Migrants’ Views of New Zealand

migrant views of New Zealand

Who sees New Zealand culture and values most starkly? Migrants do. From the way we make eye contact or thank bus drivers to the things we expect of our leaders and citizens, our culture hits them in the face. They either adopt these values wholeheartedly, select only the ones they like or reject them and [hopefully, for their sake] leave.

It’s all relative of course. Migrants come from places around the world with quite different values and expectations – so they’re looking at us through a different filter. Add to that, the fact that today’s migrants have to score lots of points to stay in New Zealand, which means they are likely to be better educated, more highly skilled than most of us. And they’ve moved half way round the world to be here, so, like our ancestors, and those of us who do extended big OE’s they clearly have a double dose of gumption.

What Attracts Them To New Zealand?

So why do they come here and what do they see?

Some see business opportunities – often in property development, hospitality or import-export, but most of the people we have interviewed have been employees rather than business owners.

Moving to New Zealand from the faster-moving parts of the world is a bit like an Aucklander moving to Hawkes Bay. It’s lovely, but you’re getting off the ladder. As one migrant said:

“If you want to work with world leading technology or make your first million by the age of 30 you stay in China. You don’t come to New Zealand.”

But there are advantages to being here: less time at work or commuting, more time with family. They’re here because they don’t like the rat race. Not anymore anyway. They want better for their children and they see New Zealand as safe, close to nature and a great place to bring up kids.

In other words – many migrants value the same things about this place that we New Zealand born value. In fact they often value what we value so much, they really don’t want too many migrants to come and dilute our core NZ values. [Ironic, much?].

Both the land and the people attract them. The land is clean, the air is fresh, the scenery is beautiful. But it’s the people that make it easy to live here. The people are so friendly.

How Friendly Are We?

Do you know why we’re seen as friendly? Because we think we’re friendly. Or rather, we think that we should be friendly. When you ask New Zealanders to describe themselves, friendliness is one of the most commonly mentioned characteristics. In my most recent Lay of the Land study over three-quarters of us said they took pride in getting along well with others.

Friendliness is strongly encouraged and supported across many cultures in this country. Māori manaakitanga, Pacific hospitality, Pakeha sociability: each provide their own social underpinning. I remember in a project years ago, being astonished to find how very widespread the belief was among parents of all cultures, that a key role of primary school was to teach children to get along with others.

Of course it doesn’t always work like that for migrants – casual racism is also prevalent. Almost every non-British migrant experiences that – and quite a few of the Brits as well. But there seem to be enough smiles and hellos from strangers, enough random acts of kindness and neighbourly neighbours to tip the scales strongly in favour of a perception of hospitality.

What Don’t They Like About Us?

Well prepare yourself – there’s quite a common belief amongst migrants that NZ born people are a bit slack. Still “too much ‘laid back’, not enough ‘can do’” as someone I interviewed said once. Near enough is good enough. Or as Peter Jackson once quipped [on a Lord of the Rings DVD actually] : “typical Kiwi – a day late and a dollar short!” He’s from a migrant family.

They may not be actively seeking enrichment and glory, but the migrants we’ve interviewed are very focused on doing a good job. It’s a strong part of their identity. Ours? Not so much.

We might describe ourselves as hard-working, though we often don’t. But we rarely, if ever describe ourselves as being results-focused or very good at what we do. Being funny, down-to-earth or honest are more likely to be top of mind with us – that’s what our culture values.

What Difference Will Migrants Make?

The thing about these migrants and this more cosmopolitan New Zealand they offer is that they will almost inevitably help us to expand our horizons . Taking the Peter Jackson experience as an example, you would predict that these motivated people will rise in organisations and take on leadership positions where they can instil these values more and more. We will tend to like the results so a virtuous circle will result.

But they’re not here to turn us into a Singapore or San Francisco – even if that were possible. The most common view expressed by the migrants we interviewed was that they want to do a good job and then go home at a reasonable hour to spend quality family time or meet up with friends. They value effectiveness and efficiency more than office politics or social climbing. And they don’t like skites any more than we do.

So – especially if you’re a person who likes change and sees themselves as a bit of a global citizen – it’s beneficial for you to  welcome migrants and help them get established here, because they’re going to be a big asset to our society and our economy. They will add to the demand for better services and they do have an international frame of reference.

We shouldn’t feel threatened when they complain about the cost of everything and the lack of public transport and great shopping – because it is true and we have just put up with it. Nor do we need  to reflexively point out that  H&M and Zara are here now – so that’s something. . . because until we get IKEA we’re not really part of the top tier of nations are we? [They’re probably waiting for us to build more houses that ordinary people can afford.]


[This blog post was originally a newsletter to the Windshift Network. To join the network and get my monthly newsletters, well in advance of publication on this website, please subscribe below.]

The Deeper Effects of Home Ownership

This home ownership dream is out of reach

One of the questions I asked everyone I interviewed in my Lay of the Land study was: “if there’s an us and a them in New Zealand now, who is us and who is them?” Mostly the answers reflected concerns about inequality and often that is seen in terms of home ownership.

