the study estimate that for every 1 meter of sea level rise the shore will recede 50 to 100 meters.

Great to see some disciplined analysis around the issues of conservation.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Infinite Earth?

I came across this site on - which I have used for a long time to store favourites and for search purposes (check   out - one of the most innovative pioneers in making the internet useful for business users).  It is a compilation of photographs submitted to the National Geographic.  Readers have submitted photographs and then someone clever at National Geographic has worked out how to develop an infinite series of mosaics using the photos submitted.  I found myself lost in the beauty of our wonderful world - and melancholic too at how fragile it really is - it's an infinite photograph of a very finite world.

Have a look at the infinite photograph on National Geographic and reflect:

I submitted this photo taken from our front porch in Australia about 6 months ago - looking at the sun setting over the Indian Ocean.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Welcome to the journey

That's me on the right on the last trek in the South Island of New Zealand - when I walked the 
Routeburn track with my son Julian. That was in 2007. We are about to head off again in a few weeks to walk the Milford Track - the most famous of New Zealand's Great Walks ( I did the Milford about 8 years ago without Julian and can't wait to show him the beauty of this special part of the world.
This blog will be where fellow travellers can share their thoughts, memories, ideas, tips and dreams. This blog will be a place where we can assist each other navigate life - with a focus on life planning, health, sustainability and community, money and wealth management and perhaps some deeper reflections on the meaning of it all.  
Together we can help each other navigate.