Take, Make,….. Re-create

Take, Make, Waste, Re-create!

Our traditional, linear economy of Taking resources, Making products, then Wasting them after use is getting us into trouble. Too much waste is filling landfill and causing environmental problems. It’s an incredible waste of resources and a short-sighted approach that will be superceeded, eventually, by a circular system. Smarter companies are already investing in new products or developing strategies to understand how they can maximse their benefit in the circular economy. This is why we are seeing some manufacturers experimenting with the services economy; selling the service, not the product.

I will soon be leading an introductory session on the circular economy for people who have not heard of the concept before. I have been thinking about using a video to help them understand the importance of re-designing products and eliminating the concept of waste.

There are many videos on the internet to choose from and a good starting point is here. I have chosen two; one as an introduction and a second to focus on one aspect of the circular economy.

This short video, from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, provides a basic overview of the circular economy. It describes our circular natural system and compares it to our linear industrial system. This helps me introduce the concept of industrial ecology, and for that reason, I will start with this video.

This second video from the World Economic Forum targets what to do with end of life resources – upcycling. Upcycling, remanufacturing and recycling are a major focus of my project, so it’s very appropriate.

A focus on diverting products away from landfill is an essential part of the transition to the circular economy. Eliminating the concept of waste involves us shifting from a linear take, make waste economy to a take, make re-create process. This is all possible with a dash of passion, creativity and boldness to do things differently.


Australia’s 1st Social Network Analysis Conference

As a PhD Student expecting to use SNA (Social Network Analysis) to analyse my data, it was a no brainer for me to attend this conference. Also, my supervisor, Associate Professor Dean Lusher organised it, so…… Dean leads the SNA team within the Centre fosnaconferencer Transformative Innovation within the Business & Law School at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne. Over the previous few year, Dean’s group has grown in number and I am proud to say I am part of this team by virtue of undertaking my PhD research under Dean’s guidance and with the fantastic comradary of my research colleagues.

I have to say that this conference was most excellent. This was due to a number of factors.

Firstly, the comparatively low registration fee, $90 for a PhD student. This significantly reduced the barrier for entry, both encouraging and facilitating engagement by the many researchers using SNA in Australia, with a few international registrations also. The fee covered all food (tea,coffee, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea) and a cocktail evening during the poster session. The food was excellent and I count a paltry $90 for two days a bargain. I have organised conferences before and that’s an unbeatable price. This means no wasteful, unnecessary, conference paraphernalia. Just good people, great food and excellent presentations. Research stripped to its bare essentials.

We were fortunate to have the worlds most highly acclaimed SNA researcher deliver a keynote – Professor Garry Robins. The joy of hearing Garry present is his ability to break concepts down into understandable and elegant presentations. It was a joy to listen to his talk exploring the origins of WWI using SNA techniques. A treat really. That there were only 50 key individual decision makers who had a role in the commencement of WWI. Just 50. And that despite individual efforts to prevent the war from happening, Garry showed how key geopolitical ties embedded within a global network structure overwhelmed the desire of individuals. It was a clear case of structure and peoples position within a network working to influence their actions.Garry is an esteemed researcher and his sound research coupled with an elegant presentation technique is highly enviable. If you haven’t yet read Garry’s book, Doing Social Network Research – I suggest you check it out.

A key feature many people mentioned as their favourite was a single stream. No jumping between rooms with constant interruptions. No hand wringing while you tried to figure out how you could be in two places at once. Just one, single, session. This approach was perfectly suited to this conference. SNA is a methodology, an analysis technique. It didn’t matter that I don’t have a background in health, education, big data or music. Everyone attending had SNA in common, so we could understand the research questions and results presented as we each hail from the common platform of SNA. I got to hear fascinating presentations on addressing anorexia online, its application in criminal networks, my PhD colleagues speaking about the role of successful transfer of tacit information in open innovation and the spread of a CSIRO platform technology throughout the world. A single stream was a genius idea. Dean modestly claimed it resulted from laziness but it was a brilliant design/stroke of fortune that the agenda was kept this way. I hope for Australia’s SNA conference #2, they stick to the same formula.