The people I interviewed across the region ranged in housing status from adult children still living in their parents’ home to those involved in mega million dollar property deals.

As a generalisation, under the age of 30, the key aspect that mattered about their home was who they were living with, but rent costs also preoccupied the city dwellers and safety was a primary issue in some poorer P-riddled neighbourhoods.

The happiest were people who found themselves living in places they liked with people they loved, often being close to nature – whether you wanted to cycle, ride, walk or roar through it in a 4 wheel drive.

In terms of housing, the right property at the right time leads to immense social satisfaction. Most satisfied were those who had the right home for their stage of life – a lifestyle block with ponies for a noisy family of happy sporty kids, a first home buyer with a husband and two little kids and now no spare cash, but happy on a shoestring and finally not having to worry about a kid kicking a wall.

Contrast those upbeat stories with the experience of a Porirua man I interviewed who once got his back door kicked in by people seeking money for drugs, because they didn’t realise he’d been burgled so many times he no longer locked his front door. Sounds funny. Isn’t.

Some had moved further to gain satisfaction: refugees from Auckland finding like-minded people in country towns, or commuters doing a design and build more than an hour from the city. Transportation is a critical element in their decision. That, and workplace flexibility.

Clever or Lucky: How to Achieve Home Ownership

There were people who had been lucky – buying and/or selling at the right time – sometimes repeatedly, house-sitting the same home for four years in a desirable central location, taking over the family home and modernising it, or buying a home and income property.

Then there were the clever ones – good with money – like the couple who had met at school, bought early, done up homes, kept the best to rent out and moved on to the next. They bristled at any suggestion that they were LUCKY to have their property portfolio – and yet – their timing had been pretty fortunate. They’d hit the wave at the right moment.

Unforeseen changes worked against the the couple who’d sold up to go overseas and spent years trying to get back what they hadn’t realised they’d had, or the multiple groups of people who had drifted around living life, only to find themselves in their 40’s with a little kid, a broken relationship and no assets – but at least a family to support them as they started over.

There were many examples of inter-generational support in all of this – surprise inheritances from childless uncles, parental [or grandparental] lending to property sharing and childcare. One mum and dad had moved across country to provide a home for their daughter and beloved grand-daughter.

Alternative Scenarios

Have you heard of Sarah Beeny – the British property guru with the posh husky voice and surprisingly real appearance? She recently hosted a programme called How to Live Mortgage-free on Channel 4, which looked at different ways people could get around the conventional 20 or 30 year mortgage route to home ownership.

The examples ranged from council schemes to rejuvenate brown field sites or derelict housing, to individuals building or renovating house boats, tiny houses on trailers, container houses, garage or shed conversions and of course, to accelerated mortgage repayment – basically eating beans and rice for 10 years to reduce your total interest payouts by half.

In my 2018 Lay of the Land study, housing affordability is the most important issue for New Zealand. There has been a lot of economic-led response to the massive rise in home values in Auckland and now New Zealand as a whole, but not very much of a social focus.

So much of what the government has done over the years to cool the housing market has helped home lenders as much or more than the residents of this country — improving their debt portfolios and lowering their risk. But with housing costs rising faster than incomes  there’s  increasing personal financial stress amongst borrowers and others are shut out from home ownership completely.

So far, little has been done for the growing pool of renters that inevitably results.  Isn’t it better to have a country with a healthy productive workforce than stark divisions between the haves and the have nots? Whatever side of it they’re on, New Zealanders I’ve interviewed certainly don’t like the gap.

We need to think about what it takes to create housing wellbeing, regardless of a person’s asset situation. Rather than encouraging ownership of a fabulous four bed two bath with butler’s pantry like you see on The Block, it’s infinitely more useful to set our sights on helping people to live happily and safely, close to people and places they love, with enough autonomy and security of tenure that their kids can go to the same [good] school throughout their childhood, and they can participate in a community of like-minded people, without fear.

Why is that too much to ask?

[This blog post was originally a newsletter to the Windshift Network. To join the network and get my monthly newsletters, well in advance of publication on this website, please subscribe below.]

Is This The Real New Zealand?

Wairarapa, New Zealand

One day last year I took a train from Wellington to Masterton. It was a beautiful day and a lovely journey. I have always liked the Wairarapa, but I have to say that after a year of living in Auckland, emerging from the tunnel into South Wairarapa felt like coming back to New Zealand.

It was funny to find on that research trip out of Auckland, how reluctant I was to describe myself as being ‘from Auckland’. I either said “I live in Auckland but I’m from Dunedin” or “I’m from Dunedin but I now live in Auckland”.

It’s not that I hate living in Auckland – I love living there. As long as I don’t have to drive on motorways at rush hour it’s absolutely lovely. But it’s the effect that saying you’re from Auckland has on others.

In research, the last thing a researcher wants to do is influence the way people will respond to your questions. You draw on whatever common threads you have with your research participants, encouraging them to speak their truths. You are as bland and as interested as you can possibly be.

In Masterton I got brave and shared my Auckland identity issue with group participants at the end of the session.  I asked them if it would have had any effect. They’d assumed I was from Wellington, which probably brings its own share of prejudices anyway.

