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Michael Rosemann is a German information systems researcher and professor at the Queensland University of Technology. Living life as an optimist, he encourages others to seek out life’s opportunities and focus on what’s right in front of them. He is an expert in revenue resilience, business process management and innovation systems.

As part of our Change2020 Conversation Series, Michael spoke to Change2020 Director Kerryn Fewster about how he focuses his energy into the future.

How did you get to the mindset where you look at change as an opportunity as opposed to a threat?

I find it easier to approach life as an optimist, because I’ve got something to look forward to.  When I go to bed, I reflect at the end of the day and think, ‘what was the most exciting thing that happened today?’ 

Do you think your viewpoint around change is something you’ve learnt as an academic or is it something innate you were born within?

A bit of both. My father had the saying, “you can only change tomorrow”. That tagline helps me to channel my energy towards a better future as opposed to whining about things I can’t change. 

Professionally, I initially spent a lot of time understanding pain points, creating operational efficiency, but I didn’t find it very rewarding. I’m much more interested in opportunity points and in creating rather than destroying. 

So coming back to the wise words of your dad, ‘you can only change tomorrow’. How does that speak to the well-used term these days of ‘fail fast, learn from your failures and move on’?

My father never talked about failure. I think the very reason we’re looking for this sort of excuse, is so we innovate or we at least learn from it. However, my father never said ‘go and fail’, he just said ‘invest your energy and if it turns out to be failure, let it be’. 

The notion of failing as a learning experience is great, but you also need to try to minimise your failure rate. I would say if you fail, become more efficient and invest your energy into the future.

How do you see ‘opportunity’ as we move into the future?

I believe the future will be opportunity rich. We have got new business models, citizens who are digitally savvy and we’ve got micro entrepreneurs who have a high level of entrepreneurial energy. You can now be based in Brisbane and become a global player, which wasn’t possible 20 years ago. I actually think we have the opposite problem, we have more opportunities than we can digest.

When I worked in a ‘problem rich’ environment that was obsessed with fear, that thought change was bad and that looked for pain points, It was hard to adapt to work that all of a sudden becomes ‘opportunity rich’. 

“I fear our biggest challenge is that we don’t see opportunities. We see pain points, but opportunities are invisible.”

You mentioned that our greatest problem is we’re going to have too many opportunities.  Why aren’t our leaders across our industries actually sharing your view?

I think it’s cultural, motivational and educational. Even our language itself, sees two thirds of our terminologies focus on the negative rather than on the positive side. 

Companies probably have more terms to describe different types of costs than different types of revenue. They talk about pain points and not opportunity points. They probably have a risk committee and not an opportunity committee. We have a whole infrastructure that is tailored towards negativity and the problem. 

Educators, like myself, have to quickly develop a body of knowledge that allows us to see the opportunity.  

In your experience, how are people responding to your concept of opportunity and an ‘opportunity-mindset’?

Change is a triangle of awareness, acceptance and action. The first stage is to be ‘curious’. This is where organisations say they would love to understand where the world’s heading, the notion of innovation, digital transformation or we like the idea of spotting opportunities.

There’s a big gap between being curious and being committed.

The conversion from the one hour keynote to an actual long lasting commitment where culture, attitudes, KPIs and systems are changing is a long way. I think we are only at the infancy where we are seeing a healthy appetite in terms of curiosity, but we still have to improve on the conversion. I’m hoping in the years to come the success we have around curiosity turns into higher success rates than we have around commitment.

We’re sitting at the fringe of a tremendous amount of uncertainty, so curiosity is going to be critical to get us through. How do we get people to navigate themselves further towards that commitment? 

We talk about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and often we’re looking for extrinsic motivation – incentives, KPIs etc. People often do things because they have to as opposed to because they want to. 

I think what we need to do as leaders and as parents is to boost intrinsic motivation, that change is good. We need to teach that uncertainty is positive, because it will be rich in insights and rich in stimulation.

I think what we need to do as leaders and as parents is to boost intrinsic motivation, that change is good. We need to teach that uncertainty is positive, because it will be rich in insights and rich in stimulation.