I left feeling energised by being part of this community of like-minded people. I made some useful contacts. Each of us understands that the world is connected and SNA can help us unpack the links between individuals and their place within the structure of their network and how this influences action. The application of SNA will only continue to grow over time and I feel like I am part of an exciting era of Social Network Science that once mastered, can be applied to so many different domains; business, corporate learning and development, environmental studies, politics, social policy and innovation to name a few. Now all I need to to is collect my darn data!

For more information, check out: http://www.asnac2016.org.au

International Women’s Day 2016

I was fortunate to be selected to be profiled at the Swinburne International Women’s’ Day event this year. I was one of 20 staff and students being celebrated. I felt humbled, and to be honest, a little like I perhaps wasn’t worthy of being celebrated. Had I done enough? Was I really that special? (queue, imposter syndrome…)

The Swinburne Event occurred the day prior to the actual IWD on 8 March and it was held in the Hawthorn Town Hall. It was a gorgeous location where the old hall had been expertly lit for the occasion, highlighting some of the granfullsizerenderd feature of the hall. The event commenced with the exhibition of 20 photographs and ‘bios’ for the profiled women. This was followed by the formal event and a panel of five speakers, each of them reflecting on their career and roles in relation to what had contributed to their success. What they all held in common was the influence of family. Each of the four women presenting suggested that they hadn’t actually perceived being a women was ever a barrier in their careers. They were highly motivated and goal-orientated. Often this is a similar reflection held by other successful women – the Australian Foreign Minister among them.

Attending this event, I had an issue that was vexing me. When I asked a panel at at the launch of a Geelong women in manufacturing event last week – how do we get more women into leadership roles?, the answers were…mentoring. This stuck me as unsatisfactory because is is a micro action, often led at an individual level. While I think mentoring is excellent, I don’t believe that it will address this systemic problem of a lack of female participation and representation at senior levels. I just don’t believe that the problem is a result of a lack of talent. It is an institutional problem that can’t be solved by mentoring alone.

Professor Robert Wood provided an engaging presentation which provided insights to his early family life and the influence of his mother, through to his work on unconscious (gender) bias. Robert provided me with a more satisfactory answer to my concern of getting women into leadership roles. He is a firm believer of quotas. To paraphrase Robert, he said, “there is absolutely no evidence that gender quotas result in sub-standard appointments. Rather, it is a lack of creative strategy”. The quota policy needs to be strongly supported by senior leadership. I say strongly as I often hear the arguments why quotas should not be implemented. A senior leader needs to weather these arguments and hold firm to this kind of policy. Strategic policies such as quotas will have a much bigger and immediate impact on leveling the ‘playing field’ (to use a common sporting parlance) for women’s participation in senior management roles. Individual and institutional wide mentoring programmes complement this policy, working at a grassroots level. Robert provided me with the answer I was looking for and more importantly, he had the scientific evidence to back up the statement on the success of quotas. Hurrah for his work on unconscious bias! I think quotas along with ‘male champions for change’ can have a huge impact on rectifying our unequal representation in organisations.

I was greatly moved by the singing of Maroochy Barambah, who is the songwoman and Law-woman of the Turrbal People. As she sang her first song, the young children from a local Aboriginal school, sitting at the back, stood, respectfully. The remainder of the audience, perhaps not noticing this act or protocol befitting a senior elder, remained seated. This left me feeling slightly uncomfortable that perhaps I was neglecting an act of respect, but given my lack of knowledge on Aboriginal culture, I remained seated and simply enjoyed Maroochy’s singing. Her contribution to the event made it truly special.

At the conclusion of the presentations, I wandered out to the exhibition and forced myself to view my own profile and photograph. I realised that every


The Women of Swinburne photographic exhibition

one has a story, including myself. These stories are powerful and often it is events or influences outside the workplace that have a big role in how we perform in our careers. I was absolutely humbled to have been selected to participate in the Swinburne event, and be recognised as one of the women of Swinburne. It was a fantastic event celebrating women and I will be certain to attend it in the future. It is going to be a great week.

