Brian Sweeney address to Long Bay College Prizegiving, North Shore, Auckland, November 14, 2001.
I am honoured to be here. It’s great to be with such a large group of people.
Congratulations to the prize winners on your performance, your inquiry, your dedication and your creativity.
The capacity of schools to make magic is enormous. Everyone has at least one abiding memory of a great teacher, a person who has inspired you to learn and believe in yourselves. Most of us carry the legacy of these teachers all of our life.
It is a great honour tonight to be here in this theatre, dedicated to the great Bruce Mason. I saw him perform his solo work, The End of The Golden Weather, 25 years ago, and I can remember vividly the nuance and narrative of the story and performance.
The plays ends with the lines “I stand by the porch. The broom is almost bare of flowers, and, as I watch, a jaundiced bloom flutters off the bush, and sustained by the light breeze, charts a hazy course before coming to rest beside me. I pick it up and somehow I know, as I finger the jaded petals, that summer is quite at an end.”
We live in uncertain times. Shocking events in the world. Trying to keep up with the many different perspectives to really understand what is going on is almost a full time job.
The things we are sure about, what our touch-stones are, are our families, and our country.
September 11 has brought new meanings to “family” – clustered around notions of security, familiarity and togetherness.This is why tonight is so important.
There are new meanings about “country” that are being discussed in the media, on the web, at conferences, in classrooms, and this is what I have been invited to talk about tonight.
Questions about: Who are we? What are we? Why are we! Do we sink? Or do we swim? What do we draw from our past into the present to create our future?
These are not new questions. The great New Zealand poet, Allen Curnow, recently departed, stared down these questions in his work over 70 years, addressing the sense of displacement, dislocation, unease and seeming insignificance of Pakeha settler society.
Tonight, I’ve brought confidence, optimism and hopefully some inspiration for the future. These are personal views, not political ones.
In my professional life at Sweeney Vesty Limited I work with New Zealand global companies on their communication programmes. They too address the who, the what and the why questions.
We look for patterns in language to discover new meanings. Our teams use a variety of tools and methods to unleash the spirit of organisations and individuals so that they will peak perform, continuously, again and again at the top level.
Most marketing and communication programmes aim at your feet – ie, your behaviour, what you do.
I am interested in the heart and the mind. Spirit and attitude.
Simplicity is the key. Often we reduce the essence of a product, be it a car or country, to just one single word. If you were to do this for New Zealand, what word would you choose?
If you were in charge of marketing New Zealand to the world, and indeed to ourselves, what word would you choose?
What is the one word that captures the grit, guts and genius we as New Zealanders consistently and collectively project?
I’ve spent some years thinking about this question. I have an answer that works for me, and also for thousands of other New Zealanders around the globe.
Our word, the concept we subscribe to, is called “edge”. The New Zealand “edge”.
I was given the edge metaphor for New Zealand by one of the great contemporary thinkers about the networked world, Kevin Kelly, an American editor and writer.
When he was here some years ago, I took him on a drive to KareKare- the wrong coast from your point of view I am sure – he kept pumping me for questions about New Zealand’s achievements as a country.
Our national narrative has been rather short – sheep and All Blacks seem to have ruled popular Kiwi myth. It’s a little short in the fullness of the composition.
When I told Kevin Kelly about Rutherford splitting the atom, Hillary climbing Everest, Kate Shepherd winning the vote for women, and Richard Pearce flying before the Wright brothers, he said New Zealand’s DNA was really easy to understand.
This was my eureka moment, I thought! He explained it through biology – today’s most important science.
In biology, change – the new stuff – always starts on the fringe of a species, on the edge.
This edge metaphor was a perfect fit with our extraordinary history of innovation and our location on the map.
I love the term “the New Zealand edge”. It plays to our location, our sense of adventure, the sort of crazy risks we take physically and intellectually.
Edge plays to the sense of danger, that we might drop off the globe in a heap of irrelevance, or that our social dysfunctionalities might implode upon us.
The metaphor is liberating. Edge, if you observe, is embedded in the word “knowledge”. Personally I am not to keen on the term “knowledge economy”.
It sounds too much like a three year algebra re-education camp to me – and with my record in mathematics, you’ll understand why I am wary.
We’re on the edge of time in New Zealand, first the future, every day.
Edge plays to our creative nature. A study we have just concluded we found that that our creative industries – our art, our music, our film, our writing, our design, our winemaking, our software – are the things that will make us consistently famous in the world.
If the New Zealand Edge was a rugby player, he surely would be on the wing, he would surely have the name of Jonah!
The edge metaphor also gives strength to our entrepreneurial side. What is an entrepreneur? An entrepreneur is someone who contributes to the social wellbeing of their country through the creation of wealth by being in business.
I have been in business since the day I left university, never had an actual job as such, but I have been fuelled by dreams, hopes and aspirations for a better world.
