At the Edge

Friday, 6 October 2000 - Auckland, New Zealand

Fern Art Edge Kevin Roberts

Presentation Summary

An address to the Resource Management Law Association Conference. Ideas about: creating the conditions for peak performance; re-framing “the New Zealand story” to create a compelling national identity;· creating the right focus among all New Zealanders to elevate New Zealand to Lovemark status; taking the world on from the edge and winning!

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about vision for New Zealand. This is a big subject. It’s a highly emotionally issue for me because I’ve chosen to live my life here and I’ve chosen to champion New Zealand everywhere I go in the world.

You’ve presented me with an honour and a challenge…and the only way to meet a challenge is to focus single-mindedly on it.

We don’t have a vision right now and God knows we need one. Government aren’t providing one, the media aren’t, business isn’t – so it looks like it’s up to you and me to take a crack!

Understanding where we’re coming from and what we’re capable of is necessary to create a vision that is relevant and resonant, and not some fantasy.

Jack Welch of GE said you’ve got to see the world as it is, not as it was or how you would like it to be. Reality bites.

To set context I want to thank this conference for your generous donation to TYLA, the Turn Your Life Around Trust in West Auckland, which I contribute to as a coach and as a funder.

TYLA identifies kids ten to sixteen on the way to wasting their lives. They’re involved in, or capable of, violence and crime, against people, property, themselves.

Most of the kids have had tough starts. Unstable family life, broken homes, gang affiliation. One or both parents may be an alcoholic or gambling addict. There is long-term unemployment. Prison is a factor.

TYLA is a three year programme. It’s tough. We try to help them come to choices, to think about possibilities and goals to make constructive futures.

117 young people have graduated from TYLA. Another 130 are currently in the programme. Kids who were on their way to a life of trouble have turned their lives around. They’re achieving at university, in sports, as people, as full members of the New Zealand community.

Community building is where the vision-making process starts. It’s that part of us which takes individual and collective responsibility for the society we live in.

As a country we have enormous strengths and advantages. I’m an optimist. I’m a New Zealand patriot. I know there’s always a better way and I also know we need to find one quick!
We have black spots. We have gold medal rates of teenage pregnancy and youth suicide. We have generational cycles of abuse of women and children. New Zealand has the most under-fathered generation in the western world.

There is significant social inequality in New Zealand, so much so that an atlas of socio-economic deprivation has been published called “Degrees of Economic Deprivation in New Zealand.”

The most striking differences are ethnic groups. Over half of Maori lives in very deprived neighbourhoods and the situation is worse for Pacific Islanders.

We can’t have “one team one dream” with this imbalance, with this inequity in the system. So we’ve got to get this fixed.

Having large numbers of people on the edges and on our books as welfare dependants is expensive and explosive. While we’re trying to aim our heads to the heavens, it doesn’t make sense to have our feet sinking in quicksand.

There is no value in ignoring this and simply saying “get over yourself”. We need to deal to race and poverty issues in our vision-making in order to progress.

Ways forward include more resources going to the agencies who protect children and women; creating regional employment, especially for Maori men; affirmative programmes to empower all young people into the cyber-economy; preventative health programmes; prison education programmes; positive parenting programmes; mentoring schemes. This is all common sense stuff – and we need to add major new programmes on education about wealth creation – making money made simple.

Like most of you today I’m paying more tax than I was. I live in hope that the extra funds Government has collected are being used wisely and not being spent politically, stupidly or vengefully. I’m an optimist to the core!

The thing is, many of the things we complain about come down to one fact: we don’t generate enough income for our expectations and our needs. Privately and publicly we spend more than we can afford, we waste a lot of our human resources, we have about the worst savings record in the world – and we somehow expect the money to be there when its needed.

Ideas about making money aren’t discussed in New Zealand. They’re not discussed in Parliament. How many of our cabinet have successful business or export experience? Two out of 24? There are no targets for national and regional wealth creation. There is rampant ignorance about how to create prosperity. We have a hundred billion-dollar economy and no plan to add fifty billion dollars to it.