The Art of Critical Thinking

I know I haven’t mastered this yet and this was reinforced during some recent feedback from my PhD supervisor after he reviewed an early draft of my writing – “you need more critical thinking”. Which got me thinking – what is critical thinking and what exactly do I need to work on?

I think the biggest thing wrong with the term critical thinking is that it has the word “critical” in it. This holds negative connotations for me, for example, being critical of something or another. Personally I have always preferred the term constructive criticism. However as we know, critical thinking is much more than “being critical”, so I took to doing some quick googling to cross check my understanding versus more formal definitions, and this is what I found.

First up is an extended collection of Critical Thinking definitions from Harvard University which can be found here. Interestingly, they commence their summary by confirming my suspicion that critical thinking is an often used and seldom defined term.

One online dictionary defines critical thinking as:

“disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence”

The oxford online dictionary goes a little further:

“The objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement”

OK, so far we have disciplined, objective, evidence-based thinking to inform a judgement. That sounds about right.

My supervisor described critical thinking using a movie review analogy. A reviewer doesn’t just state what happened in the movie, they comment on (for example) the director’s success in delivering a top quality movie, relevance of the main themes to society and maybe the quality of the acting. It’s a neat analogy that perfectly captures the difference between a literature summary and literature review (critique).

Following my definition searching I came across this fantastic summary by Deakin University. They go one step further than a definition by presenting an overview of critical thinking stages;

  1. observe,
  2. analyse,
  3. evaluate,
  4. question,
  5. contextualise and
  6. reflect.

The definitions I found are useful but it’s the clear presentation of the process that helps me most in reflecting on how to improve my own critical analysis. I also understand that being at the earlier stage of my PhD, I am rather focused on the initial stages of observe, analyse and evaluate for my literature review. Sure, I question and reflect, but I am prioritising knowledge gathering at this stage. That said, it’s great to have this Deakin framework to support my own research and understanding of the critical thinking process.

The Pomodoro technique and other ideas for getting Un-distracted

As a fresh Phd candidate currently failing at balancing a job and study, people often impress upon me the absolute importance of thinking time. Or space to write. Or both. I remember listening to my colleagues complain about a lack of time and space to write. Their solution was to have a writing holiday. Get away from the phone, desk, office and in extreme circumstances, the home. Now I know exactly how they felt. While I am still on track to seeking PhD work/study/life harmony, I am not ashamed to seek advice from everyone who has more experience than I in this regard. However some of the tried and true techniques are still very useful.

Shut down your email. No, I mean close it down completely. And before you do, turn off those annoying notification alerts that pop up in the corner of your screen. Emails and notifications are distractions best friend.

Next – if you haven’t done the concentrating thing for some time, I can really recommend the pomodoro technique. It’s name is associated with a tomato like timer that runs for 25 short minutes (pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato – hence the name). Here’s the deal. You identify the task at hand. You turn your phone to silent (or take the phone off the hook), definitely shut down that email and set your countdown alarm (or your flash tomato shaped pomodoro timer) to 25 mins. Then you do something you probably haven’t done since a fourth form maths exam (I am showing my age here – I think that’s equal to year 8). You focus, entirely, on the task at hand. It’s amazing what you can get done in 25 minutes. Once the timer chirps (or crickets in my case) have a brief stand up, coffee or wander around the cube farm and take a break for 5 mins. Rinse and repeat. The pomodoro website recommends you take a 20-30min break after 4 consecutive pomodoros.

When I first used it about a year ago, this technique absolutely worked for me. I think the days of multi-tasking have made me feel wonderfully busy, but it’s hopeless for the concentration needed for reviewing research papers and writing. I hope that by rectifying the pomodoro technique next week that it will help me get more from my work and study day.

The Sixth Extinction: an unnatural history – Elizabeth Kolbert

KolbertI was in the USA when I first heard about this book and I admit, the title was a real turn off – “oh no, not another worst case scenario climate change book”. In the USA the winners of the Pulitzer were just being announced. Kolbert’s book was winner of General Non-fiction. I entered it into my list of “to-reads” on Goodreads and forgot about it until I returned home. This month I thought I would at least give the Pulitzer judging panel the benefit of my doubt and give it a go.

