The power of the coach

Geoffrey Wade knows the power of coaching; he delivers it to his corporate clients for a living. He spoke at the invite-only Connect Collaborative in Brisbane last week, sharing some of the research that informs his practice and some of the lessons he has learned.

Surprising to many in the room, including this little black duck, he shared research showing that coaching more than doubles performance in areas of “complex activity, like sales”. Given the dependency of any business on sales this makes a pretty compelling case.

He also noted that four in five people rate themselves as good to excellent coaches, but measurement shows that less than one in ten actually do even the most basic first step in successful coaching, pay attention to what the person is doing.

Geoff Wade of Onirik
Geoffrey Wade of Onirik

Mr Wade believes that coaching is basically a process of helping people to improve their practice and so it makes sense that you need to watch and measure the existing behaviours as a first step to improving them.

He said the other mistake that is almost universally made is that we manage people by measuring their results. “Telling the best performers that you want to raise their targets might work, because they know what they are doing,” he said, “but that is not going to get you radically different results. The way to really make a difference is to turn around the people who are struggling, they sometimes perform and sometimes do not. They do not know what they are doing wrong and it is your role as coach to help them work that out. No-one wants to be a poor performer, it is simply that they do not know the techniques required to improve.”

As we all nodded sagely at the self-evident logic of what he was saying, in full knowledge that most of us have been making all the mistakes he pointed out, he dropped a bombshell that woke up the room and refocused our attention.

“To get this right,” he said, “You have to follow a simple ratio. Praise everyone five times, for each time you offer them corrective feedback.”

His research indicates that there is no point hammering people for poor performance, you simply crush their morale and cause them to lose interest. The praise, he says, is the sweetener that encourages them to want to perform, the corrective action is the support and advice they need to do so.

“It might help to remember not to criticise a mistake or poor performance the first time you see it.”

Geoffrey excludes safety issues from this general rule, noting that they have to be called out as soon as they are observed. The rest though can be run through the ‘zip your lip’ filter. “The first time is random, the second time is co-incidence and the third time is a pattern.” He finds this equally applicable to parenting, sports coaching and business. “If you say to someone, I have watched you do that twice before and now I see you doing it again, clearly this is something we need to address, they know you are on the ball. They also know that you are not going to tolerate poor performance and that you are not prone to knee jerk reactions. That is a pretty powerful way to earn someone’s respect.”

He said that the absolutely worst technique ever taught to manager and coaches is the “sandwich technique” known at the school I went to as the “shit sandwich technique”. “You are doing a good job, Jim. Your sales numbers are not good enough, but the customers love you and that’s important.”

Not only does burying the corrective advice between two layers of praise confuse the message every time you use it, repeating the pattern undermines your credibility. Everyone soon works out that you are using a formula and it reduces the value of the comment and the respect in which you are held. “If there is one message I want you to take away from this it is to dump that technique. Write it on a paper and burn it, wave rooster feathers over it and tear it in half, whatever ritual you need to use to cleanse your mind, do it. You must never, ever, use the sandwich technique again.

The Anti-Shop is in the precinct

Introducing herself as the Anti-Shop, Jacq Driscoll told a Circular Economy meetup in Brisbane’s T.C.Bierne Startup Precinct that her mission is to empower people to make, fix and share stuff, instead of buying new goods.

jacq Driscol of Biome and Alec Newman of FLSmidth
Jacq Driscoll hears out Alec Newman of FLSmidth on industrial sustainability

She said that she had worked on the shop floor assisting customers for about three months when she asked the manager of the Biome Eco-store if her commitment to the environment extended to showing customers how to save money and the environment by not shopping.

Founder, Tracey Bailey was so supportive of the project she created the community workshop arm of the Biome Eco-Store and put Jacq in charge of it.

Ms Driscoll has since worked up a full education program teaching people the value of Refusing, Reusing and Repurposing before considering the energy and resource wasteful options of recycling and discarding.