We need to spend the next five years on export-driven wealth creation. That’s only one year less than World War II. Our only way forward is to export more. When we all get our minds committed to this direction, the job should be easy.

Here’s one example. Compudigm, a Wellington software company, was set-up two years ago on an $80,000 loan. Today the company is valued at seventy million dollars, employs 40 people and is a world leader in 3D data visualisation for massive data users such as insurance companies, airlines, telcos and casinos.

By 2005 they want offices in 10 countries. Says a founder, “we’re aiming to become very large very quickly and maintain our [global] market dominance of business intelligence.” Bravo! They’ve got there on compelling ideas about design and computing, and hundred hour weeks. All Kiwi.

New Zealand has the ability to earn exceptionally well from software. Our improvisational skills, our ability to create short cuts and our engineering abilities mean we’re born naturals at IT. The Israelis know this, they know more about our high tech companies and people than most business people here. Israel has about 150 companies listed on the NASDAQ and they love Kiwis! And wander around the labs of US high tech and biotech companies and universities and you’ll find New Zealanders. There are ways to get these minds tuned back here.

Novelist John Mulgan pinned down New Zealand character 60 years ago when he wrote:

“That the world should sit up and take notice of what is being done here provides the ultimate authentication of [our] existence, hence the attraction of experimenting. New Zealand is trying new things out not just for itself but for the world at large. It is the world’s laboratory, providing radical and progressive solutions to common problems.”

This is a visionary insight. Many people in New Zealand are looking for purpose. People ask for vision, and ask “who are we?”

People are often suspicious about mass communication and shared visions. Simple messages however can carry spirit into the emotional architecture of our hearts and minds.

There will be few Australians last week who don’t believe they are part of “The Lucky Country.” I’ve got just one word to say to Australians about the Olympics: “Congratulations.”

Who can deny the motivational power of “The American Dream”?

Who cannot fail to shiver when you hear the words: “I have a dream.

Or: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

For its colonising power that impacted for a few hundred years, who could beat “Empire, King and Country”.

No-one doubts Japan achieved its mission: “Catch Up and exceed the West.”

Coca Cola’s vision is “to have a cold Coke at arms reach wherever you are in the world.”

And the mantra that has galvanised my company for over 25 years is “Nothing Is Impossible.” 7000 people in 92 countries believe this and act on it every minute.

A vision is a soundbite, a memorable signpost that points the way, a singularly effective insight that is suggestive, but not instructive.

For a country that is so good at designing and making things, New Zealand’s calls to arms have been ill-directed and lacking in character.

The spirit for much of last century was “where Britain goes, we go”.

The 50s and 60s were underscored with “she’ll be right” and “rugby, racing and beer.” Disastrous.

The 70s brought the aggressively egalitarian “New Zealand the way you want it.” Muldoon’s aspirations stretched no further than leaving New Zealand no worse than he found it.

There was the blur of the next 15 years. No one really gave it a name except Rogernomics. These were liberating years for New Zealand. Muldoon’s rulebook needed to be thrown out because we were bankrupt, out of money and out of ideas.

These years saw one of the gutsiest acts of global resource management: Nuclear Free. It made the world safer, and gave us an instant environmental edge that helped create the way we are widely perceived internationally: clean and green.

It is an ultimately sad commentary on this reformist period that the stickiest slogan to emerge is “Closing the Gaps.” It’s hanging out there as one of our two current pieces of visionary signwriting.

As an internally-focused defensive strategy, “Closing the Gaps” is fine. It communicates directly, it has some emotional pull, it describes part of a plan and is action-oriented. But it’s limiting and non-aspirational.

And the other visionary signpost – our externally focused offensive strategy!

What is this? What is our battle cry into the new millennium?

What are we advertising to the world about ourselves?

What is the international marketing campaign for our $100 billion country?


One hundred per cent!

I know a little bit about this Pure business. My dinner dates may even have had something to do with the brief for this campaign being safe, non-controversial and hygienic.