But they agreed that there was a stereotypical ‘Aucklander disses the Wairarapa’ scenario, along the lines of: “I’ve been here three hours and I’m totally bored!” or “I needed to get a replacement because mine broke, but they said it’d take six weeks!”  It seems Aucklanders pack extra sighs and exclamation marks  when they travel to the regions.

On that trip I also stopped in Greytown for a very specific couple of groups, exploring the effects of gentrification on that small Wairarapa town. One group were long-term locals, the other were more recent arrivals.

How Deep Are New Zealand’s Social Divisions?

I wanted to specifically compare these two groups with a study run by long-term US pollster Stan Greenberg in Macomb County Wisconsin.

In Greenberg’s study he made the point that it wasn’t just the coastal elites that the Trump voters were against, it was the local variants – hipsters, downshifters and lifestylers who’d moved in from nearby Minneapolis-St Paul. The quote below is from an article in Politico that I can no longer locate:

. . .the resentment isn’t just directed at the coasts. It’s local. Here, the urban elite isn’t a faceless, distant other: It’s the enclave of liberal. . . newcomers who have moved here over the past few decades—not just an abstract political imposition, but an actual physical presence. It has spawned anger and bitterness, a simmering undercurrent of alienation among many people locally born and raised.”

They feel patronised and displaced by these people and like their county isn’t theirs any more. The ‘outsiders’ are perplexed. Can’t these people see that their organic, localised, eco-conscious values are good for everyone?

I can see how that could happen but I certainly didn’t find the same level of anger in the Wairarapa –  there was some talk that farmers were angry – though that was mainly a mix of drought, debt and dairy price fluctuations back then. Now they have a Labour Government to contend with, but at least there’s been rain.

But as in Wisconsin I did find examples of liberal enclaves in the towns of Southern Wairarapa, and there was some barely disguised eye-rolling on both sides. [We kiwis are so much better than Americans at passive aggression.] Wairarapa does have significant gaps between the expectations of newcomers and locals and also between the experiences of rich and poor.

But there is hope for a brighter future.

The Wairarapa seems to be transitioning from ‘best-kept secret’ to desirable destination. It’s being talked about as a great place to retire and it has all the elements of a great tourist area – natural beauty, sunshine, wine, food, history, charm and adventure. It’s already happened in other lifestyle provinces like Central Otago, Nelson and Hawkes Bay – almost like it was a natural result of establishing a local wine industry – if you plant vines they will come?

Apart from our general distaste for confrontation, I think it’s that spirit of shared opportunity that makes the difference. There’s no sense here that if you ‘win’, I will lose – no sense of a zero-sum game. With the significant internal migration of people seeking wealth and success towards Auckland and other major cities, preserving this spirit of opportunity through gentle infiltration of downshifters from the city and local investment to equalise things like access to health and education or utilities like broadband and water supplies is important. It’s the most sensible thing we can do here to prevent extreme divisions from emerging.

[This blog post was originally a newsletter to the Windshift Network. To join the network and get my monthly newsletters, well in advance of publication on this website, please subscribe below.]

Can You See What My Generation Sees?

Why are we so blind to other people’s experience of life?  I mean basically that’s all that divides one generation from the other – the things they did or didn’t experience.  During a conversation after dinner about Baby Boomers and Millennials one night, I found myself defending the younger generations against the expectations of the old – trying to get them to see through each other’s eyes.

It was strange as I got older to realise that, with my university education and single parenthood, I was in no way a typical Baby Boomer. While I was going to social anthro lectures and trying to figure out who I ‘was’, most of my contemporaries were starting their home ownership accounts, stocking up their glory boxes with household linens and indulging in dating practices that would almost inevitably lead to marriage, a section and having their first child by the age of 20.

They expected to slowly accumulate. At work they would need to rise steadily through layers of seniority or bureaucracy. At home they would acquire, first the land, then the bare bones of a house and then gradually, the symbols of comfort and achievement.

It didn’t quite work out that way. While not facing the depression and world wars their parents and grandparents had faced, life did speed up for those baby boomers – their horizons widened, their options expanded and the disruptions of divorce and redundancy shattered the cosy but dull paradise they had envisaged. There was no gold watch after 40 years of continuous service, but they did get MySKY and winter trips to the Gold Coast.

What’s the Kiwi dream for a Millennial? What do they expect? Certainly not slow accumulation. They expect to ride the ebbs and flows of a fast-paced life, living from moment to golden moment with enough resource to bridge the gap.

Their expectations are revealed in the quotes they like on Tumblr: to be all you can be, do what you love; to get out there and live the dream. To get your piece of what the world has to offer and to find the configuration that fits you best. And to get it NOW, because nothing lasts unless you deliberately slow it down.

To achieve this you use what resources are available to you: the education you had to pay for, your network of relationships, whatever wealth and comforts your family has accumulated for your use, the smarts you have acquired in the school of life and the skills you have as a child of the information age.

