Winning From The Edge

May 18, 2011

Presentation Summary

Presenting to Kea UK in London, Kevin Roberts shares several ideas on reframing the language of New Zealand and provides insights on lifting New Zealand’s profile to win from the edge.

New Zealand's edge

Good to be in a room full of Kiwis – have been on mini-world tour – LATAM (BA, Bogota, San Jose, Panama), Beijing and Shanghai, New York and New Jersey, Zurich and Paris.

LATAM and China going forward, creative, spirited; Zurich and New Jersey are old school places of incrementalism; NY and Paris are irreplaceable and irresistible; and also been to NZ – full of challenge, opportunity, unfulfilled promise.

Got back for ManCity to win the FA Cup; Lombardi – “winning isn’t everything – but wanting to win is”. Business is a blood sport. Winners. Losers. Winning is a habit, so is losing.

It’s a VUCA world! Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous.

Our job is to reframe this as Vibrant, Unreal, Crazy, Astounding.

Reframing the language of NZ was urgent 10 years ago and even more critical now so that NZ does not get stuck in a managerial zone, getting things done and digging us out, rather than an inspirational leadership zone of making things happen.

Here Are Several Ways We Have Reframed The Language



We live in the Age of Now. New is Old. We’re 24/7; always on; living in the moment. Global/local equilibrium for everything Now is 70/30 if not more; Now is about 100 day plans; Now is the action zone; emotion leads to action. Do it Now!

Brain Drain / ROI

Network / ROI

We changed the ROI: Transformed the classic Return on Investment model into the Participation Economy / Return on Involvement model; Expatriate replaced by Diaspora and introduced as Network of Overseas New Zealanders; neonz; nzedge, Kea.

NZ and its international people are more united; we’re proud of international achievers; we’ve gotten together for Christchurch; we support each other:

  • Economists say nearly $300 million was sent back to friends and families in NZ in the quarter to December. Kea’s current census is showing almost 25% of NZ respondents living overseas send financial support to family or friends at home.

And anyone who still has a student loan – please pay it back – it’s needed.

Isolated, remote, irrelevant

New Zealand Edge

This reframes NZ’s DNA. Throws off the hunched shoulders and hoodies, the low national self esteem, into a new metaphor that is challenging, extending, liberating and edgier. NZ’s one word equity: EDGE.

We had to find language to overcome atrophy and apathy; as a country we got stuck on crouch-touch-pause-hold and never progressed to engage.

In biology, change comes from the edge of the species. Hence NZ as a creative ideas lab, a breeding ground of world-changing people.

Four Million

Five Million

We shifted the population, calculated the population of overseas New Zealanders at about a million people, and shifted the goalposts by adding them to the population.

Note: The number is now 4.5m onshore therefore 5.5m total today.

Idea: NZ could increase its population significantly by selling “participation rights” and creating new classes of “hybrid New Zealanders” – family members, dual citizens, virtual citizens, “fans of NZ”.

World Class

World Changing

Parity is Nowheresville. Edge positioning calls us to be world-changing. Believe in, learn about and devote yourself to the School of New Zealand Exceptionalism; good is the enemy of great.

Tall Poppies


To show it publishes 42 legend stories, virtual mentoring with world-changing New Zealanders: scientists, engineers, innovators, warriors, political fighters, businessmen, scholars, surgeons, singers.

Let’s see how New and Now are playing on today’s export field:

Giving it up to Australia

Going Global

Australia matters – more Maori living there than in New Zealand; they own NZ’s most profitable sector of the economy, banking ($2.64 billion profit in the past year); we treat each other as part of the domestic market. However too many New Zealanders have set their sights on winning in Oz and gotten stuck there (and not won either!).

China is the new frontier. Learn Mandarin. Build relationships.  America’s got problems (!) but is still huge, it’s on the Pacific and we speak the language; NYNZ a great axis; you have to learn how Americans think and not act like NZers.

Punching Above Our Weight

World Champions

The language needs to develop beyond the cliché. I don’t want to come in 8th; I want to be 1st, top, best, certainly on the podium at every finish.

“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.”  – Vince Lombardi

Export Industries

International Companies

We need to have a massive sales focus for the stuff we make but we equally need to focus on what we can own, how we build physical and intellectual assets and brands that deliver more than a return on toil. Think beyond the top 10 global NZ conglomerates and brands, and there is a yawning gap. We need to build brands and lift the profile of New Zealand brands.


Premium Brands

Commodity prices for dairy, beef, lamb, wool, and fish are high but this is the best time to be paranoid as we can lose these premiums, the market can turn, there could be an environmental disaster.

Currently we’re leaving huge value on the table by still having a harvest-and-ship mentality.

There is no NZ trade brand that has any sense of volume or cut-through; we’re chronically under-selling our way into the 21st century.

We need to develop luxury brands for China, where over 50% of luxury sales will take place in the future. Wear it, drive it, drink it, eat it. (Gung Ho Pizzas!).

We need to invest in distribution and retail infrastructures – we have few points of presence, we’re largely invisible and untouchable.

Banking and investment and entrepreneurial sectors need to relax their sphincters about failure and create pools of funding for entrepreneurs to expand globally. Lots of great mentoring from universities; incubators; need for corporations to loosen the petty cash and be really innovative; make it mandatory for big corporations to invest in startups and new ideas.

Profile, brands and reputations need to be addressed at individual company level and across government and its international agencies. If we weren’t feeling the imperative to have our act together before Christchurch, we surely do now.


Peak Performance

Small wonder NZ labour productivity is low when:

  • We need inspirational dreams, new frameworks for working and for generating prosperity. “Winning the world from the edge.” Purpose-inspired.
  • We need to avoid repeating massive screw-ups in the NZ economy – multi-billion dollar finance company collapses and con-jobs; and multi-multi-billion dollar leaky building syndrome; these have been net-value destroyers.



  • BBC suggested last week that NZ was greenwashing; John Key said we’re 100% pure most of the time.
  • Tourism numbers are at risk, there have been declines; even more reason to promote NZ as something more than pretty scenery.
  • RWC kicks off in just over 100 days but will be over in less than 150; what then?
  • We can’t wait on The Hobbit release in December 2012 to do the job.
  • Need new and fresh propositions. 100% Excitement? 100% Taste? 100% Design? 100% Edge? We radically need a radically fresh story.


  1. Enthusiasm: Be an irresistible force of nature; reject normality; change it with your dreams. Enthusiasm in people is stoked by providing them with Responsibility, Learning, Recognition, and Joy.
  2. Eureka! Have a world-changing idea. It’s in your genes.
  3. Enraged: Challenge and change the status quo. Start your NZ project – foundation, scholarship, sponsorship, start-up.
  4. Execute: It’s the killer app. Don’t get things done. Make things happen! Do it now! 5.

Emote: Get emotional, take some action, stand up and lead.

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