I have television to thank for some recent learnings that to me revealed some startling parallels between our native bird and our entrepreneurs.
Like many people, I know that our national bird, the kiwi, is a ratite, a member of a large group of flightless birds. What I didn't know, though, was that kiwi are also fast movers that are feisty and aggressive.
But as the narrator described the kiwi’s daily life - literally lots of head down and bum up without making too much of a fuss about things - I started to think about how it was that our nation had assumed the kiwi’s modest and unassuming nature, and have found it so hard to shake.
While humble comments from All Black Richie McCaw at the end of the game are what we have come to expect from a leader who is always gracious in his treatment of the losing side - regardless of what trials he and his team have had to overcome - modesty is an undesirable trait for New Zealand businesses if they want to make it big on the world stage.
It’s a risk, because regardless of the strength of the innovation culture in any business (which I truly hope every business is striving for), being too modest about what you are doing better than everybody else is surely an innovation killer. Yet this is a behaviour we see time and again in many businesses.
This reluctance to stick one’s head above the parapet and be noticed is ingrained. We are, after all, a nation of sloggers, quietly going about our business like our beloved native bird. It seems that many businesses, especially start-ups, regard it as crucial to work this way to get where they want to go.
While many business owners are clearly savvy at handling the nitty gritty day-to-day running of their businesses, their elevator pitch often needs some work. We tend to be annoyingly shy about what we do so well. But to succeed on the world stage and create prosperity for our country, that needs to change.
I am certainly not suggesting we are a nation of mumblers staring at our shoes when asked what we’re up to, and equally no one likes a clever clogs, but we do need to be clearer and very deliberate about what we are doing and how we are doing it so well. We do need to be able to tell people - in thirty seconds or less - exactly what our business is about, why we are doing it and its purpose. Practising some back-slapping and high fives wouldn’t be out of order either.
We have all seen average ideas that have been executed deliberately and communicated magnificently, resulting in commercial success. It’s a shame to think there may be some incredibly innovative ideas that may not have their time to shine because we just can’t get the message across with the same amount of passion.
New Zealand businesses have come a long way in recognising that we can compete with the best of them, but we still need to work hard on singing our praises, because sure as hell no one else will.
This article first appeared in Idealog .