It’s scary but you do your best to make it happen, maybe impatient with the slow-moving know-it-alls of the older generation, who can’t see the difference between their brief youthful flowering and your continuous need to upgrade and reinvent.

If you stop to think about it you begin to resent their  almost unconscious sense of entitlement to use up all the planet’s resources, drive up the cost of living and assume superiority on the basis of now-tarnished or obsolete experience. But hey – it is what it is.

Whatever their age, my friends and I agree, life’s a spiral not a circle – things don’t repeat, they evolve. Focusing on differences obscures the enormous adaptability of the average human to whatever havoc or opportunity presents itself.

But ignoring the differences between our situations is problematic. The only question that works is: What would you do if you [had] walked in my shoes?


[This blog post was originally a newsletter to the Windshift Network. To join the network and get my monthly newsletters, well in advance of publication on this website, please subscribe below.]

Have Another Very Raglan Christmas

perspectives from the surf

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a blog post on my internationally-focused well-made lives website, wishing everyone a very Raglan Christmas. You may have read it.

It was fun to write. I had to explain where Raglan was, what it meant, and how the concept of a laid-back summer holiday had permeated our culture. I even found some very helpful advice on what to do if you get caught in a rip.

I quoted the 8 Tribes book I wrote with Chris Brown:

“The key word for the Raglan tribe is freedom; its icons are the Adventurer and the Artist. Raglan tribe members want to create and control their own destiny. Their approach to authority is not so much defiance as indifference. They need to do what they need to do and if the rules don’t fit then the rules are wrong.”

Re-reading the post, there’s one bit that catches my eye:

“But on the positive side, I think this Raglan spirit is one of the reasons New Zealanders are among the happiest people in the world. Raglan tribe values figure more strongly in this country than in many other Western countries. Probably Australia would be next. For the record, we’re 9th happiest in the world and Australia is 10th.”

That was according to the World Economic Forum. For the record, on their list we are now 8th and 9th – sorry Sweden. However, in terms of bragging rights, I much prefer the Legatum Institute’s finding that puts us at #1 in the world for prosperity. There, the rise has been steeper – they had us 4th in 2015.

So I’ve been wondering:

Is New Zealand going up or are the others going down? I remember writing a tongue in cheek newsletter years ago about moving up the OECD, which used to be a preoccupation in New Zealand. I suggested that instead of working harder and harder, it might be easier to focus on sabotaging the economies of the countries above us. But they seem to have done it to themselves.

Selfishly, I hope our happiness and prosperity may long continue and that it extends to all of us, not just the favoured few. At the same time I really hope the brave new worlds taking shape in the US, UK and other parts of the world aren’t too intense and that the President-Elect of the United States will stop lying about everything. It’s so unseemly. Though this article by Masha Gessen suggests he won’t.

In that regard – I’ve been binge-watching The Lie Detective on some more or less legit website online. [They have Pak n Save ads so I’m guessing they’re OK]. The Lie Detective is a Channel 4 [UK] programme featuring New Yorker Dan Ribacoff. It involves potential, existing and former couples who have been offered the opportunity to have ‘the most honest conversation of their lives’. The show uses a combination of lie detector tests and Ribacoff’s skills [I guess] as an observer of micro-expressions and voice characteristics to verify or negate the answers people give to each others’ questions.

It’s very well made and perfect for summer viewing. The participants have a range of ages and situations – some of their situations are funny, some are sad, some are lovely and some are so deeply insightful about human relationships. I particularly liked the middle aged woman who, given the opportunity to go out with her husband Dave as himself or his cross-dressing alter ego Paula, instantly chose Paula – because she’s so much more fun.

That’s called playing it as it lays – one of the secrets of life in the Raglan Tribe.

So have a lovely laid-back Christmas and try not to think too much. No more newsletters in 2016 but I’ll be back with something inspiring for the New Year.



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The Lay of the Land – NZ Perspectives

Back to New Zealand perspectives this week – with some thoughts about values, a great podcast and a heartening report.

I’ve been thinking about NZ values – mainly because anglo-european values are in flux and I want to see what’s happening here. I’m sending out a proposal for shared research, which will hopefully mean I’ll be spending the late summer travelling around the country talking to all kinds of people about what they want, what they believe and why. I’ll look at our shared values and also our contested values. Maybe I’ll even discover a new tribe or two, out there in the wild. Here’s a backgrounder. It’s called The Lay of the Land: Values, Tribes & Perspectives of New Zealanders in 2017.

A Truly Kickass NZ podcast

I’m probably the last person in the country to have heard of the [now discontinued] ‘How not to be an asshole’ podcast. On the face of it, a couple of comparatively ancient [late 30-something] white rappers may not seem like they’ll be the coolest kids on the block, but a friend sent me a link to their most recent podcast [Episode 53, July 2016] that was truly exceptional. [I can’t find it now but here’s a video they did  with Jacinda Ardern from 2015 which is historically interesting  and just shows the calibre of this woman – hint – it’s high].

It featured homelessness campaigner and serial entrepreneur James Crow – the co-owner of Tommy and James, ethical food manufacturers who owns Little Island Coconut Creamery.

