Some things are good in theory but better in practice

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to deliver a brand new keynote for the first time. As a professional speaker, a new keynote is like a newborn child. About 12 months ago, I was talking to my team and suggested we should try for another keynote. We already had a couple of keynotes that we loved and it was difficult to see how we were going to have time for another one. More content to change, more sleepless nights wondering if they’re OK, and ongoing concerns about how you will love them all equally. But once you have the idea in your head, it’s hard to shake. So after a couple more discussions we decided to take the leap and get serious about it.

Into the mountains

Between that point of inception and the delivery date (which again, just like a newborn was also about nine months), it felt like this keynote could be anything it wanted to be — the possibilities were endless. But as the delivery date draws closer, the reality starts to kick in, your fears start to kick in. 

What if it’s ugly? 
Will other people still love it? 
Will I still love it? 
What if I neglect it, and as it gets older it starts hanging out with the wrong sort of keynotes — the ones that mumble and are hard to understand. 
Or even worse, the boring ones that send everyone to sleep, or the weird looking ones with dot points all over their slides and who are always trying to say too much…

…hmmm, I think that analogy is done. Let’s move on.

This new keynote was called Thrive on Disruption and my idea was to explore the characteristics of organisations that not only propelled them to outperform their peers, but who (in doing so) often drove the disruption of whole industries or created entirely new ones. The good news was this related to a whole bunch of research I’d done as part of my Master of Leadership thesis a few years ago. The bad news was I had no idea about how to present such big and complex ideas in a truly engaging and meaningful way.

Enter storytelling

There is little doubt that the idea of corporate storytelling is having its day in the sun. Incredible books such as Hooked: How Leaders Connect, Engage and Inspire with Storytelling by Yamini Naidu and Gabrielle Dolan, as well as Gabrielle’s follow up book Stories for Work, and Shawn Callahan’s Putting Stories to Work (just to name a handful written in Melbourne) have all highlighted the power of storytelling in making ideas memorable and relatable and I was keen to see how I could use storytelling in my new keynote. So as part of the keynote development process, I worked with an incredible story crafter in Megan Davis to help design the narrative of the keynote.

The outcome was uncomfortable

Although I’ve read extensively on the power of storytelling and even engaged a story telling consultant to help me, the outcome (more so than the process) was incredibly challenging. In reflection, the biggest challenge was to my self-perception. I had felt that as a professional speaker I was meant to be the ‘expert’, someone with the answers, or at least, with thoughtful and thought provoking ideas to share. And yet, for the first 20 minutes of my new keynote I wasn’t going to share anything thoughtful at all. I wasn’t going to share any of my expertise. I was just going to tell a story of the time I went hiking in the mountains of New Zealand with seven friends (there is more to the story than this but I don’t want to ruin it for you). To say the least this felt incredibly awkward.

And yet it entirely worked

The saying goes that some things are good in theory but not so good in practice. I can only suggest that my experience of storytelling is entirely the opposite. Although I already knew that storytelling was good in theory, the experience in practice was far better than I could have imagined. Ultimately, the hiking story served as an easily understandable analogy for how organisations operate in disruptive and challenging environments. It provided a safe way for participants to reflect on their own organisation’s behaviours and practices, to better understand what is working and also what could be improved, and it provided a relatable way for sharing how cutting edge organisations operate differently. Finally, I think the story shed light on my own mistakes and my own vulnerabilities, which in turn perhaps made the ideas I did share more relatable and achievable. In hindsight, this is everything you get told about storytelling, but sometimes struggle to believe. 

And why do I share this with you all? It’s not because I want you to use more story telling in your work, though I sincerely hope you do (and please check out some of the links to the great books and people above). It’s because theory and practice often bear little similarity to each other. It’s not just that some things are good in theory and yet bad in practice. It’s just as likely that something is bad in theory but good in practice or, as in this case, something I believed to be good in theory was in fact incredible in practice. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is practice, not theory. So if you really want to know if an idea is a good idea you need to stop reading about it and thinking about it…and actually do it.

Check out Simon’s LIVE Speaking Guide to get a taste for what he does or get in touch to discuss how he can add something special to your organisation’s next event.

What professional speakers could learn from the Rolling Stones

For the last nine months or so I have been working on a secret project. It would have been called a skunkworks project if I worked at Lockheed Martin, or a moonshot if I worked at Google, but as I work at neither of these places (and have a much smaller budget) I just called it Project Live.

Project Live is an (ongoing) experiment in the future of keynotes and live events. It was born out of a realisation that most professional speakers present cannot compete with the prerecorded virtual versions of themselves. Just like has a far bigger audience and reach than the actual TED conference, the incredible quality and unparalleled convenience of the online version means that live experiences need to evolve if they want to compete. This is not just a problem for professional speakers, it is also a massive issue for conference organisers. How do they compete against the convenience and quality of free TED talks and endless YouTube clips?

