10 great TED Talks on careers

Appearing on In The Black Digital site, June 2019

Kavi Guppta presenting his TED talk, The Remote Work Revolution.

Kavi Guppta presenting his TED talk, The Remote Work Revolution.


Yes, you can find work that is fulfilling and inspiring, but rethinking your approach is sometimes the best way to get there. The speakers in these 10 inspiring TED Talks share their thoughts on how to have a great career.

1. Scott Dinsmore: How to Find Work You Love

In an era when so many people dislike their jobs, Dinsmore argues that it is possible to find work that will inspire you, if you can determine your true values and goals. He offers a framework for personal discovery through incremental steps and considered risks, pointing to the need to make connections with other people who share your passions, priorities and interests. He says the fundamental question you have to ask yourself is, “What work can you not do?”

2. Marie Claire Lim Moore: Why Asia Needs More Tiger Women – TEDxWanChai

Why are there so few Asian women in senior management positions in most Asian countries when so many do well in university? Marie Claire Lim Moore believes that the key reason is the belief that women’s primary role should be that of mother and wife, coupled with the reluctance of many companies to hire women after a career break.

She looks at the Philippines, which has a high proportion of women in senior roles, as an example of how to change expectations and attitudes.

3. Nigel Marsh: How to Make Work-life Balance Work

The author of Fat, Forty and Fired examines the concept of work-life balance, emphasising that success should be about how you live your life. A good life requires intellectual, emotional and spiritual fulfilment, all of which are unlikely to be achieved by “working long hours to earn money to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like”.

Each person must find balance for themselves and be aware of “the little things” that can, together, make for a full and happy life.

4. Larry Smith: Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career

Economist Smith examines the many excuses that people offer for not pursuing the passions that will lead to great careers, such as the excuse that great careers are only for eccentric, lucky or highly gifted people.

Smith dissects and dismisses the range of excuses, arguing that any individual can create and develop a great career. It requires courage, self-awareness, hard work and single-minded commitment, but great careers are the means to make the world a better place.

5. Kavi Guppta: The Remote Work Revolution – TEDxUWA

Guppta believes that technology has made remote work viable as a career option in many areas of activity. He advises that people trying to find work on this basis should emphasise their ability to organise themselves, work autonomously, and communicate across cultures.

Companies that want to use remote workers should start small and build up a network over time. While remote working is not for everyone, the number of people who want to take up the option is very likely to increase.

6. Carol Fishman Cohen: How to Get Back to Work After a Career Break

Returning to work after an extended break can be a challenge. Cohen offers a wealth of suggestions for “relaunchers”, from networking to find a job to updating working skills, especially in relation to technology.

She also looks at the intern-like options that some companies are offering to people returning to the workforce. A “testing-out period” can minimise the perceived risk that some employers attach to a returning worker. There can be substantial long-term benefits for both the worker and the company.

7. Jason Shen: When Looking for a Job Highlight Your Ability Not Your Experience

Shen notes that very few people hold jobs that line up directly with their experiences or their academic studies. But he believes that this is not necessarily a problem, if a job applicant can demonstrate relevant and high-level abilities, such as a special mode of problem-solving.

Equally, employers have to be willing to look past traditional metrics to identify people who are a good fit with the company and can bring innovative ways of working and thinking.

8. Susan Colantuono: The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get

Many women who want to move into senior corporate positions find themselves stuck in middle management, despite excellent peer reviews and relevant training. Colantuono believes that the missing piece is connecting professional strengths to the company’s strategic goals.

Most career advice that women receive, she says, focuses on personal development. Closing the gender gap at the top will require training and mentoring that make the need for alignment explicit, so that talented people can compete on a level playing field.

9. Susan Redden Makatoa: Flexible Working Should Be the Norm for Everyone – TEDxMacquarieUniversity

In her examination of flexible working, Makatoa notes that Australian legislation theoretically provides the right to flexible work to everyone but in practice it is mainly utilised by working mothers with young families.

This imbalance has created a feeling that this group has special privileges, leading to resentment from others. What is needed, says Makatoa, is a change of mindset so that flexible work rights are utilised by all. Some companies that have done this already have seen productivity enhancements and improvements in employee satisfaction.