“You cannot under-estimate the power of saying No,” she told the audience of 40 people interested in discussing ways to promote and implement the Circular Economy. “Do I really need this item, do I need it in this form, and do I need it now?” She suggested that more often we say no to these questions, the less money we spend and the more resources and energy we save. She described that act of resisting the urge to spend is a fundamental and profound shift from the dominant consumer paradigm that encourages us to want more.

She referred to the wave of eco-grief undermining the morale of many people who care about the environment noting, “Bring it back to those things that you can influence. Saying No to unnecessary purchases is empowering on a number of levels”.

Jacq Driscoll and fellow presenter on the evening, Dr Manuela Taboada, both highlighted the comment of one audience member that discussions about consumer power are highly privileged because they are restricted to those with enough money, time and mobility to make consumer choices.

 “I am lucky to have the time and the cash to pack my kids’ school lunches,” she said, “let alone worry about the packaging on the bread I buy.”

Dr Taboada grew up in Brazil and has studied waste and recycling in many developing nations and agreed with the observation 100%, “I am passionate about the social dimension of waste,” she said, “and it is obvious to me that waste is power. The refusal by China and other Asian countries to accept our dirty pizza boxes and soiled single use plastics is simply a shift in the power imbalance that has allowed us to dump our waste on them.”

Ms Driscoll added that learning to fix, make and share things is empowering across class and offers special benefits to those who do not have the money to make choices about their consumption.

Interminable conversations

Birds do it. Bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let’s do it, Let’s fall in love
Cole Porter 1928

There is no doubting the power of conversation as a communication tool. The best preachers and the biggest stadium rock bands mimic traditional call and response to engage the audience and drive home the memory if not the message.

Climate for change is the latest grass roots movement to adopt the pattern to drive for specific outcomes.

  1. “What do we do as individuals [to prevent climate change]?’
  2. “How effective is that?”
  3. “Would it be more effective to lobby government to change the regulations than to change our light globes?”
  4. Let’s agree that we should use our collective energy to lobby government.

Get Up eplored a conversational approach in the 2016 election campaign, refined and rolled it out as a significant component of its 2019 platform.

The ALP says that it is using it, but it stops short of allowing a second voice in the conversation, so can not be genuinely included as a data point in this analysis.

The Greens have been using it in one form or another since 2013. Adam Bandt employed what his campaigners called the Barack Obama strategy in his first successful election campaign. Obama had taken his inspiration from Chicago community activist Saul Alinsky and his book Rules for Activists via

Keep this manual safe and confidential.

Bandt’s campaign manual was taboo in the Australian Greens, for a variety of reasons, some practical, some factional, some relating to inertia. It had the words, “Keep this manual safe and confidential. Do Not Share” emblazoned across the inside cover. As a result, the South Brisbane Greens fought the 2013 campaign against Kevin Rudd in Griffith directly following Saul Alinsky’s principles and simply told everyone we were using the “Bandt model”. When Rudd resigned in 2014 we campaigned against Terri Butler in the by-election using the official playbook and paid Get Up’s Simon Sheikh to send some staff to come and train us in the fine print of the technique.

Following that, the model has become de-rigueur in The Greens and has spread through other environmental and activist groups as outlined above.

The most recent incarnation of the two-decade old training by Al Gore’s Climate Action has now added conversational techniques to its armoury.

The failure of all this conversing to make a “Climate Election” out of the 2019 contest for control of the Australian Federal Parliament simply brings The Greens, Climate Action, Climate for Change and Get Up to the same point.

The populace is not sufficiently moved by the evidence of the damage they inflict on future generations or the world’s poor to give up their four-wheel drives, steak dinners, international holidays and other benefits of continuous economic growth.

We need not argue about why this is the case, that is fairly straight forward, we do need, however, to discuss what we can do to engage the natural morals and humanity of the silent majority.

