Monthly Archives

September 2018

Business Reinvention And The Town That Changed Itself

By | Change, Innovation | No Comments

I was invited to be part of the Northern Territory’s annual October Business Month, a couple of weeks back. to conduct a couple of ‘Game of Inches’ workshops. One of which was at a small town called Nhulunbuy (pronounced Nullanboy), which is situated on the Gove Peninsula in East Arnhem Land. A stand out of reinvention and a stunningly beautiful part of remote Australia.

As a town Nhulunbuy is built around a bauxite mine (which when refined a couple of times ultimately makes aluminum). A few years back it was decided that the alumina refinery was to be closed resulting in the population of the town dropping from 4000 to approximately 2200.

Think about this for a second, because the town practically halved in size overnight. What happens to local business, to those who own property, what happens to the local school and hospital? If your business lost almost half its clients, it would put you and your team in a complete tailspin.

Problems lead to opportunities

As one of the town’s prominent business owners told me, people got together and looked for gaps and opportunities, and for ways they could save their town. From adversity comes opportunity if you are smart enough and brave enough to try and find it.

Although the refinery closed, the mine itself remains open and so as a first step Rio Tinto stopped ‘fly in fly out’ workers’ so now if you work at the mine you must live in the town.

Then they found an opportunity in extreme tourism. Arnhem Land is one of the most beautiful, untouched and remote parts of Australia (if not the world) that you can visit. Although only an hours flight from Darwin and only 800 odd kilometres by road from Katherine, the drive will take you a least two days and as suggested to me you should do it in someone else’s vehicle. On top of that Arnhem Land is completely owned by the traditional indigenous owners and so to drive through it to Nhulunbuy requires a permit. When you get there if you want to walk on the beach (and trust me you will) you also need a permit because it is also indigenous land.

But here’s the thing. There are those who hanker for those off the beaten track, adventurous experiences, to go where the masses don’t and get that unique experience to see a part of Australia that is largely untouched. There is a market which is largely untapped and it’s what the people of Nhulunbuy are focusing on. They are ramping up their marketing, they are working with the traditional owners to make obtaining permits easier and faster. On top of this reinvention, they are looking into the possibility of creating glamping sites along the road. They found a gap in the market and they are filling it.

Reinvention leads to growth

Now obviously it is working or I wouldn’t be telling about this. From a low of 2200 people they, in a space of a couple of years are back to 3300 and looking at exceeding the previous population of 4000 in the next 18 months or so. Which by the way will mean building more houses.

I love this story and I fell in love with this town.

Things go wrong in business and life all the time. No matter how much you plan or how much your guru tells you they don’t. Someone, somewhere changes something and it can have massive ramifications for you. But here’s the thing, you have a choice. You can give up, you can stick your head in the sand, or you can do something. Nhunlunbuy took the third option.

They didn’t change things overnight and they are still in the process of rebuilding, but step by step, inch by inch. One small change at a time they are reinventing themselves. Individuals and businesses all over this country should learn from it because it’s a great reminder that when things change, and you look for gaps like the people of Nhulunbuy did, new opportunities arise. If you’re smart enough and brave enough not to panic, look around, think and act. Here’s another example of how finding a small gap made a massive difference to a small restaurant in Port Macquarie

So here’s to Nhulunbuy.

A big thanks to all the people of the town I met – you inspired me. And to the Department of Trade, Business and Innovation and Darwin City & Waterfront Retailers for having me as part of NT October Business Month.

I now find myself constantly speaking about the innovation of this amazing community and how they used change to their advantage.


Other similar articles to read are ‘The power of incremental change’ and Leveraging Change as well as ‘The Tasmanian who changed an industry’ as well as  ‘Ingenious Oz Project Reveals Secrets To Business Growth and Innovation’.


Keep The Barges Coming; On Consistent Action

By | Innovation | No Comments

Back in the good old days of the industrial revolution in England something extraordinary was happening with the canal system. It led to a philosophy of consistent steps, of drip feeding, leading to sustainable growth. And it has become a philosophy for me and also my team. In fact, I adopted it in my last three businesses. ‘Keep the Barges Coming’.

Let me set the scene. In England (as in many parts of Europe) since medieval times there has been a network of water canals, much like a road network. This allowed farmers, manufacturers and businesses to move goods from the coast to their villages and workshops, then back again.

The Problem (Gap)

Imagine if you were in charge of one of these facilities during the good times of the 1800’s. The problem you faced was how to get a consistent supply of raw materials to keep you and your workers productive. Although the canal system had been around for hundreds of years it was far from perfect. Especially when the industrial revolution kicked in.

It was slow because the small boats were pulled through the water by horses which walked along the land on either side of the canal. Adding to this the boats were rather small and limited in their capacity. But during the industrial revolution the Brits (being infrastructure geniuses) set about building larger canals, more of them and bigger self-driven boats called Barges. And this is where this starts to get interesting because it created another set of problems.