He’s a guy who, as a child, experienced a massive change of circumstances when his parents divorced and his bipolar mother struggled to cope. The person who emerged out the other side is smart, empathetic and with a breadth of experience that both horrifies and astounds. James’ analysis of politics, homelessness and how to get things done in New Zealand is masterful and engaging. He is such a great storyteller.

His social issues website Gimme Shelter Aotearoa explains the need to establish a data set on New Zealand’s homeless people – especially rough sleepers. He set up a campaign to raise 20,000 to fund a homeless and rough sleeper health survey [HARSH] but was unsuccessful at the time.

What it takes to lead the world’s Prosperity Index

We won. I’m sure you know that already. The LegatumProsperity Index™ 2016 ranked New Zealand #1, for all the right reasons.  They state:

“New Zealand is the world’s top-ranked country. Over the past decade it has consistently delivered a large prosperity surplus through the combination of a strong society, free and open markets, and high levels of personal freedom”

In other words we are the neo-liberal dream. We score highest on the economic quality, but also on the social capital index: 99% of us say that we have family or friends to rely on in times of need.

The Legatum Institute also singled out the British Commonwealth as a producer of greater prosperity, than even the Scandinavians, and said,

“Freedom is at the heart of this opportunity. In these countries people are most free to pursue their ambitions and achieve their potential. Of all the world’s nations, New Zealand is the most tolerant of immigrants.” [P20].

Not to be too self-deprecating but being small and far away with lots of space probably helps that.

But on that Freedom issue,  as Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari says:

“Ever since the French Revolution, people throughout the world have come to see both equality and individual freedom as fundamental values. Yet the two values contradict each other. . . The entire political history of the world since 1789 can be seen as a series of attempts to reconcile this contradiction. [Page 183].

Unfortunately for the UK, it seems better at gaining wealth than sharing it, compared to the other top-ranking Commonwealth countries – us, Australia and Canada. The Institute says:

“Standing in Hull, it is hard to imagine the UK as the third-best deliverer of prosperity in the world. Walk through this northern city’s estates and you are struck by a deep-rooted poverty of prosperity. It is the least prosperous part of the UK; a city where children grow up without knowing aspiration and the elderly die having never seen much beyond the end of their street. Yet, Britain stands out as a world leader in turning its wealth into prosperity.” [P22]

Thanks for reading! This is my December 4th Sunday newsletter. I only publish about 1:4 newsletters so if you want to get them delivered to your inbox on the last Sunday of every month, please provide your details in the box below.

And Then I Woke Up

an orange blur

For the first few seconds I thought – that was a crazy dream! Trump? President?

It was 1.18am – I’d gone to sleep around 10. Now I was awake. I didn’t want to but I was drawn to Twitter, then Facebook. Where I read two things that crystallise my thinking and two other things that also help:

First this – from Clare Curran MP

“Tonight is America’s Brexit. I did not wish for Trump to be President. But I absolutely accept that people have voted him in. This is democracy. Those who voted for Trump are not bad people and should not be vilified. So many people are frightened, confused and angered by the world and by this thing called politics that for most people is so removed from their lives and their ability to have influence. Tonight’s outcome in the US, following the UK Brexit vote in June to exit the European Union is a huge wake-up call for all those who are elected and all those who work in public service and are therefore considered the “political class”.

I am personally confronted by tonight’s US election result. I believe all politicians should be.

– to which I responded “Codswallop, Clare”, partly because that was my overwhelming emotional response to her sentiments, and partly because I had also read this post:

An American Tragedy, from David Remnick at the New Yorker:

He says:

“That the electorate has, in its plurality, decided to live in Trump’s world of vanity, hate, arrogance, untruth, and recklessness, his disdain for democratic norms, is a fact that will lead, inevitably, to all manner of national decline and suffering.

In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event. They will try to soothe their readers and viewers with thoughts about the “innate wisdom” and “essential decency” of the American people. They will downplay the virulence of the nationalism displayed, the cruel decision to elevate a man who rides in a gold-plated airliner but who has staked his claim with the populist rhetoric of blood and soil. George Orwell, the most fearless of commentators, was right to point out that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually. Sometimes all they require is a leader of cunning, a demagogue who reads the waves of resentment and rides them to a popular victory. “

So I recommended to Clare Curran and her fellow appeasers that they read Remnick’s article, which is glorious. I wrote:

“Codswallop Clare. You’re normalising a tragedy here. If Trump voters were frightened, confused and angry, they were made that way by a man who had no compunction to lie, to bully and to enable their most uncivilised impulses. This wasn’t Brexit – this was a deliberate decision by a persuasive narcissist to say whatever worked, no matter how true, no matter what the cost. Trump made a mob. It’s not just what you call the political classes who are at risk from this – it’s people anywhere who think for a living and try to make sense of the world as it really is. Read this http://www.newyorker.com/…/an-american-tragedy-donald…and remember Hitler was elected too – and normalised at first.”

So that felt good. My moral compass returned.

I realised how fortunate I was to have read Sapiens and watched Hypernormalisation and Before the Flood in the last few weeks, so I had an alternative frame of reference for this debacle. What would I have thought otherwise? That we needed to give Trump a chance to prove himself? I think we know exactly who he is.