The reasons that people do not want to engage are spelled out in the uncompromising and terrifyingly honest video snip, “Deep Adapatation” by Jem Bendell.

The contract is broken – We are not in control any more,”he points out.

To paraphrase: the very real and well understood danger that we may become extinct in the lifetime of people living today, leads directly to the breakdown of the fundamental promise that has underpinned liberal democracy. That promise has been that life will continue to get better, as long as we stick to the rules. As a consequence, people are no longer sticking to the rules.”

The impact is that veteran campaigners are giving up, declaring the end of social democracy and the failure of the climate movement. In April this year John James wrote his final weekly newsletter, opening with the words:

“For more than three decades I have been spreading news of the climate crisis during the years when we could have made a difference, and at no moment in all that time has the good news outshone the bad.

“I am 88. I gave my first public talk on ecology and the warming planet in 1982. I am weary of reiterating increasingly miserable news. We all know where we are heading. We won’t be bored in the years that remain to us.”

These campaigners express disappointment that we did not make the change that had to be made to avoid the position we are in now but in a very real way they have simply switched gear accepting the inevitable. They have not given up campaigning, they have simply given up trying to bring the mainstream with them.

I interviewed Richard Heinberg in 2008 about his scenario analysis PowerDown. I pointed out to him that based on the political landscape at the time his Lifeboat scenario seemed more likely than any of the others. He was shocked. “I had to include that for completeness in the spirit of scenario analysis, but it is the worst case scenario. That is what we need to do if none of the other scenarios eventuate.”

On the other hand, the youth is newly energised to pick up where their elders have left off.

The Extinction Rebellion, the Climate Emergency are declarations that reflect the urgency so cogently declared by Greta Thornburg. That does not resolve some of these inherent tensions, though. When Greta declared that Sustainability is dead, Climate Change is everything, the fractious nature of the discussion that emerged must have made fossil fuel magnates extremely warm and comfortable.

Recently, a number of young women who have expressed serious concern about their decision to bear children in the face of a possible extinction event. I grew up in the shadow of the Atomic era, I was born at the height of the Cold War. I missed being conscripted to Vietnam by five years. As youngsters we expressed intellectual concern about the morals of bringing children into this world, but all the women my age who discussed with me their reasons not to breed were driven by rather more selfish reasons. Children are an expensive luxury in a neo-liberal society.

These deep, life changing decisions by thoughtful people whom I respect are symptoms of the alarm generated by the possibility of extinction and the certainty that we are at the end of growth.

The reality is that we have to go far beyond conversations that bring the mainstream voter into the conversation, we absolutely have to take action to begin to build a post-growth, post-carbon world. That requires more than conversations or lobbying politicians, that requires radical action, leading to radical change.

Simon Sheikh of Future Super in January 2014
Simon Sheikh of Future Super ex-Get Up acted on establishing an income stream before setting up a business training people in the conversational approach.

It may well be that the organisations that have engaged directly in the financial system, Future Super, Planet Ark two name just two, despite their flaws, offer a significant clue.

Circular economy funding needs oversight, suggests Responsible Wood

With governments funding startups in the social enterprise and circular economy space there is a need to keep an eye on the outcomes being delivered, according to representatives of Responsible Wood.

Mark Thomson and Jason Ross have worked with the timber and paper industry to developed agreed frameworks for marking wood-based products as sustainable. As a result, they understand the need for agreement as well as the challenges. Great Notion’s Geoff Ebbs met with them in Brisbane today (Thursday, June 20) to discuss the lessons they have learned and how they might be applied in the circular economy and social enterprise space.

Mark Thomson is the director of Responsible Wood and is concerned that a lack of oversight might damage the reputation of the movement and lead to its dismissal by mainstream business.

“The implicit assumption that a startup is good just because it is a social enterprise or identifies with the circular economy, may need to be challenged,” he told Great Notion.

Marketing manager, Jason Ross pointed out that if the overarching aim is to spread the concepts of the circular economy as broadly as possible into the business community, then it is critical that the concepts are clearly understood and communicated.