10. Angela Lee Duckworth: Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Duckworth has conducted extensive research on why some people succeed where others fail and concludes that grit – the view that life should be approached as a challenging marathon rather than a sprint – is the determining factor.

Innately talented people often do not follow through on initiatives and fail to reach their objectives. People with grit are more likely to accept occasional failure as the price of learning, a process which often translates into long-term, sustainable career success.


Steve Jobs: How to Live Before You Die

Though not officially a Ted Talk, Steve Jobs’ commencement speech to Stanford University students examines how to see opportunities in setbacks, how to connect apparently disparate events of life, and how to find a career that can be a personal passion.

His concluding message is, “Stay hungry, stay foolish”.


Good questions, boss management

Appearing in In The Black magazine, April 2019


Questions Are the Answer

By Hal Gregersen

Harper Business, $27, 336 pages

Questions are the AnswerAs Director of the MIT Leadership Center, Gregersen has a special interest in why some business leaders are exceptionally successful. After conducting over 200 interviews he reached the conclusion that they ask the right questions. They do not ask many but they are good ones, capable of dissolving barriers to creative thinking and guiding the pursuit of new solutions. Drawing on this research, he explains how questions  can be structured to get to the core of an issue while pointing the way to clear action. A good question is a paradox: completely surprising yet entirely obvious.

While the research dealt with senior people Gregersen emphasises that active questioning is effective at any level of leadership. He examines the idea of the “question burst”, a team meeting centred around asking questions about an emerging challenge. The process usually leads to some innovative thinking and at least a few ideas worth further development.

The best questioners make an effort to find information and views outside their comfort zone. Breaking out of the bubble requires an effort but is needed for a fresh perspective. Good questions also require humility. Finding the right question, after all, is about accepting that you don’t know what you don’t know.


Cybersecurity Program Development for Businesses

By Chris Moschovitis

Wiley, $71, 225 pages

This book is written for business owners and executives whose education did not include cybersecurity, and as a result they do not know how to communicate with the company specialists. Moschovitis clearly knows a great deal about the field but he also knows how to explain the issues without undue techno-babble. He emphasises that there is no silver-bullet cybersecurity defence; the point is how to make good business decisions about what can be done to minimise risks and mitigate damage. He guides the reader through basic concepts without talking down to them, steadily progressing to risk evaluation and asset protection. He also explains what should be in an incident response plan and offers advice on cybersecurity training for employees and managers. Cybersecurity Program Development

The later chapters deal with cyber threats affecting machine learning, cloud computing and blockchain. There is also an important section on trends in regulation, essential from both governance and decision-making perspectives.

If read from cover to cover the book provides a comprehensive overview. However, it is structured so that readers can choose what is most relevant to them (although the first third is for everyone). It allows executives to not only know what questions to ask but to understand the answers as well.


Manage Your Boss

By Jonathan Vehar

Centre For Creative Leadership, $31 (e-book), 55 pages

This e-book is a short read but a pithy one, explaining how to manage upwards to minimise misunderstandings and friction. Vehar specialises in the design of business education programs and he believes that it is up to the person in the subordinate position to actively manage the relationship. This means finding out the preferred communication methods of the boss, how closely they want to oversee their reports, their methods for resource allocation, and how much information they wish to share. In each case it is up to the subordinate to adjust their working methods accordingly, although Vehar suggests ways to communicate to the boss when more direction or assistance is needed. It is generally more effective to approach the boss with a clear list of suggestions rather than vague open-ended questions.

Manage Your BossThere are numerous checklists that can help define, guide and develop the relationship, as well as interesting anecdotes. Along the way Vehar notes that your boss is usually obliged to look upwards to their own boss. The concluding chapter provides a four-step framework for discussions: pluses, opportunities, issues and new thinking. It is a straightforward, practical system, and a good way to build the trust that the relationship requires.




Downloadable research

A guide from Deloitte, Forecasting in a Digital World, underlines the extent to which advanced maths and machine learning have changed forecasting. The guide explains the basics of algorithmic forecasting and examines cases where the new tools have provided predictions that have been more accurate and timelier than traditional methods of data compilation and spreadsheet analysis.

forecastingThe key figure is the CFO, who is responsible for assembling and leading a team of people who understand both the business environment and the technology. The CFO also has the task of integrating the forecasts with the company’s strategic processes, including at the board level.