As soon as I started reading, I was hooked. Kolbert is obviously a talented, experienced science journalist, that I have (to my shame) never read. Yes, this book describes the harsh reality of extinction throughout the history of our planet. However manages to do so in a fascinating way; deftly mixing story telling with science fact. This is the first piece of science journalism I would classify as a page turner. Move over Jared Diamond. Hello Elizabeth Kolbert.

Collaborative Writing Tools

In the last week I have been collaborating with a university colleague on a report. We are both experienced and neither of us has time for version control issues. The tool we have been using is Dropbox.

We have one document and dropbox lets me know when my colleague has edited it. Via email I let him know when I plan to work on the report and what sections, vice versa. Mostly this hasn’t been a problem – except for one thing.

My colleague works on a Mac, I work on a PC. When he first received the file, he had issues opening it. Following some troubleshooting and editing, now the style features in the report are locked. By ‘locked’ I mean the contents page is now an image, all the figure numbers/reference links have gone and all the images in the report have all moved.

This means that once we are finished the text, I will be cut and pasting content into my original report format to get back the style features I need for the final version. I can’t say I look forward that and it leaves me thinking about improved options for collaboration tools.

Thankfully, Christof Schoch has reviewed a few collaborative tools for me here. The one the appeals most is Etherpad. This allows collaboration to occur in real time and tracks contributions by colour – a neat feature! However referencing sounds like a challenge in Etherpad, so another option is fiduswriter. A quick review tells me that this wouldn’t have solved the style problems I experienced on this occasion but it works well with referencing tools. It’s currently being developed so no doubt will continue to improve in the future.

With a range of collaborative tools emerging and currently available – I am already looking forward to trialling something on my next collaborative writing escapade!

Please let me know if you are aware of other collaborative tools that are available.

Why I am obsessed with the Tiny House movement

Over a weekend I read the book by Tammy Strobel which describes her story of…well, check out the title because that about covers it – You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too.

I found Tammy’s story of transformation from average American in debt to tiny home advocate really interesting. I become fascinated by stories of people down-sizing their homes and reporting vastly enriched lives from improved relationships and less debt.

Tammy’s book inspired me to immediately de-clutter my wardrobe. Slowly I am moving to the gadgets and gear that I haven’t used for years. I am on the tiny house continuum – my heart is dreaming I am far right, living in my hand built, tiny home. My head is far left – let’s perhaps start things off with less stuff before you move into a space that is smaller than your current lounge area!

The Tiny House Movement really took hold in the USA following the global financial crisis. When people lost their homes and realised their lives were financially unsustainable – tiny houses were a solution.

There are some amazing stories and beautiful homes to be found after a quick browse of the internet. But if you find yourself needing more – check out this recent book by Ryan Mitchell. It’s a brilliant summary of the movement and has some great examples – should you find yourself needing inspiration.

I’ve started a PhD, now what?

I have been thinking about doing a PhD for many years. It seems that the stars have aligned, an opportunity has come my way and now I am thrilled to have finally enrolled in a PhD on innovation networks @ Swinburne University, Melbourne. So after the overwhelming excitement that a swim at the local pool now only costs me $5, I am thinking about my 4 week and 6 month PLAN for my PhD project.

I am absolutely aware that time is the enemy. I do not want to be one of those PhD students who gets 2.5years in and suddenly realises that there are 80,000 words to write… So I am taking some time to think about how to organise myself, plan effectively and prepare for success!

The top 3 tips I have for PhD planning are:

1. Install Mendeley I am converted. So far this product hasn’t disappointed. For a referencing tool I was using End Note as this was my organisation’s default product. Except I had a few problems accessing my database from home across VPN – so I started looking around. Mendeley ticks all the boxes for me. I took 5 mins to transfer my reference list from End Note to Mendeley. Its now available on my work desktop, laptop, iPad and iPhone. It’s stored in the cloud (beautiful) so I am never searching for a paper. It’s helped me go completely paperless – all reading, highlights, notes are done online. It’s social. I have joined a group in my research area and suddenly I have a whole pile of references recommended by colleagues working in my area, not to mention international contacts! So far the in-text referencing works well but I haven’t yet published using Mendeley so I am trialling it for this purpose. Despite my short time of ~ 1 month using Mendely, I strongly recommend that you take Mendeley for a spin as part of your PhD research.

