Why the real way to tidy up our rivers is to teach kiwis to pitch

by Daniel Batten on January 18, 2018

Firstly this is not a click-bait joke title.

There is 100% certainty in my mind that the fastest way to clean up our badly neglected rivers is to clean up one of our badly neglected skills – which I’m sorry to say we currently suck at by international standards.

OK – let’s look at the evidence.

In 1984 when I was in form 4 social studies (stop doing the math on my age and stay with me here) – we were told that “NZs butter exports to the UK were dwindling now UK had joined the common EU market – and we had to create DIVERSITY for our export base to survive and thrive.

In 2017 – a generation later – the Internet has taken over our lives, breakdancing has come and gone and come and gone again, a pocket phone is more powerful than a 1984 military supercomputer – and … New Zealand has diversified its economic model from “sell butter to England” to “sell milk powder to China”

… oh, and get 10x more tourists visiting the remaining parts of our country that aren’t dairy-farms. Anyone see the flaw here?

It’s a lack of vision that successive govts have failed to act on. I’m not criticising them – just observing. I don’t actually think its govt responsibility to act – it’s OUR responsibility as kiwis.

So that’s why today our export earning industries are in reverse order — drum role please…

  • 2nd runner-up: Technology – well done. A creditable performance. From nowhere in 1984 to #3 today.
  • 1st runner up: Dairy! – commiserations on being pipped at the post
  • 1st place and new reigning champion: Tourism.

What does this really say about us?

It says that “we have found more value in our cows, lakes and mountains than in our people.” Ouch. Do we believe that the udder of a cow contains more potential value than the mind of a technology entrepreneur? I hope not.

Clearly – there is more potential value in the mind of the tech entrepreneur. That’s not conjecture – that’s fact. The obvious fact that Singapore and Japan built successful technology-based economies, despite having limited natural resources. It’s the reason that California is the world’s 5th largest economy – despite being a desert. Sure they grow almonds, but its technology not almonds that are the reason they are a huge economy.

Tech, tech and tech. Why have we not got the message yet?

Who cares – that’s a bad question. Let’s ask a better question – “What can we do so that we milk the value in the heads of our smart tech-entrepreneurs better than we milk our cows?” Now there’s a question worth answering. It turns out that the problem is not that kiwis aren’t innovative.

I know – in my work with GEMS (Geniuses, Engineers, Mavericks and Scientists who run tech companies) I see stunning levels of innovation that is higher per capital than anywhere else in the world we’ve seen.

We have the highest number of patents per capita of any nation on earth. You can debate that this isn’t a reliable measure – and you’re right, but it points to some things that are reliable.

Here’s 3 questions for you: Guess the nationality of the person who was:

  1. first in the world to invent smart email on a smartphone?
  2. first in the world to invent predictive online search
  3. first in the world to hydrofoil a fast-catermaran

That last one was a giveaway. If you answered “kiwi” for each one – you’re right. Yet until this year – who profited from these innovations? – Apple, Google and Oracle.

This year’s America’s Cup is evidence that we have the ability to not only come up with tech innovation, but to go a step further and use it to win on the global stage. But we’ve got to start doing this outside the domain of just sport to lift up our whole nation. How do we do that? Simple.

If our problem is not “lack of innovation” then what is our lack? I asked these 2 question to over 30 audiences over the last 3 years. Almost always with the same answer.

  1. Where do you think kiwis rate on the global stage when it comes to innovation – high or low? – Answer: High (29 out of 30 times)
  2. Where do you think kiwis rate on the global stage when it comes to communicating the value of our innovation – high or low? – Answer: Low (30 out of 30 times).

There’s your answer – in order for New Zealand to reap the fruits of her technology innovation we must move from a nation of technology innovators to value communicators.

How do we do this – by training and coaching them to do this – one entrepreneur at a time. The consequence of doing this is very simple.

  1. The world finally understands and we finally value the innovation we have
  2. Every tech-company achieves higher revenues, and higher valuations
  3. Technology becomes our #1 export earner
  4. We no longer rely on daily and tourism to prop up our economy.
  5. We have a high-wage economy, our potential fulfilled, and clean rivers

If you think that sounds naive and theoretical – well this is not theory, this is history. For the last 3 years I’ve been testing this theory on the exact tech-entrepreneurs I’ve been talking about.

And, it’s not only possible, when done in the right way it’s inevitable that tech-entrepreneurs learn to better pitch their value and their ideas to the only 3 groups of people that matter to a tech-company’s success.

  • their partners and investors (current and future)
  • their customers (current and future)
  • their own team (current and future)

In every case, they gained investors at very good valuations (sometimes even oversubscribed), significantly lifted revenues, and for the first time were able to inspire their own current and future team about the value of what they were doing – resulting in them being able to attract and retain a higher calibre of rock-star technical people to turn dreams into lines-of-code and products.

One of them went on to change the transport direction of India. Another is now working on a system that has the potential to take medical errors (currently the third leading cause of death in the US) outside the top 10. All of them are backing themselves to sell globally – and are doing it because they finally have the tech-entrepreneur specific set of value communication skills (variously expressed as sales, pitching, mental toughness and leadership depending on the context) to make it happen.

So next time you see an article about a ruined river – stop complaining that someone should do something about it. It’s up to you to do something about it.

Learn to pitch the value of your ideas so we don’t need to use the crutches of dairy and tourism to hide the fact we’ve under-performed as a nation of value-communicators for the last 170-odd years.

The problem is not dairy and tourism – the problem is that the alternative is not yet performing optimally. Once we take tech from #3 to #1 – we’ve solved that. And doing that is not as hard as you think. In fact, the blueprint for doing it already exists.

Daniel Batten is author of “How to Change the World With One Pitch”. He is a former hi-tech serial entrepreneur who is now taking a number of kiwi hi-tech tall-poppies global.

#growtallpoppies #kiwisstepup #pitchtowin

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