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Speech by Kevin Roberts to the Compaq Great Discoveries Educational Conference, Eden Park, April 2000
Last July I gave a speech about "The New Zealand Edge" to the MBA Association. I know the ideas in the speech resonated
within Compaq because I watched the traffic logs from the nzedge.com website. I could see this virus spreading as Compaq
people in New Zealand, USA and then Australia came to read the speech.
So I was delighted to be asked by Compaq to speak tonight.
And I was excited to hear that the theme for last year’s Compaq Education Conference had been ‘Pushing the Edge’. You
people already understand that the edge is a great place to be, the most interesting, stimulating and productive
Tonight I want to talk about one thing. One single, perfect idea: inspiration.
The power of inspiration to transform lives.
The role of inspiration in helping us navigate our way through these crazy, wonderful, upside down times.
It’s crazy when you think that several of New Zealand’s top ten companies in five years time haven’t even been started
It’s wonderful when you think about a couple of Kiwis like Steve Outtrim of Sausage Software, who created the world’s
most popular web-authoring tool called Hotdog, with over one million users in 120 countries, and Chris Jones of
Telemedia, who has created a half billion dollar telecommunications software company.
They’ve created in just a few years what Jim Clark calls "new new things." This is new economy wealth. It’s not taken
from somebody else.
It’s about creating entirely new experiences and new ways of doing things. And the amazing thing is, because they have
created public companies, anyone can share in the risk and the reward.
So how do you get ahead when the rule book has been shredded? When the road map has flown out the window?
I’m assuming that you all want to get ahead. That’s why you’re at this Compaq conference. You want to lead, to be out in
front. You’ve got a vision and a feeling about what you want your schools to be, and you’re determined to make it
happen. But how?
Being out in front, pushing the edge, is the only place to be. It’s exciting and dangerous and difficult. And anyway,
nobody can be comfortable or protected in the centre these days. Think about TimeWarner, which spent 75 years becoming
the world’s biggest media company. Last year it agreed to a merger with America Online, a company that didn’t even exist
fifteen years ago.
Being able to deal with the speed of change in our lives is not about what we already know. It’s about our approach to
what we don’t know. It’s about our attitude towards life and living. And as you may know, I’m very very big on attitude.
I believe that attitude leads behaviour. Attitude is the cause; behaviour is the effect. So if we really want to change
behaviours, we need to be thinking creatively about how to change attitudes.
That’s why I believe the most important thing any adult can do for a child, is to inspire them. Dare them to dream
something so engaging, so extreme, so unimaginable, that it drives them to jump into life with all their being.
I grew up in the north of England, but I dreamed of being an All Black. My heroes were Earl Kirton and Waka Nathan, the
As I grew older I added new heroes – JFK, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol. Each of them had gifts that inspired me to find my
Our children look to us to see how they should live their lives. And when they see you - involved, energetic, committed,
passionate, having a great time - that is the single most important gift you can give them.
It will inspire them to live life like it matters.
That’s the idea behind an organisation I’m involved with in West Auckland. Compaq have asked me to talk specifically
about this tonight.
TYLA is a really simple, really good idea.
TYLA stands for Turn Your Life Around.
It’s a West Auckland programme that I’m involved with as a trustee, coach, mentor and fundraiser. Whenever I speak the
fee for a speech goes back to TYLA. So thanks Compaq for your generosity tonight, I promise you it’ll make a difference.
TYLA identifies kids between the ages of ten and sixteen who are on the way to wasting their lives. They’re either
involved in, or capable of, violence, crime and all the other dysfunctional behaviours you care to name.
Most of the kids have had tough starts in life. Unstable family life, broken homes, gang affiliation. Their parents may
be alcoholics or gamblers. I asked one boy what his dad did… "he’s a murderer" was the reply.
TYLA is a three year programme, so it’s not a quick fix. There’s a selection process, and it’s tough to get in. But it’s
even tougher when you are in. We stay on their case the whole three years.
We help these young people make the right choices for themselves. We encourage them to think about their future and to
focus on goals that will make their lives constructive.