“Business and government really need to address social and environmental viability as well as economic considerations,” added Mark. “Poor implementation could undermine that.”

“We saw in early sustainability standards that hasty implementation of environmental standards discredited the idea of sustainability,” he said. His experience is primarily in timber and paper, but our discussion ranged across similar experience in technology standards, water and sewage recycling and the interactions between rich and poor nations through international programs designed to help that fall into disrepute.

Great Notion and Responsible Wood
Geoff Ebbs, Jason Ross and Mark Thomson discuss certification and standards

Mark observes that there is a natural tension between encouraging innovation and diversity on one hand, and managing processes to ensure a common purpose on the other.

“My experience indicates that certification and standards provide an enabling platform that encourages innovation in an orderly manner and avoids catastrophic failure that is damaging to reputation as well as slowing progress.”

He points out that in the timber industry separate standards developed by environmental groups and industry groups developed from divergent starting points but have evolved to accommodate each other and create a working, global set of standards.

Jason Ross adds that any working agreement between different groups involves compromise, but it is important to ensure that those compromises do not undermine the fundamental intent of the agreement by embedding poor practice as standard.

Great Notion is engaged in ongoing discussions with Responsible Wood about presenting the advantages of the Circular Economy and a Zero Growth Economy to business.

The best and worst of recycling

Agricultural use of single-use-plastics dwarves domestic use, Jenny Brown of Envorinex told a crowd of forty at The Precinct in Brisbane last night. The good news is that the company which she founded and heads as managing director, is doing something about it.

A manufacturer of plastic goods for industrial and infrastructure applications since 2003, Ms Brown has been waging war on waste by recycling as much plastic as possible and delivering goods made from 100% reclaimed waste in the bulk of her products.

Jenny Brown of Envorinex at the Circular Economy Meetup - June 2019
Anshu Sisodia and Jenny Brown of Envorinex with friend at Brisbane’s Circular Economy meetup for World Environment Day in June

“Plastic can be re-used hundreds of times and last for centuries if it is properly processed,” she said, “the important thing is to get it right the first time.”

Some of Envorinex greatest successes include the processing of tonnes of bags and tubes used to deliver saline solution in hospital and converting that into clips, mats and other products.

“All of the goods that leave our factory can be recycled again, and again and again,” she said.

Envorinex is based in northern Tasmania and employs around twenty full time staff on two different production lines, reclaiming and processing waste and producing a range of products from railings for roads, non slip mats for oil rigs, through to simple clips and accessories for a range of applications.

Ms Brown is in Queensland to explore the establishment of a processing plant to recycle a significant portion of the agricultural waste from the southern half of the state.

Her presentation included images of tonnes of single use plastic discarded by strawberry and livestock farmers. Envorinex also processes hard plastics recovered from mines and Tasmania’s very active salmon and oyster farming industry. The stanchions and frames used to contain the fish or on which the oysters grow, are replaced every three to five years and include many tonnes of plastic.

She said that the enemy of recycling is contamination. This is not so much the organic material that attaches to the plastic as the ropes, clips and other attachments that have to be removed manually, vastly increasing the cost of handling and recycling.

He also noted that most manufacturers reduce costs by mixing substances such as sawdust with virgin plastics to reduce costs and by skimping on other additives that ensure longevity and recyclability.

Answering a question from the audience about domestic use of single-use-plastics she said that Envorinex deals exclusively with industrial and agricultural waste because domestic waste is so contaminated that it is almost impossible to recycle.

“This is why the waste from Australia and other rich countries has been rejected by China, India and Malaysia. They simply cannot process it,” she said. The problem is partly that packaging is often made from a mixture of products that cannot be effectively separated as well as the poor handling and sorting on the part of domestic users.

She also noted that there are some applications, such as hospital equipment, where single use plastics are necessary but, that generally speaking, single use items are the major problem.