The first thing I would say is that $55 million is a pathetically small amount of money to spend on branding and marketing this country, especially as there’s no point in being brilliant at the wrong thing.

The government is a $35 billion enterprise, the biggest in New Zealand by a factor of ten. Its revenue is raised almost entirely by taxing citizens and producers. We depend totally on export for new wealth creation. To spend only $55 million to underpin and market a $35 billion tax base is totally out of whack. Certainly no business could survive on this equation.

Labour recognised that funding for the arts in New Zealand had been on starvation rations for many years, and did something to fix this. It needs to do the same for the international marketing of New Zealand. We don’t even have a trade brand.

Except Pure.

The most boring idea I’ve ever seen. Completely bland.

The Tourism Board says we have to play to our strengths. “We’ve had something like 60 years of product advertising showing our green fields,” the Board says. “That’s what people come here for,” they say.

Let’s interrogate the “Pure” proposition. I’ve always believed that the way New Zealand markets itself to the world through tourism should also reflect our desired positioning on export, immigration, culture and so on.

The way we market ourselves internationally should be honest and engaging, about who we are and not some fantasy.

With “Pure”, we have a 1950s style my-alps-are-prettier-than-your-alps template that maxes Clean Green. It looks like Austria, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland and Iceland.

Worse, it won’t actually deliver. “Pure” is at odds with reality. The national mood sure doesn’t seem pure at the moment.

And is Clean Green sustainable? This is where your interests as resource managers coincide with national image making.

Unlimited magazine says Clean Green New Zealand is a myth.

Agricultural pollution, chemical fertiliser run-off into rivers and coastal zones, toxic waste, air pollution in down-town Auckland exceeding World Health standards, failure of most exporters to meet international environmental standards and so on.

There is no doubt in global competitive terms that Clean Green is the premium positioning. We could be number one in the world, but our New Zealand Clean Green must be one hundred percent pure and provable.

I believe Clean Green has to be a big tick in the vision box. We need to innovate to achieve this, but New Zealand is a world innovation champion and we can achieve huge things if our heads are all going in the same rough direction.

How do we create a vision for New Zealand, a vision that is about nationhood, about citizenship, about all New Zealanders, and not about government, politics or economics?

Before we can achieve a leadership vision for New Zealand which we can all relate to, we’ve got to make some changes.

Here are ten ideas I would implement immediately:

1. Create the conditions for New Zealand to become the Silicon Valley of the South. I’ve already observed that we have an innate ability to design and make breakthrough technologies. We need to construct risk, reward and incentive packages for every high tech company in the world to establish here. We need to persuade Bill Gates to stop donating his vast wealth to charity and instead use it to change the world. He should transform an entire nation, a nation that will match his money dollar for dollar and leverage it. That nation should be New Zealand, because we’re fitter and faster, smaller and sharper. With his help we’ll equip every child over ten years old with a computing device and fast internet access so that they develop their intuitive computer and networking skills from a young age…before anyone else in the world.

2. Transfer money from defence to offence. We’ve got a billion-dollar defence budget and less than ten per cent of that for marketing. Quadruple the budget for international trade and tourism marketing and focus the effort on North America, the most affluent country on earth, with a big idea that isn’t pure garbage. And we must create an interactive website that acts as the front door to New Zealand. Something cool that your kids will live on. We just don’t have a compelling international web marketing strategy.

3. Use the tax system creatively. It’s not a simple put taxes up/take taxes down equation. The real question is what innovative ideas to stimulate growth can we find by managing the tax system differently. As a minimum there should be tax benefits for investment in export ideas and high technology.

4. Build bridges to the million New Zealanders who live overseas. I’m not interested in the population of New Zealand; I’m only interested in the population of New Zealanders in the world. I calculate there are about five million of us on the globe. It’s a deliberately provocative figure but one that compels people to have ideas about making connections and networks that bring New Zealanders back home – emotionally, virtually and physically. There is Kiwi wealth, ideas and goodwill swimming around the world and as a country we want it!