When people push back on your ideas, how do you encourage them to see that uncertainty presents opportunity rather than just fear?

You can offer people water, but ultimately they have to drink it themselves. We try to incentivise them and excite them, but if people opt out or prefer stability, that’s a very personal call. My obligation as a leader is to paint a picture in terms of the opportunities available. You should go straight to the extreme opportunity, think big, think ambitious and then scale back.

Do you ever get frightened by change?

Yes of course. Often more privately than professionally. When there are circumstances beyond your control, what I’ve learned is that you have to accept it when you can’t change things. But you can change your attitude towards these circumstances.

How have you continued to focus on ‘opportunity’? What advice would you give?

I would say, put your personal well being first. Ask yourself at the end of the day, week or year, ‘what satisfied you?’. You’ll often find that you’ve created something new or shaped something that is rewarding.

We all face things that are unpleasant, but we need to understand quickly what is beyond our control, what are the things we cannot change, because it’s pointless to invest energy into those things. 

If you enjoy the act of creating things, then having a mindset that is interested in opportunities is rewarding. You need to have the abilities to spot what’s possible. I would encourage everybody to spend more time looking at what’s possible.

I also say to my team, ‘we stick together’. Whoever is our new supervisor, whatever structures we have, whatever budget we have we approach this with confidence. You need to understand where your benchmark is. I encourage everyone in a reasonably wealthy world to ask themselves, ‘where are you really?’ and ‘how much worse could it be?’ and that the change that you face is nothing in comparison with the change that many other people on this planet face.

For more information on adapting to uncertainty, speak to one of our consultants.

Richard Van Breda, CEO of Stanwell, is an expert in change management having adapted to new locations and roles his whole career. Born in Zimbabwe, Richard started his career at Deloitte Haskins, before moving to become the CFO for PVC exclusion extrusion company. When he arrived in Australia in 2011, he joined Duke Energy before moving to Stanton Corporation as Controller. After a merger in 2012, he became Chief Executive Officer of Stanwell, a role he still holds today.

A guest in our Change2020 Conversation Series, Richard sat down with Director Kerrn Fewster to discuss how he leads his life as a change-marker.

Is the ability to explore new opportunities innate to you or is it something that you’ve learned?

I’ve got better at it. I grew up in the early 70s and 80s where Zimbabwe was going through war. As a family we moved around a lot. Spending time in Botswana, the UK, and even in Zimbabwe we lived in a number of different cities, meaning you just had to adapt

You mentioned the word ‘adaptability’. Has this helped you as a leader, leading yourself and others through change?

I think it’s the ability to make a plan, to think things through and look for the opportunities. To not dwell on the negatives. There’s an element of looking for the positive and trying and make sure that you’re a glass half full person. People want to be inspired. I do like to see the positive in things and try not to dwell on the negatives.

Embrace the change and uncertainty, that can be a challenge. If you embrace it, you’ll see opportunities in it.

Richard Van Breda

As the leader of the organisation [Stanwell], how do you keep confident that you’re abreast of the developments and trends and that the conversations you’re having are relevant to take the business forward?

It’s multi-faceted. It’s actually making sure that you’re not in the detail but instead surrounding yourself with a good executive team who is prepared to tell you what they think and who aren’t afraid to speak up. 

There is no way I could know everything and I certainly don’t intend to, but it is relying on those people to keep you abreast of what’s happening. It’s important within the executive leadership team that they recognise they’re making decisions for the whole organisation. It is important that this team works well together, is open, transparent and has high levels of trust. 

In Australia, sometimes we can be a little parochial. So I always try to keep the channels open. I read the newspapers, not just energy publications, but an array of different media. It’s keeping in contact with industry bodies, the wider business community and not losing touch with your local communities. There’s a whole range of things and it’s trying not to limit yourself, keeping your perspectives open and ensuring that you don’t close things down. 

“Any good CEO will recognise the importance of the team. Always hire people smarter than you, that is critical.”

Richard Van Breda

You’ve gone through a couple of major downsizing activities. How do you prepare yourself personally to embark on such a change?