More information is available from the Envorinex website

Growth, or not, and a little Wisdom

A public discussion on the Post-Growth Future for Business held at University of Queensland generated far-reaching discussion last Friday, 7th June.

Dr Cle-Anne Gabriel
Dr Cle-Anne Gabriel at UQ Business School

Hosted by Dr Cle-Ann Gabriel, who is researching business models for sustainability, the event outlined the reasons for considering an end to growth, the challenges that poses for business and some approaches that can help business flourish in a post-growth environment.

Key among the ideas was that individual businesses can grow in a zero growth economy, the challenge is where the degrowth comes from to balance that out.

Dr Gabriel provided an overview of the philosophical underpinnings of zero-growth, the difference between degrowth (it is a process that can be applied to specific areas, such as developed countries, to move toward a post-Growth economy) and post-Growth, and a list of the challenges facing economists.

Dr Michelle Maloney

Dr Michelle Maloney, codirector of the New Economy Network, walked through the recent history of growth and the increasing influence of finance as a result of neo-liberalism and some of the tools being used to replace economic growth in specific communities.

Associate-Professor Bernard McKenna

Associate Professor Bernard McKenna focused on the nature and application of wisdom. He pointed out that the application of theory and dogma to economic management and in governance generally can lead to harsh and unintentional harm, if is applied without the ameliorating impact of wisdom.

The complimentary and thorough talks generated vigorous and wide ranging discussion in the workshops raising a number of interesting questions and observations.

One very challenging observation was that the exponential curves of the “Great Acceleration” all follow similar trajectories to that of population. If deforestation, plastic pollution, ocean acidification, falling water tables, disappearing ice etc are all functions of overpopulation, then this leads to the challenging idea that reducing population would solve all the other problems on its own. That in turn leads to the uncomfortably cynical observation that the inaction of the world’s richest nations on climate change and their increasing hostility to immigration could well engineer such an outcome by simply letting three quarters of the world disappear in an ecological catastrophe.

Professor McKenna’s work on Wisdom would obviously not accommodate such a conclusion.

Dick Smith and Geoff Ebbs discuss degrowth

Entrepreneur and adventurer Dick Smith is no stranger to controversy.

Dick Smith on the ABC discussing food sovereignty
Dick Smith appeared on the ABC discussing Australian food production

Over the years he has threatened to run against Tony Abbott, as well as starting a range of ventures that can only be described as profit for a purpose. Dick Smith foods for example was set up with the sole purpose of keeping Australian food processors in Australian hands.

In this interview with Geoff Ebbs, Dick Smith discusses the end of growth and the challenges inherent for capitalism in that concept.

Dick and Geoff discuss growth and capitalism in this two minute snip from a 15 minute interview.

The interview was first aired on The Generator, a weekly radio show on Byron Bay’s Bay FM that ran from 2005 until 2009.

Schoolkids stump speakers at Climate Week Event

Questions from students and millennials went unanswered last night at the first of the Climate Week Speakers Series held by CitySmart at the State Library in South Brisbane last night (Tuesday).

Questions from students and millennials went unanswered last night at the first of the Climate Week Speakers Series held by CitySmart at the State Library in South Brisbane last night (Tuesday).

“How can you maintain hope in the face of the Climate Emergency when it is clear that the general public really does not care?” came the earnest plea from a young woman after articulately the outlining the causes for despair.

“What is the intersection between recycling and climate change?” asked one twelve year-old, whose primary education obviously extends includes an understanding of the issues beyond the majority of panellists on the stage. Certainly they failed to come close to interpreting the question, let alone answering it. “Embedded energy,” would have been a good start, as long as it was followed by a sensible and straightforward explanation.

It was a far cry from what we got, however. Angela Heck of CitySmart did a good job of introducing the guests and managing the panel but she had her work cut out.

