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Tall Poppy Syndrome and the Jealousies

I recently wrote a post about how Kiwis will soon take over the online world, and I still contend that my prediction is likely.

That being said, there is one big hurdle other than Internet infrastructure that could hamstring New Zealand’s effort to become a dominant player in international business, and this hurdle has a cute name.

Tall Poppy Syndrome refers to the Kiwi tendency to identify anyone who has distinguished themselves from their peers and tear them down. I’ve seen this concept in practice while playing board games and discussing local politics. Whomever happens to be doing the best has an invisible target on their head and is viciously ripped apart.

This isn’t a Kiwi-exclusive trend by any means: I think people from every culture have some proclivity to make themselves feel big by making others feel small. But it’s an especially prominent trait here, due largely to the same pioneer roots that make Kiwis such a strong, innovative culture.

In a small, agricultural community, having one standout farmer among thousands of others just doesn’t jive well. If everyone is able to work on even ground, however, they can share resources and information without one feeling like they are talking up or down to another.

This works really well for small farming communities, it keeps people from each others’ throats, at least, but on the world stage, it’s a huge burden.

If talented entrepreneurs are to be pulled out of the woodwork and displayed for the whole world to see, they’ll have to be assured that in stepping forward, working hard and helping New Zealand achieve a position of cultural influence within the global community they won’t be martyred by the very people they are trying to uplift and represent.

I’m really not sure how an entire culture can deal with an historically ingrained case of the jealousies, but I do know that it’s a problem Kiwis (and everyone else on Earth that has it) should deal with posthaste, lest they be left out and forgotten as another global power shift takes place and the rewards for those who contribute are doled out.

Update: December 13, 2016

This is still an issue for kiwis, though to a lesser degree, as more of them have come to interact with the world at large on a daily basis. I think it’s easier to see that someone who speaks up with an idea isn’t being arrogant when you look around and find that people around the world do this, are not stomped by their peers, and the whole community benefits as a result.

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Penguins, Parties, and Personal Branding

Penguin’s Gotta’ Dance

I’m staring at the ceiling in the middle of a club in a small port town outside of Christchurch.

The light fixture is really cool. It’s like they built it out of random bits of computer innards, spare wiring, and industrial-looking doodads. The light it’s shooting out is multicolored, like something out of a 70’s discotheque, sans the disco ball.

I’m drinking water, trying to get some fluids back into my system after all the dancing and sweating that has made up most of my night thus far. The music’s been pretty good, and really, how can you not dance when you’re dressed as a penguin?

Oh right, the penguin costume. I’m dressed as a penguin. With a giant red bow-tie. That seems like an important point to set the scene.

But fortunately everyone is dressed to the nines in aquatic-themed costumage. There are sexy pirates and mermaids all over the place, plus the spare Snork, seaweed-creature, Japanese whale hunter, and member of the Life Aquatic team. Oh look, there’s a seagull. Nice.

The night started on a trio of party buses, hauling this rag-tag collection of young bankers, lawyers, accountants, and doctors from the relative quiet of Christchurch to the fishermanly harbor of Lyttelton. From there we crammed all 120 people onto a boat and pulled out into an inlet somewhere nearby, free to engage in our fill of pizza eating, alcohol drinking, and dirty dancing.

After a few hours on the boat, this array of oceanic life shambled a few blocks to a bar/club that was full of normally dressed people and, as luck would have it, about a dozen Kiwis dressed as Smurfs. The Snork in our group, I’m sure, was overwhelmed with joy at finally getting to meet his landlocked cartoon brethren.

A few hours and a whole lot of booty-shaking later, here I am, leaning on this table and drinking as much water as I can sip while waiting for the party buses to pick us up and take us back into town.

I’m pulled away from my reverie by a girl who’s started to dance again. What the hell, I’ve got an hour before the buses arrive. Might as well pass the time getting my groove on.

There’s an awful lot of grinding going on, and I’ve come to the realization that this girl is pretty smashed. My attempts to dance normally result in more grinding, and my ass is grabbed more than once in a handful (pun intended) of minutes.

And something isn’t right. Her friends are definitely looking at us strangely. I’ve been trying to pull away, but thus far unsuccessfully. What’s the big…oh.

The girl I’m dancing with is pulled away by her friends as a guy walks onto the dance floor, entering from the other room. He walks up to her, hugs, kisses, whispers something in her ear. Ah, that’s the boyfriend. It all makes sense now. Thankfully, if he did see what she was up to, he reacted a whole lot better than the guy at the dance club in Lima.

Personal Branding?

At the end of the night, as the buses drag us back to our normal lives in Christchurch, to the day-to-day workload, to the professional relationships and non-alcoholic drinks, I can’t help but ponder over the fact that I had just met dozens of people for the first time while dressed as a penguin.

Style and clothing isn’t everything, but it is something. We use visual cues, like the way people carry themselves, style their hair, apply their makeup, to figure out a lot about a person before we say a word to them. This is an ingrained survival instinct from long ago that has carried over to the modern world, and everyone does it to some degree or another (those who don’t tend not to be as proficient, socially).