Here’s something that New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait wrote. [The last thing I’d read of his had asserted that people from his native Michigan would never elect Trump – so yeah – at least he’s back in the arena.]

He said this well though – and I agree:

Trump does not represent the future. He only barely represents its present. His party controls all three branches in large part because its voters are overrepresented in the House, the Senate, and the Electoral College. He represents a rage against the direction of America they have no way of stopping [my bold]. Even a complete halt to all of illegal immigration and a total deportation of every undocumented immigrant will not prevent the growth of nonwhites into an eventual majority. Republicans are increasingly focused on voter suppression and other anti-democratic measures to allow their shrinking cohort to rule. Trump is the perfect champion of their project.

What of the future?

The final comment I read before returning to the land of dreams, was from Philip, one of my Facebook friends, who wrote:

I really don’t know what the future holds. Or maybe I just don’t want to.

What has happened is that the range of possible futures we might have envisaged just shifted and also expanded – just as it did after 9/11. It was already quite a wide range. It’s again big enough to include nuclear annihilation, internment camps, the end of the American Empire and habitat-destroying climate change.

The success of Trump’s deliberate falsification strategy will embolden more would-be oligarchs and demagogues to try mass manipulation. It will deeply challenge people who strive to see the world as it really is – and communicate that reality to others.

That’s why I’m putting this ‘Sunday’ newsletter out today. The Emperor has no clothes and I don’t want to begin imagining that he does.

How to De-Normalise Trump

Here’s a few simple recommendations:

  • Don’t start any sentence about Trump with the words: “At least he . . .“
  • Don’t wait for 100 days to elapse before making up your mind. No honeymoons for this guy.
  • Subscribe to, support or join any organisation that offers some oversight of the US government’s activities and treatment of its citizens – and of your own country for that matter.
  • Face reality yourself – get out of your own bubble. There may be no ultimate truth to be known, and clearly some of our information-gathering tools have huge limitations [I’m looking at you opinion polls] But it’s more important than ever to question why you see the world as you do and to make your biases explicit.
  • Scrupulously observe other people’s rights to quietly live their lives, but call out codswallop wherever you see it, because it festers in dark places.

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What Migrants Told Us About Auckland

New Zealand has more than one million migrants [28.5% of the population][1]. New migrants are clustered in Auckland, giving it the fourth highest foreign-born population of any world city. With 39% of its population [more than half a million people] born overseas[2], Auckland is more diverse than London or New York.

But even now, many marketers and strategists act as if this change isn’t really happening. They treat new migrant groups as just another ethnic minority – and another – and another, not recognising that migrants have a lot in common.

Auckland’s NZ-born European population now hovers around 55%, so it’s time to stop pretending that nothing has changed. One message no longer fits all, because we don’t all have the same history and social expectations. Simply by being here, shopping in malls and supermarkets, using the transport systems and eating out at cafes and restaurants, migrants are changing New Zealand’s social and economic environment.

But what is changing?

A wellbeing study by HTG and Windshift in 2015 revealed that many migrant families had moved to New Zealand to achieve greater wellbeing and educational opportunities. Often they arrive determined to adopt the ‘Kiwi’ lifestyle. They create new lives for themselves that combine habits from their country of origin and new, distinctively New Zealand, patterns of behaviour.

We wanted to know more. So we brought together a highly experienced research team specialising in social trends, migration and brands to discover what happens to people when they migrate here – and specifically, what happens in Auckland. The result was the Cultural Diversity Snapshot. 

.The Cultural Diversity Snapshot: How Can it Help?

The study has been completed and can now be accessed as  a presentation or an interactive workshop. These are designed to help marketers, insight managers, executive teams, agencies and strategists to recognise the brand opportunities and service requirements that arise as new migrants settle into New Zealand society.

The Cultural Diversity Snapshot will help you to identify migrants’ distinctive social and consumer behaviour and attitudes, including their brand and service preferences. You will learn how widespread these attitudes and behaviours are and how they relate to levels of integration . Most importantly, you will discover how you can use this knowledge to unlock opportunities and encourage uptake of your brands, products or services.

The study compares responses from the three largest groups of recent migrants – North Asian, South Asian and European/African. This is based on a substantial qualitative research exercise conducted in Auckland, exclusively amongst migrants. This was followed by a national survey with a migrant sample large enough to let us compare their responses with those of New Zealand born citizens.

More than anything, I think we are helping to provoke thought amongst marketers as to how to operate in a diverse, cosmopolitan environment.  My proudest moments in any of the presentations and workshops I have participated in is recognising that lightbulb moment, where empathy replaces the unconscious preconceptions we all have about groups of people we don’t know very well.

 [1] Source: 2013 Census

[2] Source: World Migration Report 2015, p 39, International Organisation for Migration

[3] Source: HTG:Windshift – Family Wellbeing: Interviews with 50 Families


The Value Being An Adaptive Company

The recovery is building – the local economy is showing some life – a recent survey I conducted showed strong upward movement in some key indicators around New Zealander’s view of their employment prospects. But business is no less stressful and certainly no more predictable than it was when Windshift conducted its first Right for the Times study in 2009. For most firms, business is hard, or at least, harder than it once was.