They’re given mentors, another word for an "up-close hero". Currently our mentors include the Judge Mick Brown, Eroni
Clarke, Wynton Rufer, and TV3 frontman Clint Brown.
And they have outstanding role models in people like Constable Brock Davis, who runs the whole programme.
TYLA kids are given opportunities and experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have. Like camps, or a barbecue and pool party
at my place.
At the end of the three years, they graduate. It’s a big deal, in front of the people who matter to them the most –
family, friends and the TYLA crew. It’s a moment of joy for everybody.
I visited last year’s annual TYLA camp where Eroni Clarke was working with about 40 kids. I thought things were a bit
quiet when I turned up. As I entered the gym they ambushed me with a haka that lifted the roof. They glowed with pride,
passion and determination. It was incredible, a moment of pure magic, shared.
So far, 87 young people have graduated from TYLA and 40 more will graduate next month. Another 130 are currently in the
programme. And it’s working. Kids who were on their way to a life of trouble have turned their lives around. They’re
achieving at university, in sports, and as people.
People are noticing TYLA. Recently I got an email from a teacher at a school in another part of Auckland. "We have so
many students who would benefit from the TYLA Programme," she wrote. "We need you!"
I believe that TYLA is a universal idea. Turn Your Life Around is about reinvention and transformation - key skills we
all need. It’s an idea that transcends age, gender, race, religion or location.
Earlier this year I got an email from a young, passionate woman who works in a bank in Sao Paolo Brazil. I get lots of
mail from young people around the world asking for advice, guidance. It feels a bit like the UN at saatchikevin dot com,
with members from 57 countries.
The remarkable thing about the net is that connections are made which you could never imagine. Here was a young
Brazilian woman trying to work out her life, and she connects with a transformative programme for young people in West
And she got TYLA totally. She was captured by the concept. It perfectly explained what she wanted for herself. "Kevin"
she wrote, "I’m going to TYLA myself."
It’s what the dictionary says about inspiration: a sudden brilliant or timely idea. TYLA is brilliant and timely.
Inspiration is at the heart of a study of sustained success that I wrote with three colleagues from the University of
The book is called Peak Performance - Lessons for Business from the World's Leading Sports Organisations. It’s
HarperCollins’ Business Book for 2000, and over the last month I’ve helped launch it at the Frankfurt Book Fair, at
Williams Formula One in Oxford and Charlotte Street in London, as well as Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne. It’s currently
number 2 on the Whitcoulls’ Best Sellers List.
The book tells the story behind the relentless pursuit of championship contention by ten of the worlds top sports
These organisations support teams that are world champions or have maintained championship contention for at least a
decade. They include Team New Zealand and the All Blacks, as well as the Australian cricket, netball and women’s hockey
teams. There’s the San Francisco 49ers, the Atlanta Braves, the Chicago Bulls, Bayern Munich, and Williams Formula One.
We started our study because we were interested in how organisations not only win, but keep on winning. And we were
profoundly dissatisfied with the existing theories used to explain organisational success.
We chose to look at sport because we figured that sustained success must be about the organisation behind the team, not
simply the players.
We also believed, as storytellers, that sport was going to provide us with compelling subject material. Sport gives both
players and fans a sense of drama, excitement, heroism and community. Even non-fans can be awed by the radical insights
into the human condition which sport can provide – joy, despair, courage, immense physical prowess combined with
delicate artistry, skill and intelligence.
The amazing thing about our research was the similarity between the organisations. Often they used exactly the same
phrases to describe what was going on, even though they were in different sporting codes, on different continents.
Phrases like "making magic", which sounds like a great way of describing what happens in the best classrooms.
What we found in our research was that sustained success starts with inspirational players. People who dare to dream a
great achievement. They inspire others around them to believe and share in the dream.
Sometimes the inspirational players were the owner, or manager, or star player. At Team New Zealand it was Sir Peter
Blake. In Bayern Munich it was Franz Beckenbauer. At Williams F1 it was Frank Williams himself.