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In a TED Talk that mixes insight with humour, entrepreneur Chieh Huang explains how micromanagement leads to exhausted, dissatisfied employees and kills innovation. In fact, most senior managers are aware, when questioned, that micromanagement is counter-productive. Their attempts to do it usually stem from a desire to re-engage with ‘real’ work rather than managing managers.

He explains how managers have to understand their role, and step away from their instinct to micromanage. This entails an acceptance that employees might occasionally fail. Any short-term costs, however, are certain to be outweighed by increases in productivity and innovation.

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A new report by McKinsey, Megadeals: How Data and Analytics Can Dramatically Boost Success, discusses how business analytics can be used in large, complex deals. There is often a reluctance to apply data-based methods to big deals but the report authors believe that by drawing on multiple data sources – customer-relationship management, enterprise resource planning, sales reporting, and external data – it is possible to create rich datasets that can provide important insights.

Analytics can also provide early warning of possible problems and enhance risk management. Although the report focuses on large deals the authors believe that the processes can be used on deals of any type and scale.

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Hays Specialist Recruitment has released its Jobs Report for the period to June 2019, looking at the trends of skills in demand within the areas of commerce, professional practice and the public sector. While there is considerable diversity across the areas a common theme is an increasing demand for an understanding of analytics and cloud computing.

Graduate job applicants with these skills should provide details of their qualifications, and people who are seeking promotion or to change jobs should emphasise any upskilling they have done in these areas. This is to show that that they are both competent with the new fields and are willing to undertake continuous improvement.

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The Australian Cyber Security Centre has released the Australian Government cybersecurityInformation Security Manual to help organisations protect their information, networks and systems from cyber threats. The guidelines within the ISM are based on the experiences of the Centre and the Australian Signals Directorate.

The ISM is aimed at Chief Information Security Officers, Chief Information Officers, cyber security professionals and IT managers. The guidelines discuss both governance and technical concepts, with chapters on equipment management, database management, system hardening, outsourcing and data transfers. The entire document can be downloaded or individual chapters can be selected. A useful Security Assessment Aid is also available.

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Tales from the strange North


Appearing in the Weekend Australian, Review magazine, 5-6 May 2018


Defectors spill the beans on starving Hermit Kingdom


Ask a North Korean: Defectors Talk About Their Lives Inside the World’s Most Secretive Nation

By Daniel Tudor

Tuttle Publishing, 288pp, $29.99

North Korea: The Country We Love to Hate

By Loretta Napoleoni

UWA Publishing, 250pp, $19.99


It seems to hang on the hazy horizon, communicating by way of bizarre ­announcements and occasional explosions.

North Korea is such an unlikely country that it might be a parallel dimension, and would even be faintly comical if nuclear weapons were not in the mix.

The recent thaw in relations has shed some light on the power structures, but ­little is known about how ordinary people lead their lives.

Daniel Tudor’s remarkable book is a start on changing that. It is based on a weekly column, Ask A North Korean, published by an American online newspaper based in Seoul. The column invites readers to put questions to North Kor­ean defectors, and it is hugely popular in South Korea. The book is a series of in-depth interviews with four defectors, covering everything from politics to fashion.

Ask A North KoreanOne surprise is that so many people have ­escaped from North Korea. There are more than 30,000 living in Seoul and many more in China and elsewhere.

Perhaps it should not be surprising: a central theme of the book is the raw toughness of living in North Korea. Outside the major cities, hunger is an everyday reality; in the cities it is a little better but there is still not much food security.

The good news, such as it is, is that the economy is slowly improving. The famine of the 1990s was a turning point for the country. Shortages of everything brought the black ­market into the open, and a wave of small businesses sprang up to provide what the lumbering state-owned enterprises could not.

The government tolerated the move, knowing there was no alternative. Eventually, something like a private-sector economy running parallel to the state-managed system developed. It was enough to keep the country afloat, at least, and it has continued to grow.

One of the biggest businesses is the trade in television programs and news from South Korea and China, mainly on USB sticks, which has undercut the government’s monopoly on information. Another booming activity is the sale of home-brewed liquor — a way to escape from the grinding reality, presumably. Second-hand clothes from Japan are also big sellers.