Our 2015 How to be Right for the Times study showed that many established brands find it difficult to resonate with the younger half of the population. Entire categories — like banking and motor vehicles — now struggle to rise above commodity status. Other industries are under threat from disruptive technologies or new pricing paradigms, offering, as Scott Galloway puts it: 60% of a great brand for 10% of the price.

H&M has just opened in Auckland – that’s their strategy. Zara is here too. So what will their competitors do now? Adapt to the situation or fade away? Even technology companies, the great disruptors themselves, feel the force of hyper-competition. Those that are [or aren’t] part of the current ‘conversation’ rise [and fall] in prominence.

When there’s general uncertainty, and a huge range of potential options it becomes difficult to know what to do to respond to disruptive competition. Many companies default to inertia, conservatism or frugality. They hold onto their cash and stick to what they know, hoping that all the volatility and complexity will cancel itself out so their profits can start to grow again.

That’s not a bet I’d make. Sitting tight and failing to adapt is like stopping in the middle of a race. Understanding your strengths and finding new and better opportunities to use them is a better strategy.

At the other end of the spectrum are the firms that fully embrace uncertainty and disruption. They diversify their efforts and spread their messages or initiatives across a wide range of opportunities, in the hope that at least one will work. This is the venture capitalist strategy and it can work if you have patience and deep pockets.

It can be spectacular if you happen to find – and dominate – a rich vein of change, as Uber did and Lyft didn’t. Unicorns [exceptional performers] are great, but if you back the wrong horse it hurts. Like a cat trying to catch a laser pointer, you can find yourselves hitting first this opportunity, then that, but never really sticking.

Between the two extremes of Avoiders and Embracers are the Adapters – firms that try to minimise the downside of disruption and maximise the upside.

For example they might cut the middle man out of their customer relationships and go direct. They reduce their costs, and insulate themselves from voices telling them that advertising is the future. This can work if they become integrated and ultra-responsive to those customers. But they also run the risk that their resources or expertise in-house will not be sufficient. If their focus is too narrow they may miss out on emerging opportunities or to fail to notice looming threats.

Other Adapters become very distinctive, ‘niching down‘ to the point that it becomes extremely clear to potential customers that they are the ones you go to for some very specific products and services. There is a risk that your specialisation may become obsolete, but short-term profitability is likely to compensate.

Alternatively they may build small monopolies of expertise or create compelling small-scale ‘network effects’. Google and Facebook have done this on a large scale and now have the deep pockets needed to try and fail at whatever they like. But before they got there, they were very clear about who they were and who they weren’t.

Yet others focus on building relationships and working as part of longer supply chains or in the network economy. They may collaborate in projects or form loose relationships with other like-minded groups or entrepreneurs. These chains and networks offer no lasting security but they do build a buoyant capacity to shift gear and adapt.

The flow on effects of each of these strategies create their own momentum. In some cases, like the shakedown that’s going on between mass advertising and social media, it seems there‘s a much more efficient business model just waiting to be born. If only birth wasn’t so difficult.

In other cases, unceasing volatility and reduced certainty builds jaded but resilient firms that can pivot in their sleep. Pivoting has created a veritable boom in the ‘re-imagining’, ‘restructuring‘ and ‘mergers and acquisitions’ industries.

There are definite rewards for those individuals, firms, organisations and countries that do embrace and adapt to change. But there can be difficult consequences for a society built on [baby boomer] assumptions of stability. Skills become obsolete, incomes can stagnate. Inequality and a two-paced economy is almost inevitable. We see that most clearly in the vast gap opening up in the US between Silicon Valley and the old industrial heartland .

However, with the momentum it has built up it’s clear that the pace of change will not relent. Our only option is to understand its rules and learn to prosper under these conditions.

If you want to think differently about how to live and do business in this relentless, scary, amazing world, please scroll down to join the Windshift Network and get brief but interesting weekly newsletters.

Is Your Business Starting to Struggle?

Business is so simple – it’s just an exchange of value between a willing seller and a willing buyer. Every day on auction sites like TradeMe, people do business.

But organising a business to keep on delivering that value, day in and day out for many  years, is hard – especially when the marketplace for your products or services is also in flux.

Smart companies will have some form of market intelligence in place so they get early warning of changes and can respond. But human nature being what it is, the reality is that when you’re flourishing, you stop looking and just expect the good times to continue.

When firms begin to struggle they may at first double down on what has worked in the past, to get them out of a hole. This is also human nature and often it works. If it doesn’t work they sometimes seek help straightaway. But mostly they begin panicking and blaming each other.

From this point on there are three main issues that can lead to a company’s ultimate demise.

1. Failure to Diagnose the Problem

Market researchers are often called upon at this point to come up with some new insight  that will help get them back on track. They go and talk to customers and potential customers and come back with  findings and recommendations. 