If anything like that ever becomes easy, then you’ve got a problem as an individual. Those decisions should never be taken lightly, because you’re impacting people’s lives and those experiences are probably the worst that you have to deal with.

I think preparing yourself is always a challenge, It’s understanding the why. It challenges you personally and makes you wonder ‘have I made the right decision?’. You need to be authentic and you need to be real about it. It’s never easy to do those things and you never take those decisions lightly, but once you’ve made them, it’s important to have a clear plan.

“It’s not about me, it’s about everyone else”. But who looks after you? 

It’s sharing in the executive leadership team, not necessarily sharing the pain, but being able to have those conversations. It’s also having things outside of work, like a social circle and friends. It’s making sure that you have your own personal time to think and to do something else, which is really important. You’ve gotta be able to share the empathy, but there’s a point where you actually need to be quite firm with yourself as well. 

How do you get from feeling empathy to holding yourself to account? What are your techniques? 

It’s about feeling the empathy but not sympathy – there’s quite a difference. 

Understanding that person’s point of view, but they’ve also got to work themselves through it.

The only way to grow is to put yourself in a place where you feel uncomfortable. Do you think in your experience, that is the norm?

I think there is an element, certainly in Australia, where we can be quite closed. I think we can get comfortable, but certainly in the energy industry we’ve recognised that we are only going to be successful if we look beyond ourselves. We focus more on our customers, our communities and our stakeholders. 

I think there’s probably a change in mindset and it comes back to the whole corporate conversation. 

What are the roles of corporates? Is it just about shareholder returns or are CEOs and C-suite allowed to have views on other things?  As an organisation there is no doubt that returns for our shareholders are very important, but we have a huge role to play in our community and making sure that our people can contribute to those communities as well. 

CEOs are always learning and they recognise the importance of lifelong learning. 

Richard Van Breda

Do you think change is just part of part of the landscape we now operate in? Why do you think change is such a challenge?

Proper change is about those conversations. About being authentic, empathetic and spending that one on one time rather than issuing a direction. That is where we need to change our view on ‘change leadership’ and ‘change management’. Organisations need to be responsive and nimble. That’s the only way we’re going to survive as an organisation. We need to learn to adapt.

How do you build curiosity and resilience into an organisation’s culture?

Once you recognise the importance of diversity in opinions and you’re happy to have debates, I think that drives a change in culture. In my experience it takes time, of course it takes time. It’s a conversation on priorities. You’ve got to get the right people, taking that step forward and set forward for the future.

It’s much more about building resilience and getting people used to or comfortable with uncertainty, the unknown.

Richard Van Breda

What do you think have been learnings for you that you could offer to our audience? 

You have to surround yourself with people that are smarter than you in their particular areas and you need to develop that trust. That is critical. It’s amazing how trust develops when you’ve been in the trenches with somebody, and we talk about mateship but it is an element of that. 

Another one would be hire really well. We’re going through the process now of looking at graduates coming into the organisation. We’ve probably had the highest number of graduates apply for roles that are in mechanical engineering.

Lastly, promote diversity and diversity of thought. I’m not just talking about gender. Gender is very important because it is very visible. But having that diversity of opinion and experience and being open to accept that people have got different views. I think that is probably something that we’ve fallen really short on over the last couple of years in Australia.

For more information on adapting to uncertainty, speak to one of our consultants.

Nicolle Kelly, Executive Director – Innovation Programs, Governance & Strategy at the Queensland Government, is a key contributor in leading the design and implementation of an innovative government agenda. Encouraging a new way of thinking, she works with entrepreneurs, startups and high-growth companies to bring innovative practices to the Queensland Government.

Joining our Change2020 conversation series, Director Kerryn Fewster sat down with Nicolle to speak about how she associates with Change.

The public often perceives the government as not being fast, agile, change responsive, or change makers etc. How do you deal with what seems to be a contradiction, and is it true? 

There are some really innovative people in government doing amazing things, both in a delivery of programs sense and in a policy setting sense. Government is a large beast and probably Queensland’s largest employer. When you get that sort of scale of an organisation, it can be difficult to be super agile as a whole or to be perceived as being agile. 