2. Install Wunderlist If you don’t want time to creep up on you, then get control of your tasks by writing them down. This tool is free, elegant and will ensure you remember all the big and little things you have to get done as you start to get you head around enrolling, planning and getting that literature review done…speaking of which..

3. Start your literature review! You know your topic, your research questions (which of course will change), now start reading! Even better, start your planning on what your literature review will be. What journal will you aim for? What is your topic? Will you publish alone or with a colleague? What methodology will you use? Use #2 and #1 to help you with your literature review. Most of all, set a realistic target for completing a draft and break down your task so you are more likely to finish. It’s your PhD, enjoy it. I certainly am and these three things are the focus of my PhD life in week 1.

The Geelong Cleantech Forum launch

I attended the Geelong cleantech forum launch on Friday. The event was held at the Geelong Pier; a stunning room with floor to ceiling windows, overlooking the sparkling water and gently bobbing boats that were moored in the bay. The event was over subscribed, and attended by a fabulous range of people from industry, local and state government, academic, and education sectors. Attendees were provided a place at one of around ten round tables and I was seated at the Manufacturing/engineering table.

It is tough times for traditional Geelong industry. Ford has announced it will close in 2016, Shell is for sale, big industry that has been here for so long, is struggling to compete globally based on cost. The Geelong City Council recognises that they must act to support a stable, thriving economy and there is another route. By launching the forum, the Geelong council supports Cleantech as part of their strategy to ‘future proof’ Geelong, transition from old industry to new and support continued growth and jobs in Victoria’s second largest city.

The Keynote presentation was provided by Prof Goran Roos. I really enjoy presentations by Goran. He unashamedly pokes light-hearted fun at Australian culture. I think Australia needs more of this type of external perspective. It’s true that the parallels between Sweden and Australia provide stark contrast. By Goran’s reckoning, if he were to write a book about Australia, it would be titled (something along the lines of…) – Australia, the unlucky country – the curse of having it too good for too long.

Following Goran’s presentation my table of newly found colleagues discussed some of the key points of his presentation. They were:

  • The importance of R&D in developing a cleantech business
  • The long lead times before a cleantech business turns a profit
  • The importance of lead customers
  • The value of investment in staff training and education
  • Australia must compete on adding value to products, develop niche, superior products and aim for 60% of the global market.
  • Australia can not compete on cost (we are the most expensive country in the world to do business)
  • Australia is not reaping the rewards from its investment in cleantech.

To expand on this last point, Goran presented a slide on the Global Cleantech Innovation Index. Denmark is world number 1. Their indexed input figure was 3.5 and ouput 6.0 – meaning the get out almost twice as much as they invest in the cleantech sector. Denmark have a globally well recognised and highly successful cleantech cluster and there is a fantastic You Tube feature I would encourage you to check out (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWS3jGGPdkw).

By comparison, Australia’s input was 3.4. Sounds great, right? That’s close to Denmark. However, our output was 2.0. Yikes! In short, we are not translating our investment in cleantech into industry output. There are a range of contributing factors here such as productivity, policy, culture, lack of investment and the complexity in commercialising cleantech R&D.

One idea I found fascinating is that public procurement can incubate and support cleantech investment, by placing a tender for products that don’t yet exist. On first hearing this from Goran, I was skeptical. It wasn’t until Tina Perfrement took the stage again that this policy idea started to make sense. Tina described a successful UK example of a prison placing a tender for a zero waste mattress with a three year lead time to develop it. I googled this example and found that not only were the HMPS (Her Majesty’s Prison Service) successful in stimulating the market to develop a zero waste market, the also ran a supply chain workshop. This gathered respondants to from across the supply chain to further develop a solution. This public sector policy also has an acryonm – FPC or Forward Procurement Committment.

I watch with interest this fantastic cleantech initiative in Geelong and look forward to being involved in the transition to a cleantech market.