Most of these recommendations are just best guesses. Either they are based on what customers say they want – which is often only partially true – or – if the researcher is more savvy – what they interpret from the customer responses, but have not personally experienced.

It’s important to nail down what customers are really doing. Have the ground rules changed? Are they being affected by someone further up the food chain? Has someone offered them a significantly better deal?  Have you annoyed them in some way or become difficult to deal with compared to other firms?

But equally, you need to understand the ‘why’ – the big picture.  Are your competitors also struggling? Have market conditions changed – subtly or dramatically?

And you need to look at yourselves. Have you lost focus? Has the day to day overwhelmed the longer view?  Have you lost key staff or key clients?

Market research doesn’t usually cover big picture trends and internal issues. But in my strategic work I find these two sources of insight to be invaluable.

2. Failure to Implement Recommendations

Often there is a huge mismatch between what we think is possible and what can actually be implemented. Even  assuming your research findings are incontrovertible and the recommendations quite straightforward, companies often get in their own way.

Sometimes it’s because of individual ‘blockers’ who, for whatever reason, [strategic, conceptual, emotional, or just practical], need to stop things happening or to stave off having to change. You can identify struggling firms with blockers by the fact that though they have lots of ideas and plans, strangely nothing ever changes.

But mostly it’s collective or systemic factors that prevent coherent responses to business threats. . . Messages that get lost in translation as they travel from the ‘planners’ to the ‘doers’ . . .  an internal focus that doesn’t easily look outwards . . .  competing priorities – too many agendas or too little focus . . . .  an embedded way of doing things that doesn’t sit well with the recommended improvements . . .  inadequate tools that make change hard to implement . . . a failure to make anyone accountable. . . payments or rewards that incentivise other outcomes. . . . a high staff turnover . . . or worst of all, the departure of the person who was responsible for implementation at a critical time.

It’s amazing that change ever happens.

3. Failure to Implement Well

The general rule seems to be: what seems easy gets done – regardless of how important it is in the scheme of things.

Sadly, if you’re part of a company that’s struggling to make progress, or falling behind competitors, the things that are easiest for you to do may be the least useful when it comes to solving your underlying market problems.

There’s never just one simple intervention that will solve everything and there are many possible actions – such as restructuring or rebranding – that can create so much distraction internally, they may disrupt your  recovery.

Even when facing impending doom, a stressed out maladaptive company will have difficulty wholeheartedly buying in to a change of emphasis. That takes courage and focus, and the ability to dispassionately prioritise changes to  ensure survival.

Solution: Make It Insanely Easy To Succeed

Most struggling firms have a few key strengths they can build on, but also some major deficiencies. Sometimes they’re trying to do things [or meet the needs of clients] they just aren’t suited to. Often their markets have been disrupted and they haven’t been able to adapt fast enough. 

They will feel disheartened and risk-averse, so it’s very important that the implementation of their revised strategy feels like a positive experience.

Under the circumstances, and given what we know about people in struggling firms, the only way to guarantee their future success is to come back to the core of business and help them find a sweet spot where it becomes insanely easy for them to fulfil client expectations and attract new ones. 

This solution has several important qualities:

1. It helps to build a common frame of reference between a company and its clients – whether these relate to shared values, desired outcomes or performance standards – to encourage retention and referral.

So, for example, at the simplest  level, a struggling fish and chip shop might begin by acknowledging that their customers want fast, crisp, non-greasy, well-cooked food and resetting its systems and processes to achieve that every time.

Or a struggling accounting firm might recognise that it needs to rebuild some of its relationships with customers and develop a more practical and non-judgemental way of dealing with them.

2. It is based on a common understanding between the firm’s staff and its leaders – so that staff feel the leaders are supporting their efforts, rather than getting in the way.

Staff who have been consulted and who then see their insights and recommendations included in a company’s revised operational or marketing strategies can suddenly feel a lot more connected to the business and ready to go beyond.

But the common understanding needs to do more than that. It needs to express a shared view how the firm does business, the desired outcomes, the kind of behaviour that will be rewarded and the best kinds of  new business the firm is seeking. It’s the basis of culture and, especially in a service business, it is the basis of branding.

3.  It identifies necessary actions to support the solution and prioritises the most important.

Above all else, a struggling firm needs to focus its efforts on the factors that will make the most difference to their future – growing profitable customers, creating streamlined practices, making it easy for staff to do their job and for customers to say yes.

The leaders of the firm need to get out there, be seen, call on customers and build alliances, because activity increases positive perceptions. For the same reason, the company needs to update what needs updating – but not at the expense of the company’s financial health.

But unless new money is coming into the firm, financial investments need to be modest and targeted to critical success areas. Creativity is important and so is effective use of staff time. Experiments and pilot projects are encouraged, putting all your eggs in one basket is not.

Helping a struggling business to  recover is, above all else an exercise in psychology. It’s about helping people, with egos and possibly also livelihood on the line, to absorb bad news, improve their relationships, regain their confidence, up-skill where necessary, develop an experimental mindset and perform the delicate task of focusing on what matters while  avoiding tunnel vision.

It’s one of the most magical things you can do.

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