But it doesn’t have to be the stars. At the San Francisco 49ers they have operations staff who have been with the team
for more than fifty years. One usher was still doing the job at age 95. They had to give him a chair to sit down, but as
they said, "It was his life, he lived for the 49ers."
Inspirational players are central to sustained achievement. They start the long process of building towards peak
performance. They nourish the dream, and they embody the enduring values.
Looking around here tonight, I know that you must be the inspirational players for your schools. The people who
articulate the goals and standards of your school. The people who give a damn.
We believe that every organisation, and every individual in an organisation, can strive to attain peak performance. It
is not an easy journey, nor are there any short cuts or steroids to accelerate the process. But it can be done.
I received an email at the end of March that says it all. It’s from an Auckland woman who writes: "The 10 principles of
Peak Performance inspired me to finally leave my job after 10 years service and take a risk and go it on my own. I love
it and cannot keep up with the number of customers I am now account managing. If thinking like this can change just one
person, it has made a difference in the world. I am extremely positive that my future lies only in my own hands and I
can succeed because I believe in myself."
That’s why we wrote the book. To inspire, encourage and assist organisations and individuals.
A key stage in becoming a PPO is defining the Greatest Imaginable Challenge. The aspirational, inspirational goal.
My dream, my Greatest Imaginable Challenge, is that New Zealand should become the world’s coolest country. The funkiest.
The edgiest. The country with ATTITUDE.
We can do it because the world has moved in our favour. It’s no longer about scale and location, it’s about ideas. It’s
about speed and flexibility. The fast will beat the slow. The fast will beat the big. Small will be an advantage if we
mix it with attitude and velocity.
I believe that schools have a key role in making sure that all our kids can participate in creating and sharing
Schools shape the way young people think about themselves and their country. You are the people who can give our young
people the attitude they need to build the coolest and most prosperous nation on the planet.
Last year I asked the Principals’ Conference: Wouldn't it be great if every student graduated from school with the clear
goal of helping New Zealand take on the world?
Because for New Zealand, opportunity and prosperity starts and finishes with our place in the world. Period. Trade and
tourism. Tourism and trade.
We must all look outwards to the world and imagine how we can take it on.
I was really pleased to hear Fran Wilde say two weeks ago that the exporting challenge had to be supported by all New
Zealanders. She said, "If New Zealanders aspire to have an affluent lifestyle they must stop knocking business success
and profit because such negativity simply drives business, innovation and intellectual capital offshore."
For me, the real significance of information and communications technology is about how it connects us to the world in
new ways. It makes our physical location a virtual virtue. We’re there, and we’re not there. We’re really out here on
the edge, but we can be where ever we need to be to do the deal.
And the beauty of the technology is that you don't need to be a geek to use it. Me, I’m proudly Jurassic when it comes
to the nerdy stuff. But I know the power of the technology, and I use it every day to lead a worldwide organisation of
7000 people in 90 countries.
The point being – and I understand this is one of the themes of your conference – that it’s not what you know about
technology that matters. It’s about knowing how to use it to make a difference.
I keep three assistants busy – one in London, one in New York, one here in Auckland. They use the phone, fax, couriers,
email and web to make sure that I am connected wherever I go.
"Being connected" has already transformed global business. I was at a CEO’s Forum at Cambridge University last month
that focused on a phenomenon called "the extended enterprise". The way that businesses are becoming more open and
accessible, how they form partnerships, alliances, how in fact they extend their enterprise so that they can deliver
better, faster, cheaper …and get to the future first.
It’s all based on connectivity. Being able to communicate instantly with anyone anywhere in the world. Back in 1972 a
guy called Ray Tomlinson sent the first ever email. He’s the person responsible for the @ symbol. Less than 30 years
later, we’re sending an estimated 6 billion emails every day.
This is how technology gets to be really powerful – by fulfilling our deep-seated human and economic need to connect
with others, and by embracing the power of sharing ideas.