When you meet people for the first time at a costume party, one of the most obvious and easy to read visual cues has been removed; the usually professional and quiet accountant becomes a party girl, the talkative guy from the law firm becomes a dancing whiz behind a mask.

We’re all able to wear new masks, both literally and metaphorically, and this can have serious implications for first impressions. If you already know someone, it’s not such a big deal, because you already know what to expect. But what if you’re meeting that usually quiet accountant for the first time when she’s a sexy pirate? What kinds of inaccurate assumptions will you make, and how will that impact your relationship with said person?

As someone who seldom goes to costume parties, that’s tough for me to say. What I can say is this: it will be interesting to see how people respond when the dancing penguin they met at the boat party shows up to their meeting next month, sans giant red bowtie, and gives a presentation on networking and personal branding.

Update: December 13, 2016

Parties confuse me sometimes. And I’m not big on costumes.

Also: I wrote a lot more about parties and clubs and whatnot back in the day, because it seemed to be the type of vicarious-living experience that my readers wanted to know about. I’m glad I don’t feel compelled to write about such things anymore.

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Number 8 Wire & Why Kiwis Will Conquer the Internet

New Zealand natives (‘Kiwis’) are pioneers.

While Australians were forcibly sent over to their new home as prisoners (who were clogging up Britain’s prison system), Kiwis were adventure-seekers who were looking for new opportunities in a new land. They came here willingly.

And to this day, it shows.

There’s a fun little phrase in Kiwi called ‘number 8 wire,’ which is usually used to describe a method of making something work using what’s at hand; the can-do mentality that people hereabouts tend to have.

You could say, for instance, that Joe has a number 8 wire mentality, which would mean that Joe is an industrious sort of fellow.

It’s this ingenuity — this ability to rig together anything that’s needed — that I believe will set New Zealand atop the online business side of the online world.

In 5 or 6 years, that is. Let me explain.

If you look at the kinds of people who are currently successful in the entrepreneurial sphere, you’ll find go-getters with big ideas who have found a need they can meet or a gap they can fill. They are problem solvers who are adept at identifying problems and solving them before (or better) than anyone else.

The kind of person who has this ability is few and far between in a country like the US, and yet we have one of the better success rates for establishing and incubating entrepreneurs to their full potential.

Just think if you had a whole country full of people like that. People who are problem solvers who have a knack for finding the right solution to problems and can rig together whatever they need to get the job done. Sound like anyone I mentioned above?

That’s right, the Kiwis have an absolutely ideal culture for the online world.

They’re innovative, they’re practical, they’re adaptable, and they are action-oriented. And they do all of this naturally, because it comes with the territory.

Not only that, but they have a relatively small, relatively isolated testing ground for any new product or application they come up with. There are a little over 4 million people in New Zealand, and they snatch up new products and trends as quickly as they arrive here. They’re behind when it comes to social media, but that will all change soon.

Until then, though, the big thing holding Kiwis back from their position on top of the online world is their crappy, crappy Internet service.

The Internet is mostly capped, here. For those of you who don’t know what this means (I didn’t, until I heard about them trying to do it in the States and swiftly being rebuked) is that you generally don’t pay a flat fee for unlimited Internet each month. Instead, you pay for, say, 3 gigs of downloads per month, and once you use that up you either get moved to a dramatically slower connection, or your net gets cut off completely (I, unfortunately, am faced with the latter plan).

The pricing is even worse for mobile plans. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such a dearth of smartphones; it’s just too expensive, and the network too unreliable.

It’s bad, people. Much worse than most of the 3rd world countries I’ve been to. And it’s a result of a competition-stopping duopoly and one old, crusty cable carrying packets of information along the ocean floor.

But this may be fixed in the next few years. There are plans making their way around the political circles in New Zealand that would lay an extensive amount of fiber-optic cable across the country. Further, some politicians and companies are hoping to stretch another cable from the US to NZ in order to speed up the overall amount of information they can transmit simultaneously.

The results of these two actions would be massive, and the only thing that could possibly make it better would be to have another Internet service provider in the country (which would likely happen, if these new plans became realities).

As soon as Kiwis have access to cheap, dependable, always-on Internet, their strong culture and pioneer roots will put them in an ideal spot to innovate the hell out of the online world.

Let’s just hope the politicians and business-people here see this for the opportunity it is and make the right choices.

Update: December 13, 2016

Having re-visited NZ just recently, I can say that 1. their internet is now quite good, and 2. they are doing well as entrepreneurs, though they still have some trouble escaping the gravitational pull of Oceanic culture.

Which is the same trouble Icelanders have in this space, I’ve found. Their local cultures are such great testing grounds, and it’s a culture they know, so they start there. Once they reach a scale that would allow them to expand outward, however, they find that their service is shaped to service their locality, but doesn’t do quite as well overseas, where there’s a lot more competition. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if their business grew up in a bigger pond, but if that were to be the case, they also wouldn’t have the same early opportunities that they enjoyed while growing.

It’s a tricky situation that I feel they’ll figure out. But for the moment, there’re still a few hurdles left to overcome.