5. Go all the way for Clean Green. Here’s the opportunity: a US government report of 21 developed nations shows that consumers are prepared to pay 35% more for organic products than non-organic products. This is occurring at the same time as world prices for agriproducts are declining.
The study predicts a current market value of more than $US14 billion. In New Zealand, the annual growth in our organic market is expected to be 50%, with the New Zealand Dairy Board and others recently endorsing organic farming development.

New Zealand has a priceless opportunity to establish itself as the high quality, high value, natural food centre of the world. We need to produce, market and brand the highest quality food and make our clean green reputation a reality before we lose it altogether.

6. Encourage immigration. America and Australia were built on waves of immigrants. Let’s have out-of-the-box thinking about what others can add to our country. Instead of having the points system starting with “do you have a million dollars,” assess people on the I & E words: do they have Ideas, Imagination, Insight, Instinct? Do they have Energy, Empathy, Excitement, Emotion and Edge?

7. Encourage procreation! One of the really worrying demographic trends is the decrease in birth rates among young professional people with student loans. They’re putting off having children because of their debt. I would advocate an amnesty on student loans in perpetuity. The long term consequences of an ageing population coupled with declining fertility rates among high income earners is a nightmare.

8. Drastically reduce the number of accountants and lawyers we produce. We overproduce bean counters and rule keepers, and under-produce ideas people, engineers, technologists, scientists and people with selling skills. They put a law faculty into that beautiful wooden building opposite the Beehive when what they should have done is created a globally-focused school of export, tourism, design, information technology and international marketing. An Institute of the Imagination! This is where the new wealth creation is.

9. Exalt in our Maori Edge. With innate design, craft and performance skills, coupled with cultural traditions of networking and co-operation compatible with new economy work styles, I believe Maori skills and traditions are a hugely untapped export resource. Maori are a sophisticated indigenous culture that connects comfortably with the world. These pictures are from the book Moko by New York photographer Hans Neleman and published internationally. From medicine to architecture to peacekeeping to broadcasting to resource management, Maori have natural skills that I don’t see being used centre stage in New Zealand and internationally, but should be.

It’s a final nail into how scared a campaign Pure is that they used a cosmetic Moko in this ad.

10. Ditch the political system! Widespread disenchantment with our governance led to MMP, another seriously stupid idea for a community the minuscule size of New Zealand. Surprise surprise, people are just as disenchanted by the relentlessly adversarial nature of politics. While business has massively improved the way it conducts itself especially in terms of customer service and the use of the web, our parliament is still stuck in a mode that was the same in Dick Seddon’s Day. If the government was a business it would be broke! For a country of less than four million people onshore, we have constructed an extremely convoluted political system. It is a luxurious vanity for such a small country to have so much representation and therefore so much introspection when the main event lies totally overseas.

We have politicians and parties from both sides who have influence that is massively disproportionate to their popular vote. MMP should go, the number of MPs should be reduced at least in line with the referendum recommendations. Politics is a dirty business, especially with the media needing to fill their screens and pages twice a day. I believe we are badly served by the managers of our 35 billion-dollar business. There has got to be a better way. New Zealand must be run as a nation with an export-or-die focus, and not as a political football.

Having done all this, which I reckon a serious CEO could achieve in 100 days, how do we create the new vision for New Zealand for the new millennium?
Well, we’ve got four tools to use:

1. Seek the Tipping Point. In New York we’ve been working with Malcolm Gladwell, author of a hot business book called The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Check out

If you’re like me and believe the gap between our perceived mediocrity and rip-roaring success might actually be very small, then The Tipping Point is a book you must read. Gladwell looks at why major changes in society often happen unexpectedly. Ideas, behaviour, messages and products, he argues, often spread like a virus.

Social epidemics are examples of contagious behaviour and the phenomenon of word-of-mouth.

A small number of people and actions caused crime in New York to drop suddenly and dramatically in the mid 1990s. It wasn’t as if some huge percentage of would-be murderers suddenly sat up in 1993 and decided not to commit any more crimes. It was that a small number of changes occurred at the margin – at the edge – and built quickly into a critical mass of attitude and action.