For its part the government does not seem to be particularly interested in economic management. Kim Jong-un, like his father and grandfather, sometimes talks about “juche”, a loose idea of national self-reliance, and he seems to see small private businesses as fitting into the framework. He also says, according to several of the interviewees, that nuclear weapons are more important than food.

That, and the raising of the Kim clan to near-divine status. The rules of their veneration keep changing, leading to a level of confusion on what is required.

This can be dangerous, as any hint of a lack of love for the leader can mean a one-way trip to a prison camp, not just for the individual but for their entire family. It is like Stalin’s terror as performed by the Keystone cops. Most people just keep their heads down, go through the ­motions, and bow when they are supposed to.

The defectors in the book have little to say about the North Korean elite, mainly because it is largely separate from the general population.

They note, however, that since the economy began to privatise, many people in the circle around the Kim family have become very rich, usually from skimming a portion of government business.

This group is known as donju — “masters of money”. It appears that no one believes in socialism or juche any more.

For the elite, the goal is more money. For the Kims, it is staying in power. For most of the population, it is surviving.

If Ask a North Korean is the view from the bottom up, Loretta Napoleoni takes a different perspective in North Korea: The Country We Love to Hate. She claims the book is ­“dispassionate” but this is hard to accept. In fact, she has never been in the country (according to the book’s publishers), even though she makes a variety of claims about what she calls the North’s “glorious” past.

Some are strikingly odd: in her account of the Korean War, for example, she somehow neglects to mention the 300,000 Chinese ­soldiers who came in on the North’s side.

There might be a reason for this: she sees the North-South conflict as a proxy war between the US and the Soviet Union, and acknowled­ging China’s involvement would upset her ­paradigm.

This is not to say she wholeheartedly supports the current North Korean regime. She calls juche “the Scientology of totalitarianism” and points to the government’s involvement in the global drug trade and other illicit activities.

Nevertheless, Napoleoni seems to fall into that caste of European academics who take the view that any enemy of the US is at least ­worthy of a sympathetic hearing. She applauds Kim Jong-il (father of the current leader) for “outsmarting” Bill Clinton on a deal called the Agreed Framework, under which the US ­promised aid in return for North Korea freezing its nuclear program. In fact, North Korea reneged on the deal before the ink was dry, which Napoleoni sees as pretty clever.

Interestingly, she says sanctions will never be effective and any diplomatic contact is unlikely. Given this, it is hard to know what ­Napoleoni would make of the events of the past few months. She would probably say Donald Trump had nothing to do with it, that he just happened to bumble along at the right time.

It’s nonsense, of course.

Bellicose language, tougher sanctions, and a willingness to sit down to talk about nukes are the new elements Trump brought to the game, and the approach seems to have worked. How it will play out is still not known, but it might be appropriate to give some credit where it is due.


Teacher learning looks for new course

Appearing in Financial Review, Special Report: Your child’s education, 4 September 2017


Structural impediments holding back professional learning


Teacher development is a key element in improving education outcomes but there are structural impediments holding the profession back, according to experts in the field.

Lawrence Ingvarson“There is no shortage of evidence showing the link between ongoing training and student results,” says Dr Lawrence Ingvarson, Principal Research Fellow with the Australian Council for Educational Research. “There are plenty of courses and classes for teachers but the problem in Australia is that there is no real system or organisation to it, and, currently, no valid and reliable means for recognition of outstanding teachers.”

At present, primary and secondary school teachers are required, when seeking re-registration, to show that they have undertaken a minimum of 100 hours of professional learning over five years. This is overseen by a statutory body in each state, and the course a teacher does must be approved by the body.

“The theory of the requirement, which relates to professional standards, is to keep teachers aware of new advances in their field and in teaching methods,” says Dr Ingvarson. “In practice, it’s all pretty vague, with the criteria for approval of courses unclear. Most of all, there is a lack of clarity as to where a teacher needs to improve, how they can improve, and how they know if they have improved. Feedback is vital for professional learning, but rarely available.”

At the school level, professional learning is taken very seriously in some schools, especially upper-tier independent schools. In some cases, they even have administrative staff dedicated to professional learning, and the school has the resources to give teachers the time to undertake training.