The panel at Climate Week Speaker Series
Farmer Greggie, Angela Heck, Roy Tasker, Sabrina Chakori at CitySmart’s Climate WeekSpeakers event

Farmer Gregie from 4 Real Milk has made a name for himself on breakfast television with his colloquial language, his upside down milk bottle trick (in which the cream on the unhomogenised milk keeps the milk in the bottle) and his heartfelt pleas for consumers to consider the plight of farmers. His rhetoric is not up to the job of considering the difficult issues at hand, though, and he manages to terribly mangle the facts on regenerative farming and carbon sequestration, which is a pity as he is making a valid point. The underlying current of climate denial does not help, though it probably explains his popularity on free-to-air TV.

Professor Roy Tasker from Planet Ark presented an overview of DrawDown, Paul Hawken’s roadmap for energy descent aimed at governments and community leaders. He crossed horns with farmer Gregie by pointing to the facts on global meat production and climate change, while conceding that industrial harming produces most pollution as well as harming animals and the local environment. That he did not acknowledge the important role of animals in regenerative farming is partly due to the complexity of the issue and partly due to the mess that Farmer Gregie had already made of the topic.

Tasker also forgot to stress the importance of getting the plans in DrawDown into the hands of our rulers, simply asserting that it is time to act and telling the assembled and experienced activists to write letters and use social media to enhance their activism. That promotion of clicktivism grated on the many climate activists in the room who have been on the barricades for decades and are looking for real messages of hope in what is a frightening and truly dire situation. When two women in their twenties seriously question the value of procreation due to failure to act on this major challenge we need stronger action than facebook is able to provide.

Professor Roy Tasker knows the place is burning
Professor Roy Tasker of Planet Ark knows the world is burning

Unfortunately, he presented an over-simplistic view of smart electricity meters and completely failed to explain their role in building a more flexible electricity network. He also struggled to answer the most basic questions about the energy balance in a domestic home, the role of biogas, and the embedded energy in a solar panel.

Sabrina Chakori more than made up for the lack of brain power in her male companions and presented a lightning walk through the research she has done toward her PhD. She is studying and running a volunteer not for profit Tool Library at the Queensland State Library because she has drawn the conclusion that we need to reconsider the role of growth if we are going to solve the problem of living on a planet with finite resources and a growing population.

She reminded the panel more than once that recycling consumes resources and corrupts materials (see our piece Recycling is just rubbish) and that we cannot consume our way out of the climate crisis and social injustice. Unfortunately, her questioning of the role of economic growth is not going to get her a seat opposite David Koch and so breakfast viewers will continue to see the likes of farmer Gregie assert that volcanoes produce more greenhouse gas than humans instead of an anything approaching reasonable analysis.

Despite my bitching and moaning, CitySmart has done a great job of crafting a panel and thus an event that has both public appeal and generates real discussion. It is just that, like the un-named millennial with whom I opened the article, I cannot help but despair at what appeals to the public.

Relevant articles

Discussion thrives at Griffith Circular Economy event

Over fifty delegates kicked off a lively discussion about the role of the Circular Economy for small business at Griffith University, Southbank, yesterday, Thursday, 30th May.

The Queensland Small Business Week Event #QSBW had businesses grilling government, academics and practitioners about tools to implement the strategies discussed, government support for innovation and long term impacts on the economy.

Liesl Hull from Suez presented examples of practitioner success
Liesl Hull from Suez presented examples of practitioner success

Geoff Ebbs of Great Notion hosted a panel with Dr Robert Hales, Director of Griffith’s Centre for Sustainable Enterprise and Marjon Wind, of CE Labs and BMI. Speakers inlcuded Syliva Garner from Queensland Department of Environment and Science, Petra Perolini of the Queensland College of Art and Liesl Hull from waste conglomerate Suez.

Griffith University will launch a course for business leaders in July, in the same timeline CE Labs will announce the outcome of the 3 month process they launched in February and Great Notion will begin a roadshow through business networks and chambers of commerce.