In all your vision-making, look to create a Tipping Point, a small but dramatic moment when everything can change at once.

2. Operate at Peak Performance. I am a co-author of the book Peak Performance: Business Lessons from the World’s Greatest Sports Organisations.

Peak Performance is important because it is the story of creating cultures that achieve and sustain success. There are nine principles of Peak Performance. I’m going to offer you three today.

i. Create Your Greatest Imaginable Challenge. The Australian cricketers want to win every single test. Team New Zealand wants to win the America’s Cup forever. We’ve got to set a Greatest Imaginable Challenge for New Zealand. One was offered to me this week: to “transform welfare dependency into entrepreneurial achievement in the new global economy.”

ii. The Inspirational Dream must get people wanting to belong. It must capture the spirit of the effort. “Make magic” was the inspirational dream of the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan. “The joy of speed” belongs to the Williams Formula One team.

iii. Focus. Achieve a result – this minute, this week, in a hundred days. Don’t choke at the last minute. John Eales showed us how!

There are six more principles – Building Community; Creating the Future; Exceeding Personal Best; The Last Detail; Sharing the Dream and Game-breaking Ideas. You can go to my website to find out more.

Peak Performance pivots around Inspirational Players. They are gamemakers because they have talent, commitment and a winning ability. These are people who are or whose legend is consistently inspirational. It’s a great idea for New Zealand because we breed outstanding people.

Growing up in a mix of sanctuary, incubator, quarantine and asylum, New Zealanders produce a dazzling mix of head in the clouds and feet on the ground. Our grit, guts and genius is highly prized throughout the world.
Trouble is, people are leaving, for longer, forever. We’ve got to engage their hearts and minds so they stay New Zealanders, in touch and grounded, emotionally and then physically.

3. Make New Zealand a Lovemark. I’ve been working this year to identify the design elements of sustaining emotional connections with ideas, people, experiences, products, events and beliefs. This is new thinking about how you can create abundance and joy.

Here’s the introduction to our website :

“A Lovemark is a state of grace that irrevocably binds the aspirations of your customers, your members, your believers. It’s the emotional connection that lets you go out and conquer the world.”

Lovemarks are based around the twin ingredients of mystery and sensuality.

When we’re creating vision for New Zealand, we need to weigh the presence of these factors:

i) Inspirational stories and metaphors

ii) Past present and future together

iii) Mythic characters and icons

iv) Strong emotional connections

v) Plays all the senses: touch, sight, sound, taste and smell

vi) Above all, is owned, held, wanted by consumers, users and citizens.

The job of creating an international Lovemark for New Zealand is easy given the already positive perceptions in the world about us. Creating the internal Lovemark is the pressing task. Our outward vision – who we are to the world – will help us achieve our inward vision. “Pure” just won’t cut it.

4. Communicate the Vision simply and emotionally. Be brief. Put the vision into one word. We have a global client who has the most comprehensive product range in their sector in the world. To distinguish between products we have together developed One Word Equities. That’s all we are allowed, one word to describe and differentiate the personality of the product. It’s a great model.

What are some of the words that can be applied to New Zealand’s vision? Choose your word. Kate Frykberg has suggested a word for an innovation vision for New Zealand: “dare”.

A business partner of mine Brian Sweeney and I have a website about New Zealand identity and networking. When we chose our word, we put all the design tools on the desk: Lovemarks, the Tipping Point, Peak Performance and One Word Equities.

Intuitively we kept coming back to one metaphor that we believe describes who we are and what our special quality is.

It’s not a fantasy word, it’s a word that takes us as high as the heavens that Rutherford and Pickering dreamt about, and as low as an abyss.

It’s a word that is open and ambiguous. The dots aren’t connected so that the people can script their own meaning. It empowers and liberates. It gets people worked up and it plays to our creative and risk-taking side.

It’s the word the organisers borrowed, with our endorsement, as the theme for this conference.