“That’s fine, but those schools with fewer resources can have a real problem,” Dr Ingvarson says. “Their budgets are already under pressure, and if they have to engage a relief teacher to fill in for a few days when the regular teacher is away, it can quickly soak up available funds. So you can see how professional learning can slip down the priorities list.”

Even when a teacher improves their capability they can find it very difficult to implement what they have learned. A change in methods can be disruptive, and can take some time to show benefits. Teachers are often locked into a set curriculum and an established assessment system, which discourages new techniques.

Professional learning can take many forms, from full-time advanced degrees to short courses to online classes.

“There is an obvious interdependence between knowing more about subject content and improving your methods of communication and teaching,” says Dr Ingvarson. “Listening to lectures has its place but there also has to be practical work. Collaboration with other teachers is very valuable as a means of understanding students’ needs and engaging with them.”

While the diversity of learning opportunities has its advantages the downside is a lack of coherence. Many providers are privately-run training organisations, and the quality varies widely.

“At the moment, there is simply no feeling among teachers that they own the professional learning system,” says Dr Ingvarson. “Many providers see it as a way of making profits rather than tying what they offer to educational outcomes. When you compare that to the professional development system of, say, the accounting profession, where the industry associations play a key role, it should be no surprise that teachers feel that it is not there to serve them.”

One way to deal with the issue is a system of professional certification, to recognise teachers who have reached high levels of achievement through professional learning. There are moves under way to establish such a system through the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, although it is fragmented across states and employing authorities .

ACER recently examined the need for a rigourous national certification system in a major paper for the Business Council, and the response has been positive.

“Certification would be a critical way to promote widespread use of evidence-based practices,” Dr Ingvarson says. “At the same time, it would provide a means to improve pay rates for accomplished teachers. At the moment, the incentive for teachers to improve their capacity to do their job is weak.”

He believes that a certification system would offer a better career path for teachers and do much to improve the status of the profession. It would help to attract talented people into the profession and retain those who are there.

“Who really believes that a top salary for classroom teachers of about $90,000 means we place sufficient value on teachers’ work to attract the best university graduates?” he says. “Who really believes that the typical office spaces in which teachers are expected to prepare and assess student work are indicators of an attractive and esteemed profession?

“At present, the principles and values of professional learning are understood and recognised. The task now is to create a system to take it forward.”


Chinese characters

Appearing in In The Black, August 2107


The latest wave of Chinese immigrants who have come to Australia can be a crucial bridge between the two countries, according to Barry Li, a CPA who has made his home in Sydney but retains strong links with his homeland.

He has set out his views in a recent book, The New Chinese*, which examines the cultural differences between China and Australia, and offers advice on how to do business in China.Barry Li

He is well-placed to know. He came to Australia in 2004 after gaining a BA in Economics from the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, planning to study for a Masters of Commerce degree at Macquarie University.

“It was hard to choose between China and Australia when I was younger,” he says. “My wife felt the same way, but when we found out we were going to raise a baby, we decided that Australia was definitely the better option.”

After a stint in PwC Sydney he now works as an auditor in the Audit Office of New South Wales. “I consider myself a very lucky person with the best boss in the world. My director Renee Meimaroglou has given me enormous support for writing this book during an audit busy season.”

Li notes that Chinese come to Australia for many different reasons, and since the mid-1990s, more and more of them chose to return after a period of study or work.

“A degree from an Australian university is very highly valued in China, and if you want to go up in the business sector you are expected to have overseas experience and proficiency in English. In accounting, Australia is seen as especially important because of its early adoption of international standards. The CPA designation also carries a great deal of weight professionally.”

Adapting to Australian business culture is not always easy for Chinese, whose education emphasises technical abilities rather than ‘soft’ skills. There is a deeply-ingrained deference for authority, whether it is government, teachers, or workplace superiors. In Australian workplaces and educational institutions, there is a greater willingness to ask questions, act independently, and try new approaches.

Li decided that he could use his experience to help others by taking up a mentoring role within the CPA framework. This eventually led to him becoming the chairman of the CPA NSW Young Professionals Committee. He sees mentoring as a good way to show Chinese and other immigrants how they can better express themselves and adapt to new social norms.