Compaq are to be congratulated for responding to this need. By organising this conference which allows all of you to get
connected personally to share ideas, encouragement and inspiration. Compaq also is a leader of NetDay 2000 which is
going to get 500 more New Zealand schools connected to the Internet.
"Being connected" is going to change education, just as it has profoundly changed business by giving consumers
remarkable choice, freedom and ease.
Being in the communications business, I still love the old-fashioned 3Rs, and to these skills new subjects will need to
be added: information design, data mining, graphics and technical skills. Log Tables should be replaced by Log-on 101.
"Being connected" is like putting a huge pipe gushing information straight into and out of the classroom.
Teachers will be more challenged by computers and connectivity than their students. Computing is so intuitive for young
people that the tradition of "instruction" will fight for space with the concept of "navigation".
The most needed roles for teachers are Chief Inspirer and Shaper of Lives, and this will mostly happen offline, as it
We only have to think of the profound impact teachers had on the lives of two of New Zealand’s greatest scientists,
Ernest Rutherford and William Pickering.
Rutherford’s headmaster at Havelock School was Harry Ladley, an inspiring and encouraging teacher who gave Ern extra
lessons in arithmetic to stimulate his interest in the subject. He also awakened his skills in observation that are
essential for all creative minds.
There’s a story from the book Famous New Zealanders about young Ern’s father getting up in the middle of the night to
check on a storm. He was surprised when he heard his son talking to himself softly.
‘What’s up, my boy?’ his father called out.
‘I’m counting,’ the boy called back.
Another rumble of thunder shook the house.
‘Yes. If you count the seconds between the flash and the thunder clap and allow 1,200 feet for each second for the sound
to travel, you can tell how close you are to the storm centre.’
Such things go through the young minds of Nobel Prize winners.
For New Zealand’s premier rocket scientist William Pickering – and you’d be surprised that it takes more than two hands
to count the number of eminent New Zealand space scientists – it was his maths teacher at Wellington College, ‘Pop’
Gifford, who inspired him.
Gifford founded the school’s observatory, the place where young Pickering first looked through a telescope towards the
heavens. He went on to head the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena and to play a crucial role in the American space
programme. He twice featured on the cover of Time magazine.
These are inspiring stories about New Zealand heroes, the sort that deserve to be heard by every young New Zealander so
that they can know that nothing is impossible.
They are why I started a website in 1999 called nzedge.com, with Brian Sweeney, a good friend. We’re both wildly
committed to the idea of telling stories about inspiring New Zealanders.
People like William Harrington Atack, who back in 1884 was the first person to ever use a whistle to referee a rugby
game. What a fantastic idea! Read it and believe it! And for a bonus, WH Atak could probably be called the country’s
first webmaster because he ran the New Zealand Press Association for 44 years. Atack’s work spanned two centuries. In
1902 he took the momentous step and approved the purchase of one typewriter for the office.
Right at the moment at NZEDGE we’re doing a series on speedsters, which recognises our national love affair with going
There’s Pickering, rocket man. There’s Arthur Lydiard, who invented jogging and was most responsible for our
extraordinary running successes of the sixties. There’s Jean Batten, one of the most famous people in the world at her
time. And Bruce McLaren, who wanted to build fast cars as well as drive them.
And Godfrey Bowen, who single-handedly transformed the economics of the world wool industry by working out how to shear
sheep faster, while getting more and better wool off the sheep’s back.
He astounded competitors and audiences around the world, he appeared on the Johnny Carson Show, received an MBE from the
Queen and the Star of Lenin from Khruschev.
Here’s a guy who left school aged sixteen, but kept working on his edge all his life. Brilliant.
We also love celebrating our contemporary heroes. Here are some more space scientists. Dr Delwyn Moller, ex-Hamilton,
radar engineer and space shuttle project leader at William Pickering’s old firm, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
She’s working on the project to digitally map the whole globe in 3D from space. Now her goal is the astronaut programme
and being the first kiwi in space.