My partner in The New Zealand Edge project is Kevin Roberts. He too is passionate about New Zealand. Kevin is probably the most senior New Zealand business person operating internationally.
He is provocative and outspoken, which gets him written up in the local media in colourful terms, but Cambridge University in England has recognised his skills and talents, having just appointed him their first Chief Executive in Residence.
At the New Zealand Edge, our inspirational dream is “winning the world from the edge”.
Our greatest imaginable challenge is to create New Zealand as “the coolest, funkiest place on the planet”.
Our focus is “export or bust”. We want to help develop the attitudes that will take the New Zealand economy from say $120 billion to $200 billion a year over the next five years. It’s possible, but only if you have the dream and the inspiration.
Entrepreneurs are also great story-tellers. Our website, nzedge.com, is our place for story-telling. For community building. We have looked closely at New Zealand, and one of the first conclusions we came to is that New Zealand is not a country of almost four million people, but indeed five million.
We’ve brought into the fold the million or so New Zealanders who live overseas to instantly create a much better sense of scale and reach than we previously had.
Indeed, nzedge.com is a life-line to a great many New Zealanders overseas, who we should view as a fantastic network for advancing our place in the world.
We had this idea some years ago, it’s become quite popular now, and we’ve got off to a great start in creating a global community of New Zealanders on the web.
As an aside, many of you may be wondering about “overseas experience”, OE, sometimes called “the brain drain.”
My first piece of advice is to never let anyone make you feel guilty about the choices you make. Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving, is something we don’t need in New Zealand.
The second point is that overseas experience is critically important for advancing both your personal skills and perspectives, and also those of the nation.
Thirdly, there is such an incredibly rich and rewarding life to be had in New Zealand. I have never been away from New Zealand for more than three weeks at a time, but the internet means I can be totally wired into several points of the globe simultaneously.
And fourthly, the events of September 11 enable us to reverse our time-honoured chips-on-the-shoulder. We are not “isolated” – although thank heavens God thought to put a place down in the bottom right-hand corner.
Instead, New Zealand is a relative sanctuary in this time of global distress. We are not a “small” country. Think of ourselves as “rare” and “valuable”.
We don’t have “expatriates”. Instead, we have an incredibly valuable network to build upon. We can them NEONZ. The network of overseas New Zealanders.
I said entrepreneurs are great story-tellers and I want to wind down by showing you the sorts of stories we tell at nzedge.com.
We have many “Hero” stories, comprehensive biographies of ordinary New Zealanders who have made extraordinary contributions to the world.
Like Bruce McLaren, the Aucklander whose name heads on one of the greatest teams in Formula One motor racing history.
Rewi Alley – the white guy in the Chinese revolution. He founded the work cooperative movement in China, and through this gave the world the term “gung ho” – “work together”.
Nancy Wake – Wellington born, the most decorated woman of World War II. A resistance fighter who led an army of 7,000 men in the south of France in the long war against fascism.
Katherine Mansfield – who revolutionised the short story as a literary form, famous for her line “risk, risk anything! Do the hardest thing on earth for you! Act for yourself. Face the truth.”
Alexander Aitken – from Dunedin, one of the greatest of all mathematicians.
Joseph Nathan – founder of the Manawatu company that became world famous for its infant formula and whose name heads one of the largest pharmaceutical firms in the world, Glaxo Smith Kline.
Tex Morton – from Nelson, one of the greatest entertainers in Australasia and then the world in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.
William Pickering – who put the Americans into space when he ran the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
These are ordinary New Zealanders who have done extraordinary things.
Our website also covers the achievements of contemporary New Zealanders.
Peter Jackson – Middle Earth comes from the Edge. December 19 will be our biggest day in the world since we declared ourselves nuclear free.
Aucklander Mathew During – conducting ground-breaking research into neuroscience from Philadelphia.
Margaret Moth – senior camera journalist for CNN, guaranteed to be somewhere near Kabul right now.
Phil Keoghan – host of the prime time series “The Great Race”, on CBS in America, guest on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show.
Aaron Franklin, the Kumeu-based designer of these stunning carbon fibre mountain bikes he is starting to export around the world. His inspirations were Richard Pearse and John Britten.
And so the stories go on. We tell hundreds of stories. And they are all about a deep and largely unspoken love for this country.
The difference at nzedge is that we are now talking about that love out loud.
I have never had any doubts about our capabilities as a country to be healthy and robust domestically and globally. September 11 did not change that view, if anything my view has strengthened.
I have just got four quick thoughts to leave you with on this important event, as many of you take a next step along the way of your dreams, and others still putting the pieces together.
Number 1 – start with yourself. Be responsible for your own happiness and success and dreams, because no one else will be. It’s up to you.
Number 2 – Dream big – and do it huge.
Number 3 – Do it quick, because time can’t wait.
And Number 4 – Do it global, the world needs more New Zealanders doing extraordinary things.
Go it, inspirational players of Long Bay College.