He believes that many Australians do not really understand China and the Chinese. Many people think of China as still in the early economic development stage even though several decades of remarkable growth have given it a huge number of aspiring middle-class consumers. In fact, a major issue in China is that everything, especially property, has become extremely expensive.

“It is difficult to buy property in the major cities in China so many people look overseas. Often, several generations of a family will pool money to buy a property, which means they are able to pay much more than a couple depending on their own income and savings. My wife and I encountered this when we were trying to buy our first home, so I can understand the frustration of people who feel they are being priced out of the property market by investors from China. On the other hand, you can look at that desire to invest as a vote of confidence in Australia.”

Li believes that Chinese immigration to Australia will remain strong for the foreseeable future, and that the economic linkages will continue to increase. “Australia offers excellent investment and work opportunities as well as wonderful quality of life,” he says. “I remain proud of my Chinese heritage but Australia is a great place to call my home.”


* The New Chinese: How They Are Changing Australia, Barry Li, published by Wiley, $29.95.

  Dine show displays breadth, versatility, and creativity

Appearing on Culture Concept site, July 2017



Jim Dine is sometimes categorised as a Pop artist but a new exhibition of his prints at the National Gallery Victoria (International) shows the real breadth and creativity of his work. Jim Dine: A Life in Print displays 100 works covering 45 years. The prints are part of a gift of 249 works donated by the artist to the NGV collection.

Dine originally became known as one of the group of New York artists including Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg in the 1960s, although he never saw his work as ‘Pop’. But the grouping is understandable, as Dine often chose everyday objects as his subject matter. He produced, for example, a long series of prints of dressing gowns, originally derived from an advertisement.Dine Robes

At another level, he also produced extremely realistic drawings and prints of tools, such as hammers, saws, axes, and even nutcrackers. This interest in mechanical processes, which also informed his precise attitude towards printmaking, stemmed from his upbringing: he was raised by his grandparents, who owned a hardware store.

However, as his work evolved through the 1980s he became more experimental, combining printing techniques to obtain certain effects and “interfering” (his word) in the printing process to produce one-off rather than replicated prints. He also began to use innovative materials. Blue Crommelynck Gate (1982) is a lithograph printed with black and silver ink on a surface painted with synthetic polymer, for instance. In this sense, Dine presaged the current trends of printmaking towards mono-prints and the fusion of commercial with fine art techniques.Blue Crommely Gate 1982

Along the way, Dine drew on subjects as varied as skulls, birds and the Eiffel Tower (he is now based in Paris) for prints and drawings. He has also produced portraits and self-portraits, usually as lithographs.

Even in his eighties, Dine continues to create prints, as well as paintings and sculptures. He has, he says, a wealth of ideas for new works and no plan to stop creating.

Dine self 2008 litho



The show Jim Dine: A Life in Print is on display at the NGV International until 15 October 2017.


Living with the dragon

China Matters: Getting It Right For Australia

By Bates Gill and Linda Jakobson

LaTrobe University Press, $30, 256 pages, ISBN 9781863959179


No-one disputes that China matters to Australia, and is going to matter more in the future. The issue, according to China-watchers Gill, from ANU, and Jakobson, of the Lowy Institute, is how the relationship can be successfully managed and developed.

They spend the first section of the book showing how intertwined China and Australia have become through trade. China and the Chinese people appear to have good attitudes towards Australia but their greater emphasis is on assuming a pre-eminent strategic position in Asia and the world. Gill and Jakobson note, for example, that special deals on trade can easily turn into coercive levers when political disputes arise. Businesses should take note of this, even while trying to develop as many connections as possible, building on past successes to move up the value chain. Within Australia, there needs to be more emphasis on learning Chinese in schools and more focus on China from Canberra.

A crucial question that Gill and Jakobson ask is how to hold onto Australian principles while deepening engagement with China. There is no simple template but they put forward some illustrative examples, such as reiterating that Australian citizens of Chinese background are subject to Australian law, not Chinese law. Equally, Australia should continue to speak out about violations of human rights in China, even if it causes discomfort in Beijing. Honesty is an important part of a good relationship.

China Matters should be read by anyone doing business with China. It is not always an easy book, but it is an important one.

China Matters