There’s Andrew Cameron. The Listener’s article on him was simply titled "Out there." He’s from Nelson, now in Scotland,
trying to find out how the sun works by imaging the surfaces of other stars. This is crucial research, because as you
can imagine the sun’s cycle of brightness is now being widely seen as crucial to climate changes.
Not surprisingly, at NZEDGE, we’re keen on axe-people. This is Sheree Taylor, world women’s axe throwing champion,
chicken farmer from Taranaki. The woman North & South described as our "chopping broad". Holder of four world titles and three world records in sawing and underhand
woodchopping. She and her axe-throwing husband Alastair have 780 trophies and ribbons between them, including the
Canadian Jack and Jill sawing title. That’s the don’t-mess-with-us version of mixed doubles!
You get the drift, we love sharp edges. Here is the first glazier who we can truly say has The New Zealand Edge. Cliff
Curtis was a glazier from Kapiti, became a graduate of The New Zealand Drama School and now has a dozen New Zealand and
Hollywood feature films credits including Three Kings, The Insider and the new Martin Scorcese film Bringing Out The
My final story about people with edges. Here is Anika Moa, 19 years old, a singer-songwriter who has just been signed
by the head of Atlantic Records in New York on the basis of a demo tape. Atlantic say they believe she has the potential
to develop into a prominent musical figure, and put her singing and writing talent on a par with Alanis Morissette and
These are all brilliant, gutsy, inspiring New Zealanders, daring to dream. They give true meaning to the term Knowledge
Economy, because it’s not only about what you know, but also how sharp your edge is.
The stories on nzedge.com are getting a huge response. I knew the site was working when one father told me that he had
been searching the web for material to inspire his eight-year old son. And that he had found it all at nzedge dot com.
Like the retired lady in Rakaia who wrote, "I came for interest. Stayed to be gob-smacked by wonder."
And this in today from a university lecturer in Christchurch:
"NZEDGE is a fascinating example of post-modern nationalism that transcends the old stereotyping and orthodoxies."
Well, that’s what we’re trying to do, establish in one word the Kiwi DNA: "Edge." This is our "great discovery", to
quote the theme of his Compaq conference.
But be warned: we are relentlessly optimistic. nzedge.com is a site that celebrates being a long way from the centre.
Seddon's last message before he died at sea in 1906 on his way home to New Zealand from Sydney, was "Leaving tonight for
God’s Own Country."
NZEDGE seeks to create a network among inspired New Zealanders and with the half to one million New Zealanders who live
overseas. No one quite knows the number, and we accuse them of leaving us, being a drain of brains.
I totally disagree. If you accept my proposition that New Zealand’s "extended enterprise" is THE WORLD, then we must
harness the energy of our overseas population. It’s really simple. Invert the myth.
And instead of thinking of ourselves as a "small" country, think of ourselves as scarce and rare, and therefore more
valuable to the world than, say, Americans, Germans and Japanese, not to mention Australians!
I urge you to make use of nzedge.com to inspire your students. To encourage them to connect with our stories of
brilliant, quirky achievement.
One of the learnings from the NZEDGE stories is that we can make our lives in incredibly diverse ways. It’s a lesson
that young people, especially teenagers need to hear.
It’s not just a choice between law and accountancy, being a builder or a plumber.
Whenever I talk to kids who are about to leave school, I urge them to take risks, be passionate, dream impossible
dreams, explore the unknown, and get an attitude. I want to inspire them to live on the edge.
The fact is that our children can make their future from anything – management, sport, adventure, electronics, fashion,
retail. It’s no longer just about mastering subjects. It’s about developing interest, motivation, talents, adaptability
– attitude! It’s about ideas. It’s about combining what you know with your own special edge.
Inspiration is the magic that transforms potential into reality. Making sure kids are open to inspiration is the
critical difference schools can make in their lives.
You’re at this conference because you are driven to make a difference. You’re not going to let anything stop you –
you’ll find a way around / under / over / through any obstacle. You’ve got the attitude. Never lose it.
You are the inspirational players in education today. You are the people who can make our schools be the agents of hope,
dreams, inspiration and leadership our children deserve.
I salute you and I believe in you.