When a shipload of materials arrived on the coast the temptation was to send all of it at once up the canal to your factory. You were then inundated with supplies and your workers were inundated with pressure to process it all.  Result being ‘everything at once overwhelm’. But then another major issue reared its head. Once all the supplies had been used there was nothing until the next shipment. Which could be months away. Massive downtime.

The Solution – consistent action

The solution was staggering the supply of materials over a period of time.  Warehouses started popping up at the docks. With a bit of planning it then became a matter of keeping a consistent flow of barges. Small consistent shipments. Meaning when they arrive they were more easily handled on site by workers and as current supplies started to dwindle the next barge would arrive. Reduced downtime, reduced stress, better productivity and because of all that, arguably better quality. These consistent steps meant sustainable growth

It was a much better decision to keep drip feeding and keep the barges coming. The change is a constant and it’s the small things and consistent actions that make the big differences.

What this means to your business

For us it is a metaphor for nurturing clients. Rather than overwhelm them from the first call, let’s just give them what they need now and then something else later. It’s a about drip feeding your clients with an email newsletter every so often, or a blog post, or sending an information pack or thank you gift, rather than bombarding them with everything at once. For us ‘Keep the barges coming’ is a reminder to keep in touch, bit by bit, inch by inch. It supports the ‘Game of Inches’ process.

I first learned of this years back when reading about advertising giant Saatchi and Saatchi who a slightly different slant because they view the barge as being the customer themselves and you need to keep the barge moving up the canal. They are attributed to inventing the modern sales and marketing funnel based on just this. In their book ‘Chutzpah & Chutzpah’ by Simon Goode, Richard Myers and Nick Darke, they note that Saatchi & Saatchi referred to it as ‘The Canal System…once a client (or barge) with money (coal) is put into the system (the canal) at one end, sooner of later they have to arrive at the port (Saatchi & Saatchi)’.  The premise being that you need to nurture and prod and help them move along the sales and marketing funnel, bit by bit. Not just give them one massive shove at the start and hope all ends well.

Consistent Steps Leads To Sustainable Growth

Here’s the thing. ‘Keep the barges coming’ means you don’t have to spend zillions on marketing or create the next super bowl ad or immerse your industry on a one-off mega campaign. You just need to take small consistent steps. And as a side benefit, it takes the pressure off your people, your finances your time and ultimately leads to stronger relationships.

It’s one of the main message clients want me to speak about and conduct workshops on when helping their teams consistently improve,

Talk soon.


Other articles on innovation include ‘How do I foster an innovation culture in my team?’ or ‘What if disruption is holding you back?’ and ‘3 Big innovation barriers’

How 16 Footsteps Added $30k To Bottom Line Profit

By | Innovation, Leadership | No Comments

A very clever restaurant in Port Macquarie is boosting its bottom line profit by focusing on the little things – the inches.

Overlooking the harbour and village green of Port Macquarie is a restaurant called Chop and Chill, (one of my favourite haunts). Not only do they make great coffee, really good food and have an awesome view, they leverage inches really well.

Let me give you an example.

A while back a new head chef was brought in who, along with one of the restaurant managers, noticed something interesting. It took 16 extra footsteps to plate certain meals. A bit like a game of football where the backs cook the food (in the rear of the kitchen), the midfield move it through the centre and the forwards (front of the kitchen) serve the food onto the plates.

Solution and results.

Rather than re-configuring the kitchen they just reconfigured the process of plating the food. Meaning one less person needed in the kitchen saving them between $30k-$35k per annum. Directly boosting bottom-line profit

A Second Gap

Being an ingenious business they noticed another profitable gap. Having an outdoor seating area, tables and chairs needed to be moved in and out each morning and evening. This took up to two hours each day. That’s about $50 in wages per day, $350 each week, or $18,000 per annum. Add to this the wear and tear of constantly moving the furniture, as well as the odd bad back.

Install security shutters which can be drawn down at night and lifted in the morning. The shutters will cost about $20,000 and after 12 months they will be literally adding $18,000 to their bottom line each and every year. That’s a lot of meals and a lot of profit.

Every business, although doing most things well are letting these small steps, (inches), fall through the cracks. After all what difference can 16 steps make? It’s only a couple of hours and moving furniture and shutters are expensive right?

You see… everyone is searching for the next big idea. But here’s what I’ve seen having interviewed hundreds of businesses and their leaders, it’s actually the multiple of small ideas which are often overlooked. And are faster and easier to address and more profitable in the short term. Innovation is constant and these guys have found the secret to incremental innovation. The trick is for leadership to set the right culture and process to allow their people to find and act on them.

Similar innovation blogs posts you might enjoy are ‘Business reinvention and the town that changed itself and ‘Keep the barges coming’ and ‘Ingenious Oz Project reveals the secrets to business growth and innovation’ 


See how you can help your team find small gaps through the Game of Inches process, and innovation presentations and workshops