As William Gibson pointed out “The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” This suggests that other people are likely to have already dealt with this same issue, and maybe they might have also found some workable solutions. So what other industries could speakers and event organisers potentially learn from? The most natural learning opportunity would be that of live music.

Live music has had to deal with the impact of Napster, peer to peer sharing platforms such as Pirate Bay, iTunes and more recently music streaming services such as Spotify. So how is it that musicians have responded? The answer is to go big on live performances.

Below are two images, the first is from a Rolling Stones gig in 1972, the second is from a gig from 2017. Notice anything different?




The big difference is not what is happening on stage, although Mick is somewhat spritely still for his age he can’t quite cut the moves that he did 35 years ago. The big difference is what is going on around it: the lights, the screens, the imagery…the experience.

Great music is no longer enough, if I want great music I can listen to the fully remastered high definition version on demand in the comfort of my own home. To entice people to come to gigs you need to provide an experience, an experience that is so big and so unique that people will be willing to forgo the convenience and fork out the money to share in the moment and say they were there.

And just like great music is no longer enough for musicians, great content is no longer enough for conference speakers (this is not to say that great content is not required, but rather that it’s the price of admission and you still need to do more from there). To be relevant in the world where everything can be streamed you need to be able to create an experience that cannot be replicated online.

Project Live was created from this idea. I ditched PowerPoint and started playing around with live video mixing software (similar to what is used in a Rolling Stones concert), I started replacing still images with HD video and started mixing my keynotes live on stage. Now that I’ve got this part largely down pat I’m now looking at producing soundscape elements and live mixing them along with the visuals to create a truly unique experience every time.

I’m not telling you this because that’s what everyone should be doing but rather that anyone who wants longevity in the industry needs to be doing something. I’m constantly inspired by other speakers such as Dr Jason Fox and Mykel Dixon who are constantly tinkering with visual, musical and other theatrical elements in their events. Although they are two of the hottest speakers in Australia at the moment they are also constantly pushing boundaries in both their content and their delivery.*

*And even outside the events industry I believe all organisations need to be constantly tinkering and experimenting if they want to ensure their future relevance.

Bell & Howell Overhead Projector

When I started Project Live at the end of last year it was based on a gut feeling, but in March I found proof that this was the future. I was speaking at a conference in Canberra and found an old Bell and Howell overhead projector from the 1970s, the same one that many of us might remember from back in high school. This is the same era as the image of the Rolling Stones pictured above. But whereas the Rolling Stones (along with most other live acts) have fully embraced what it means to give a live performance, professional speakers have limited themselves to a digital version of the overhead projector.

The future is here my friends…and it’s LIVE.

Transformation sucks

Digital Trans-for-ma-tion has a certain sweet ring to it. It says

we’re getting our shit together

we’re going places

and we ain’t taking prisoners.


But in truth, digital transformation is playing catch up. It’s for organisations that have been slow to change and have missed opportunities. As a result, things are now gonna get lumpy (and we might not all make it out the other side).

In someone else’s words “Transformation… requires radical, systemic shifts in values and beliefs, patterns of social behavior, governance and management.”

So here we are.

Whether we like it or not, digital transformation may now be a necessity

and on the other side of transformation we hope to find something magical

…but in between it might not be all chocolate and roses.

Same methodology. Different delivery.

I’m not normally one for self promotion so please forgive me for the following email (or see the content as being of such significance that I was left with little choice). Following is the briefest of summaries, then feel free to read on, delete or (should the idea of self promotion be so unbearable to you) unsubscribe.


There has been much success.

New programs now available.

Read on?

Much of my work over the last 12 months has been focused on working with organisations to develop digital champions. This started with the Digital Champions Club, a process improvement program for SMEs using digital technology as a catalyst. It resulted in me writing a book called The Digital Champion: Connecting the Dots Between People, Work and Technology and has also seen me running the Breakfast of Champions and speaking at events around the country.

During that time I’ve had heaps of feedback on the digital champions approach (in summary – two people giving two hours each per week to deliver a $100,000 in value in a year), both from members who have been a part of it, and from outsiders who might like to join. As a result I am now launching two new ways for organisations to engage in the digital champions approach.

DCC Elements the smaller of SMEs

Some SMEs really wanted to be a part of the Digital Champions Club but didn’t feel they had the resources (financial or human) to fully commit to it. DCC Elements is the same methodology and contains all the same elements that have made the Digital Champions Club a success, but delivered through different channels and at a lower price.

