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Tired of the sand in your mouth?

01 Aug 09

I am fortunate to work in the IT industry in both the Australian and New Zealand markets and was recently  asked at a social gathering the differences between Australian and New Zealand resellers and how they have   adapted to the challenges of these economic times. I used a common expression that people ‘had their head in the sand’ when the first signs of an economic slow-down and financial market reaction were felt in the October  2008 quarter in both countries. The discussion evolved into a review on how things have changed (or  possibly not changed) since then, and if they had changed, why?

But first, let us look more closely at the term ‘to have your head in the sand’. From what I understand it derives  from the supposed habit ostriches have of hiding when faced with attack by predators. The popular view is the  ‘dumb’ ostrich believes that if it can’t see its attacker, then the attacker can’t see it! I did a Google search and  discovered that “the ancient Roman encyclopaedist and philosopher Pliny the Elder once wrote that ‘the  ostrich, being profoundly stupid, sticks its head into a bush at the first sign of danger and considers itself  invisible’”1. Apparently the myth is likely to have originated from observations that ostriches lower their  eads when feeding or sleeping.

This new discovery of information created somewhat of a dichotomy of the true meaning of the ‘head in the  sand’ and also human behaviour when faced with the challenges of life. Most certainly there were, and still are,  many in the industry who have taken the myth as being their own reality. This global financial crisis (now popularised as a recession) will not go away overnight. Pretending, like the much-maligned ostrich, that trouble doesn’t exist or won’t affect them, seems crazy with all the information publicised to date. And yet, I still  believe that many are holding onto the past with a belief that things will return to normal, and the successes of  the past will morph into successes of the future.

Others have taken the nonmythical path of our ostrich friend. Instead of burying their head, they are laying it  down on the ground carefully and resting. I call this approach ‘pseudo-conservatism’ as it has the classical  view of being careful, calculating and responsible – but in reality it is an act or an appearance to keep from  getting into trouble or from trouble finding you. It is a façade which is a death knell to creativity, innovation and growth.

There is another approach, and one which is inspirational. I must say that I first saw this in Australia earlier  this year when the Australian resellers had had enough. And now, I am seeing it here in New Zealand. Instead of hiding from the reality of the current financial times or taking the defensive posture of my newly coined  phrase ‘pseudoconservatism’, they have taken onboard the following military metaphor: ‘the best defence is offence’. It is a call to action; you don’t win the battle with timid tactics.

The people who adopt this final attitude are walking past the ostriches with puzzled looks on their faces,  wondering why the ostriches are wasting time. There is business out there to be won and customers needing  product and services, so why chew on sand when you can breathe the air of success?

Vaughan Nankivell is the Regional Manager, Australia and New Zealand for Kingston Technology. He has  been in the IT industry for 19 years and holds a Masters of Management Degree (2007) from the University of Auckland.
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