Within government there has been a significant focus and investment on looking at how we can be innovative. We do have a stream around innovation and are working really closely with a lot of our colleagues in other departments to connect government agencies with startups or the entrepreneurs doing amazing things. 

“The Queensland Government has invested in innovation for over 20 years.”

Have you seen a significant change in the government’s approach to change and curiosity around ambiguity and the opportunities that might present? 

I can only speak from my experience but I would say that there’s more acceptance and understanding that change is very much a constant and that the pace of change is probably going to keep accelerating. 

Government has made significant investments into trying to understand and use methodologies that help deal with change.

“As leaders we need to really try and understand where people are at with different changes and how we can help them to find some comfort with that change. What are the barriers; what are they struggling with; and how can I help them and support them to make peace with the change.”

How do you inspire people to get curious about change and the opportunity it presents? 

It’s about bringing that sense of passion and excitement – we can be the masters of our own destiny. There’ll be policy, there’ll be things that occur, but we can help influence how that happens. I think for people to feel empowered is really important so when they go to work every day they feel they’re doing something that matters. We are super lucky to work in an environment where what we’re doing will change Queensland’s future for the better. 

Tell me about the viewpoint of failure in the government. Have you ever failed? 

Yes. Absolutely. I’m super cool with failure because everyone needs to fail. I also want to be authentic though because it does make me feel sick, as I want to do a really good job. I want to deliver the best results and I hate feeling like I’ve let people down. Some of the techniques or approaches that I’ve developed is to try and be a bit realistic about it. I put a lens over it and put context around the nature of the value of the level of who’s impacted. 

Sometimes saying this isn’t going to deliver the outcomes that we thought it would, so we actually need to shut it down, is ‘success’. If it’s not delivering the impact, that’s okay. It was an experiment. Let’s cut it off as quickly as we can and take the lessons learned from it.

How do you take care of yourself being a leader in the government while it’s going through such significant change? 

Having a good network is really important. I’m lucky that I am supported by amazing peers across government and outside of government, within the local startup community, etc. People who can help me check myself when I’m spiraling into thinking ‘oh my god, what if this fails?’. 

Not just professionally but also personally, I’ve got awesome friends and family. I don’t just view myself through the lens of ‘Nicolle Kelly, Executive Director’, as if that’s the only thing I exist in. Therefore, if something fails and my reason for being isn’t there, I have balance. When things are getting hard, just reach out to your network, try and focus on the things that are going really well. 

Is dealing well with change something innate or is that something that has evolved over time?

I think I certainly have developed it…

The more I become comfortable with change, it will just continue on as I go down through my career and provide my team with those tools and support. 

I am lucky because naturally I quite like change. I think it’s my job to help support people that may be less comfortable with it. 

Exposing people to different ways of behaviour creates new habits for them and it becomes like a muscle.

Do you find yourself naturally attracted to change makers? If yes, why do you think that is? 

Because it’s exciting. I like to get things done. I like to solve problems, deliver impact. I’m quite action oriented and my experience of change makers is they’re very solution focused. They want to make a difference. There’s an energy that’s in the room, so I think I’m just naturally attracted to that. 

It sort of raises my energy levels and it’s great to have awesome people to bounce ideas off because often you just come up with a solution that’s much better than the perfect thing I had in my head. You get into a room of really awesome, inspiring change makers and you can just develop things that are much greater than the individual parts. 

For more information on adapting to uncertainty, speak to one of our consultants.

“A great entrepreneur finds certainty in uncertainty” – Leanne Kemp

Leanne Kemp is Queensland’s third Chief Entrepreneur, plays a vital role in building and promoting the importance and contribution of entrepreneurship and investment in Queensland. She is also the founder  CEO of Everledger, an award-winning technology company that creates a secure and permanent digital record of an asset’s origin, characteristics and ownership using Blockchain technology. 

To kick off our Change2020 conversation series, Director Kerryn Fewster sat down with Leanne to discuss how she identifies with change and the role leaders play embracing ambiguity. 