Applications for the December bootcamp are now open. If you want to find out more about the Digital Champions Club and the different membership types, check out

Digital Champions for Government

The other area where I’ve been doing a lot of work over the last 12 months has been in local government (mainly helping senior leaders cope with growing information pressure by adopting a digital first approach).

At the Municipal Association of Victoria’s Technology Conference in August, I gave a keynote called Why the IT Department Needs to Die that outlined the need for a new approach to digital within local government. Given it was a conference for IT professionals the feedback was surprisingly good and I am now talking to a number of local councils about Digital Champions for Government.

If you work in government and are interested in a rigorous, targeted and supported approach to improving process and building digital capabilities, you might want to check out

That is all.

Beware the digital veneer

Now that digital is cool, hip, and happening, organisations are hustling to get their digital on.


Unfortunately a deep, meaningful engagement with digital takes time, effort and resources.

It requires training to enable people,

breaking down silos of decision-making and responsibility,

and it requires a culture that encourages risk-taking and accepts (the right type of) failure.

So instead of doing something meaningful, some organisations find it’s just easier to invest in a digital veneer. A bit of social media marketing over here, a Facebook messenger chat-bot over there. Just enough to give a semblance of being digital but without…well, without anything meaningful.

The problem with a veneer is that as soon as you scratch the surface there is not much substance underneath. The same inefficiencies, mistakes and problems still fester away behind a well-presented facade (and like cheap, flat-packed furniture, it all come unstuck at the slightest hint of pressure).

Although it’s important to start somewhere, a digital veneer is more often than not just window dressing for organisations that haven’t committed to their digital future...

…rarely is it a promise of something better to come.


If you’re looking to start a digital transformation program for your organisation but having a hard time getting the ball rolling, head over to the Digital Champions Club to see how we can help you through the process.


Avoid the digital disconnect

There is an ongoing tension between the digital savvy of people and how an environment* enables or supports them. If one of these forces move too fast OR too slow we create

a digital             disconnect

Thin ice_6x4

in organisations this is the combination of systems, devices, tools, norms and policies they operate in

There are two types of disconnect

The first is where the environment is more technology enabled than people are comfortable with.
This drives fear, creates cognitive overload and inevitably results in an underutilisation of the technology. All of this come with inherent cost to the organisation.

The second type is when people are more tech savvy than the environment they operate in.
This results in frustration, which subsequently drives people to operate in the shadow lands outside the defined IT environment. The additional IT expense, increased risk and missed opportunity also come with a cost to the organisation.

if we can manage this tension just right

magic can happen!

By striving to meet the needs of increasingly digital savvy users, we can create a pull towards more enabling environments. In turn more enabling environments will push people to be more digital savvy.

The interplay of these two forces can shift an organisation from ‘adequate’ ways of working built in the past to truly effective ones created for the future.

If you’re looking to start a digital transformation program for your organisation but having a hard time getting the ball rolling, head over to the Digital Champions Club to see how we can help you through the process.

  1. The digital disconnect is already happening in schools
  2. When technology creates fear. The rise of neo-luddism.
  3. Shadow IT – how 83% of organisations clearly aren’t meeting their users needs
  4. Why lots of little changes are more effective than a few big ones

We need to improve before we innovate

Innovation might have been the buzzword of circa 2013 but for many organisations it is still preferable to talk about it rather than actually do it. Why?


Because the way most organisations approach innovation is painful at best and destructive at worst.

When we expect innovation to be game changing, future making or next generation we end up overlooking small regular improvements in our search for big, one-off transformations.

There is a mistaken belief that big one-off transformations are easier because we only have to do them once. But most people don’t like this type of change because

 it’s big
        and it’s irregular


The change doesn’t stick.

And we slowly slide back towards the status quo (at which point we then start planning our next big, one-off transformation).

Don’t get me wrong, people can handle change. In fact we do it all the time (and generally without the need for change managers to be involved). It’s just much easier to change a little every day than a lot now and then.

And it’s easier to innovate if you’ve already got a culture of improvement.

  1. Fancy a game of buzzword bingo?
  2. Innovation vs ingenuity: is it just semantics?
  3. Something I wrote about evolution, revolution and approaches to change
  4. At least 5 reasons why small projects are more successful than big ones

Eyes and opportunities

Just as day follows night, the exponential growth in computing power is creating an exponential growth in digital opportunity.

The eyes have it_6x4
There are more apps, platforms, devices and integrations than ever before (and there are many, many many more still to come) and each one might be an opportunity to do things faster, cheaper, and better.


in most organisations the responsibility for digital is limited to the IT department. Which means the number of people tasked with identifying and acting on these opportunities is growing linearly at best and is stagnant at worse.