We have our Inspirational Dream: Winning the World from the Edge.

Our Focus is simply this: Export or Die. We stand for a massive turnaround in attitude towards exporting. We kid ourselves that we are a trading nation: only 4% of New Zealand businesses export. Thirty companies earn half of our foreign exchange. This is a narrow and shallow export base. We need to tattoo the words EXPORT onto our foreheads and develop export ideas every day.

The Edge metaphor comes from our extreme physical location on the globe.

Edge theory comes from biology, the most important of today’s sciences. Change in a species always comes from the edge. Biology explains the internet and exponential growth and increasing returns to scale.

Edge comes from our position relative to the dateline, on the leading edge of time, first to the future everyday.

Edge says danger and risk, from our adventure tourism to our volcanic and earthquake lined landscape, to our art through to our economy.

Edge promises thrilling achievement. Competitive edge.

Leading edge. Cutting edge. At the edge of your seat.

Edge is a word embedded in that new economy we are trying to develop, the Knowledge Economy. This term is rational, left- brain bunkum and is not the basis for vision. It sounds like three years of algebra. The Knowledge Economy is not a Lovemark. The term disenfranchises the people who have not progressed through the education system. It says unless you’re degree’d and diplom’d you can’t participate.

I like the term Edge Economy because it plays to our creative and entrepreneurial side.

Edge also flips our psyche. David Eggleton describes the work of New Zealand poet Alan Curnow 40 years ago as dealing with the displacement, dislocation, unease, inferiority, insecurity, insignificance and doubts of Pakeha settler society.

Our Lovemark, The New Zealand Edge, is staunch about the strengths of being where we are and who we are. The Edge liberates us from our post-colonial baggage.

No vision is complete without a website. Ours is and it’s our channel to five million Kiwis. You’ll find hundreds of stories of inspirational New Zealanders who are rocking the edges of the globe with their imaginations.

At I believe you’ll find unexpected richness, texture and depth to the New Zealand story. You’ll find an evolving community of gung-ho people from here and around the world.

The vision we are creating with the community is for all to share. The New Zealand Edge will become a Tipping Point. It’s an outlaw brand, deliberately seeking the edge. It is an empowering tool that liberates the spirit, enables the mind and quickens the heart. It works for me and it will work for you.

Do three things when you leave this conference:

One, embrace your own personal New Zealand Edge, examine it, polish it, sharpen it.

Two, commit yourself to an export idea, it doesn’t matter what, just focus on creating and then selling something overseas.

And three, get ready to take on the world from the edge and win.

How to Win in the Age of Now


Spanning creativity, leadership and execution, Kevin Roberts’ presentation to the Entrepreneurs’ Organization Wellington Chapter is an inspirational primer in: Wanting to Win, Ways to Win Now and Ways to Keep Winning – the secrets of Peak Performance so that winning becomes a habit.

Up, Up and Away – Rotary Newmarket


Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi, talks to the Newmarket Rotary Club about Winning in the Age of Now, and how to turn a brand into an irresistible Lovemark for the next generation.

Start Me Up


Kevin Roberts gives keynote speech at the 6th Annual Global Competitiveness Forum “The Entrepreneurship Imperative” held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, sharing three ways to win in the region.

Set Fire To The Rain


In this presentation to Spotlight On Lancaster at Lancaster University, Kevin Roberts talks about enabling, energizing and activating creative partnerships and achieving Vibrant, Crazy, Unreal and Astounding impact.

Brighter Than Sunshine


Presenting to AAC Saatchi & Saatchi in Bermuda, Kevin Roberts shares three key ideas on connecting people around ideas that create Loyalty Beyond Reason.

Magic Time


In this presentation to EmoDay in Amsterdam, Kevin Roberts shares five key ideas on emotional innovations and creating Lovemarks.

Just Can’t Get Enough


Presenting to the Institute of Development Professionals in Education in Oxfordshire, Kevin Roberts presents three ideas on creating Loyalty Beyond Reason and creating frameworks for development discussions.