What does change mean to you?

People look at entrepreneurship from the outside and say, ‘you’re in a constant flux of change’. I don’t really resonate with the word change. A great entrepreneur finds certainty in uncertainty. That space in time where you have the self belief that you know the challenge that you’re solving, and if you’re not able to solve it yourself, you’re able to be so resourceful to find the right people, the right technology, or spend the time to research how to go about solving it. 

Do you have any tips on how you can find certainty within uncertainty’?

Most people are okay with that state of change if it aligns with the value and the values of that leader.  If you depart away from the value construct – the values of who they are, the values of the organisation- then it’s very difficult for them to be able to cope with that change because it doesn’t align with the core of who they are or the core of the organisation. 

The purpose of our organisation is to help leaders lead their teams to be fluid and move forward. How do we help them to build that curiosity, that desire?

You have to be able to be willing to unlearn to be able to relearn, and not everybody as a person is willing to do that. So maybe some leaders you will never be able to change, but this too shall pass as they say.

“Systems leadership, the ability to corral that frozen, middle within corporations is probably the unlocking of some of the most powerful elements of an organisation. It’s a bit like melting the permafrost layer. And it takes courage to be able to really say, ‘I’m open to that.”

The newer workforce that’s coming through are much more focused on being ‘purpose led’. There feels to be a disconnect between this and some of the leaders we have in some of our largest organisations. What do we do to help them to lead and inspire this new generation of workforce coming through?

I’d argue that they’re not going to lead and inspire the new workforce coming through. The power of systems leadership is going to be the one where the leaders will start to sit and question and pontificate parts of the movements that are happening. 

I think the most powerful leaders in the world are those that are connected to the understanding that leadership happens not only from decision making down points, but actually having the ability and the willingness to enable a team to be like water, to go around the rocks, over the rocks, penetrate through the rocks.

Have you yourself experienced failure?

On a constant basis. I make mistakes day in and day out, whether that’s mistakes with people you know – misjudging myself or people’s potential or the potential of technology. But I have this inbound curiosity to get up every day and seek out the learnings. 

“Life for me has been one of the best universities in the world. It’s not bound by books, but bound by experiences.”

How would you describe yourself as a leader? 

At Everledger we did an exercise called Mrs Potato Head, which is “what do you want your CEO to look like?”. I realised that I’m a different set of personalities and personas to different people depending upon where they are in their journey, both technically or as a part of their leadership and management. So when you describe who I am as a leader, I would say that… I have the ability to be very many different potato heads.

How do you go about leading when you’ve got staff members and in six different countries?

The most exciting part for me is the fact that people come from different dimensions in time, different lived experiences. I think to be open to the human element of ‘why we are all here’ is probably the most important part of building a culture and enabling it to take up its own personality. 

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In the first year or so at Everledger the culture, the values, the purpose were all driven by me, particularly as a sole founder. But a willingness to allow the child in its adolescence to form its own personality is really the sign of a great leader. Often you’ll see parts of leadership really holding on to the values of what it was when it was created and that’s not necessarily healthy. You wouldn’t do that to a child,so why do that to a business? 

What’s your hope for the next generation in terms of what our future looks like and how they’re going to embrace the opportunities that come from uncertainty? 

The older generation is  starting to say ‘how can I really give in and give back to the next generation?’ Today’s digital natives are inherently born with skills and this dexterity with technology that over time I’m struggling to keep up with.

The next level of leadership that’s coming out in high schools into universities understand that entrepreneurial pathways are super highways into the future. And if we can instill the way upon which leadership shines through that way of thinking, then what a great place to be in the end of 2030. 

For more information on adapting to uncertainty, speak to one of our consultants.

Happy Birthday Change2020!

I had been looking forward to 2020 for probably at least the last 18-months, around the same amount of time that people had been asking me, ‘are you going to rebrand in 2020?’, ‘will you continue to work post 2020?, ‘when you named your company was it about the year?’ The questions surprised me, amused me and enthused me.