If you don’t have hundreds of digital opportunities on your radar coming it doesn’t mean they don’t exist, it just means

                             the number of opportunities exceeds the number of eyes looking for them.

In the future (and when I say ‘future’ I mean ‘now’) everyone will need to start taking responsibility for digital.


  1. Computing power defies expectations
  2. Number of apps to double (thankfully some are not crappy games)
  3. IT workforce is growing…just very slowly
  4. Are robots more aware of what’s going on than you?

Happy ball point pen day

On June 10 1943 the Biro brothers registered the first European patent for the ball point pen. Sure we seem to create international days for just about anything and International Ball Point Pen Day is probably not the weirdest but it does raise a question why celebrate the ball point pen at all.


Human history has been full of extraordinary leaps in communication technology but as far as I can gather there is no cave painting day, no papyrus day, no quill day and no national carrier pigeon day. Shouldn’t we just expect that the ball point pens will also eventually join the scrap heap of human invention and instead celebrate and encourage the use of what will replace it, our digital tools. Controversial I know.

So my contribution to national ball point pen day will be to dig up an old post and once again share with you why the keyboard could be mightier than the pen.

There is an interesting debate currently going on amongst academics and other big thinkers across the internet about the effectiveness of our digital tools in adding understanding and recollection. So given that the internet allows us all to have our say, regardless of our level of expertise, I thought I would add my two cents to the conversation before we all get distracted by a new cat meme.

The debate seems to have started with some research out of the US suggesting that paper and pens were a superior form of notetaking than keyboards. The research titled The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking argues that people who take notes using pen and paper remember more and show a greater understanding of the subject matter than people who take notes on a laptop. It hypothesized that the ability to capture information faster on a keyboard led to greater verbatim note taking and as a result students had to exert less cognitive load in building understanding and connections between content. It was something the authors called ‘desirable difficulty’…which just might be my new favourite phrase to drop into conversations.

So in response Clive Thompson, journalist for Wired Magazine and author of Smarter Than You Think (which just might be my new favourite book title to drop into conversations) wrote a piece on Medium titled The Joy of Typing: How racing along at 60 words a minute can unlock your mind. Clive doesn’t question the science of the aforementioned research but rather suggests that although the ability to type fast might provide a negative outcome when it comes to capturing information it is a positive when it comes to producing it. Clive refers to what academics call ‘transcription fluency’, how quickly and fluidly you can get down the things in your head. To back this up Clive points to research that suggested not only are typed essays generally of a higher standard than hand written ones but that the fastest typists created better essays that slower ones.

So it seems that on one hand we shouldn’t be using keyboards for note taking but we still need top quality keyboard skills for content creation.

So, here’s my opinion…

Firstly, I would suggest that none of the above research is terribly surprising. Paper and pens have been our preferred ‘memory augmentation’ device for centuries and following a minimum of 10 years of formal schooling in Western countries it is perhaps expected that we have developed some fairly effective systems around ‘paper technology’. Similarly, the keyboard and word processing programs we use on our laptops have evolved from typewriters, a technology primarily aimed at formal content production but probably rarely used in the lecture theatre for note taking.

But so far we have only compared a 1980’s technology (keyboard/laptop) with an 1890’s one (mass produced pens and papers). When we look at the technology of the 21st century technology we are seeing new opportunities that bring the benefits of both these technologies together.

One of the advantages of touch enabled devices such as the iPad is the ease of non-linear note taking. Using apps such as the awesome iThoughts, you can tap into the advantages of digital (faster data capture and the ability to search, share and repurpose your notes) with the advantages of paper, the ability to capture information in non-linear ways and make connections between disparate bits of information. In fact there is significant amounts of research on mind-mapping and the benefits in terms of both information recall and building understanding (for a fairly thorough summary check out Mind Mapping: Scientific Research and Studies by Think Buzan.

This seems to be the classic and/or debate. When we get access to new technology we often see the decision as one of substitution, we get to have the flexibility of paper or the efficiency of a keyboard. But when we start engaging with technology more deeply we see that that we could have both. Our mindset shifts from one of substitution to one of augmentation and we look for ways to augment the flexibility of paper with the efficiency of a keyboard (for more on this you should check out the SAMR model showing the benefits of new technology in a teaching environment).

Personally I think that the worst thing we can do is assume that we already have it right, that there are no more opportunities for improvement. Rather than protect the ways that we currently work (which is often done out of fear or to justify why we haven’t changed) we should be always actively seeking to to improve on the status quo. And when the status quo for students and knowledge workers is a 150 year old technology then it would seem that the improvement opportunities could be quite significant.