In 2020, we were turning 15 years old, it was going to be our year to really celebrate our fortuitous brand (because in 2005 I can assure you, 2020 felt like 100 years away, not 15!). But instead the global pandemic has decided to claim 2020 and any celebration we may have planned has fallen by the wayside – no one would have been allowed to come anyway!!

So now, I sit in isolation and reflect on the past 15 years and want to really understand how I feel right now. Expected words come to mind – proud, surprised, happy, tired, frustrated, lucky …. And then these feelings  …. Blessed, grateful, joyous, curious and hopeful.

The learnings, the laughter and the tears have been constant over the past 15 years; navigating the ups and downs of the economy, traveling interstate for work way too much and feeling the guilt of being away from my kids, employing great people and some not so great people, the slow exit of my other founding directors none more painful and sad than when Vicki Daniel hung up her boots with Change2020 – it felt like we were getting divorced  L, the exhilaration of winning new clients and the frustration of people never even replying to a proposal when you have poured your heart and soul and many hours into its’ development, but mostly it is the personal transformation one goes through when leading a small business.

The nuances of leading a small business with the team largely remote (always, not just due to the global pandemic) is different from being an employee and leading small to medium or even large organisation. My small business, Change2020 has changed so much over the past 15 years. We have evolved from a mindset of winning work and billing for it to very much building long-term partnerships with clients who trust us and seek our counsel to support them as they lead themselves and their people through significant change. We do not ‘do’ change, rather we have the conversations, challenge the thinking, inspire a sense of curiosity and provide authentic support and guidance for leaders to enable them to be the leaders of change.

As I write this, I am humbled by the fact that we have active projects with two clients, the leaders whom I have known for 20+ years and have continued to trust me and the Change2020 team as they have traversed their careers. We have an extraordinary referral business and while many marketers have told me this is not ideal for growth; it feels pretty good to me. I know I only refer people to a service, a restaurant, an experience if I know firsthand that it was fabulous; so to me, a referral is gold!

Thanks to everyone who has trusted Change2020 over the past 15 years, our wonderful clients and those who have morphed into friends, thanks to my original founders – Nick Lalic, Mark Shroffel and Vicki Daniel and to our first employee Renee Morgan. Thank you to our current team, smaller due to COVID-19, but a long way from being out – Maree Gardner, Kellie Pamic and Brad Bevan, also to our wonderful associates who have continued to build our remarkable reputation by going above and beyond to ensure client satisfaction.

Our name Change2020 was based on looking forward, having ‘2020’ vision, focusing on the possibilities and while 2020 has been different to what we thought it would be, more than ever we need to be looking forward and for the Change2020 team that means:

  • Continuing our research partnership with Queensland University of Technology (QUT) to better understand the mindsets, habits and behaviours of those who can readily adapt to ambiguity and uncertainty
  • Supporting our clients as they embark on the next-normal and transition, in some capacity, back to workplaces
  • Building our People2020 Associates – placing our great change people into businesses to support their change and transformation efforts
  • Embracing 2020 and all that it has to offer, with an eye to the future (always)

~ Kerryn Fewster

Remote Working Tip #15

The single biggest mistake we make when trying to gather — whether physically or virtually — is assuming we already know its purpose. Even in our physically-together-normal-circumstances-gatherings, we tend to assume the purpose is obvious. In these COVID-19 times, as physical gatherings are fumbling into virtual gatherings, this purpose thing becomes even more crucial.

Remote Working Tip #14

Good Stress

Stressful situations can actually push us to achieve amazing things; take time to reflect on what you have achieved while feeling stressed. When chatting (Skyping; Teaming; or Zooming) with your teams, ask each person what they have achieved.

Remote Working Tip #13

Learning Cultures are often differentiators for organisations; people make decisions to join / stay if they know you will invest in their skills and capability. Investing in your people does not need to slow down or worse still, cease, because of remote working; you have many options available to you.

Remote Working Tip #12

Remote Working Tip No 12 [RWT#12]

Routines allow you to create structure and predictability in your life. They allow you to feel safe. Without routines, there would be too much uncertainty in life and everyday functioning would slow down. Control what you can control. #remoteworking #tips #routine #uncertainty #control