Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pondering on Paranoia

There's an old joke that goes something along the lines of; "I'm not paranoid. I just think everyone's out to get me!"

I thought of this when I saw recently that the Australian Security Services and Police want to have legislation forcing all Australian telephone and internet usage to be retained for two years so that these records are available if and when the authorities want to have access to them. The argument is that technology today makes it relatively easy for those with criminal intent to communicate in ways that make it increasingly difficult for the authorities to keep track of what is going on. In turn this makes the task of safekeeping Australia and Australians more difficult.

Ever since the events of 9/11 we have seen knee-jerk reactions to the issues of security and policing. The fear of possible terrorist attacks has been used to introduce legislation that subverts long-held and immensely valuable principles such as individual rights to privacy and to free association, the presumption of innocence, the right to legal representation, habeas corpus, and a transparent legal process. Today in most of the western world - certainly in the USA, Great Britain, and Australia - we have legislation similar to that which traditionally has been used only by totalitarian or potentially totalitarian regimes. This has lead to activities by our Police and Security Services today which, in an earlier time such as the Cold War period, we in the west rightly condemned.

Those supporting this shift argue that, for those with nothing to hide, there is nothing to fear. Of course, in theory, they are right. However taking such a stance is really to consider the issue from a simplistic perspective. It is based on the premises that those in authority will always act in ways that are totally ethical and that they will always observe strict probity - and such premises are palpably false as is shown regularly by the all-too-frequent investigations into corruption and unethical behaviour of those in positions of trust.

Some years ago I was appointed a Justice of the Peace in Victoria and, subsequent to that, I sat on the Bench at two local Magistrate's Courts in Melbourne. Prior to sitting on the Bench all of us being commissioned were sworn by the Chief justice of Victoria. During this swearing-in ceremony as an Honorary Justice at the Supreme Court in Melbourne the Chief Justice of Victoria reminded those of us being sworn that, as persons now empowered to fix bail for accused persons, to sentence guilty people to periods of imprisonment and/or to impose monetary penalties, to authorise search warrants, to issue arrest warrants, and perform other activities involved in the legal process we had to ensure that we did not abuse our powers nor allow others to abuse the legal system – the rights of all people were to be respected in the administration of justice.

Criminal activity - including terrorism - is always wrong. But there are serious dangers in allowing untrammelled access to private conversations and legal activities and even more serious dangers in allowing basic legal rights to be removed. And activities which hide behind the screen of "in the national interest" so as to avoid any form of judicial or public investigation are the most dangerous of all. These, as the past has tragically taught us, always contain within them the potential for totalitarianism to emerge.

There is a balance required. However moving further along the path envisaged by George Orwell's "1984" is far from the way we ought to be moving.

Many years ago, Pastor Martin Niemöller in Germany wrote a well known piece lamenting indifference to abuses and atrocities conducted in Nazi Germany. He spoke of general indifference and inaction regarding Nazi treatment of the Jews, Communists, and Trade Unionists before concluding:

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller

Unless we see some real leadership that challenges current political and security agendas, then I am very worried that Niemöller’s words from yesterday may well be our epitaph tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Your trumpet calls

Yesterday I was doing some shopping and, while waiting for service, I casually read the signs alongside the counter. One in particular caught my eye. Written in red on a white background was an A4 card with the words "HFM only stock Australian product".

Over recent months there has been much in the press about retailers sourcing product from outside Australia. Go to your local butcher, fishmonger, fruit and vegetable vendor, and, especially, your major supermarket chains and the probability is that much of the product is sourced from outside Australia. Many in the Australian community are concerned about this and people such as the entrepreneur Dick Smith constantly exhort us to think about the source of product when we are buying anything.

I'd never seen this sign before - I buy from specialist shops rather than from supermarkets wherever possible because I believe the supermarkets need competition and small local retailers are the best source of this. But the sign still made a difference in my attitude to HFM - it made me feel even more positive towards them.

I looked again at the prices shown in the shop where I was waiting. They were very comparable with those in the supermarket next door - clearly no premium for buying the Australian product. When, a few seconds later, I was served, I commented that the sign ought to be larger and that HFM should make more of this. The person at the counter didn't really seem to understand what I was saying. He smiled and agreed but, today, nothing had changed.

The statement that "HFM only stock Australian product" is a strong marketing claim that sets it aside from its larger competition. It is a critical point of differentiation. Yet it seems to have been made almost as an aside by someone who obviously knows its important yet doesn't seem to know how to make the message stand out.

It set me thinking.

How often do all of us have clear and important points of differentiation yet we either fail to recognise them or we fail to make them clearly and prominently enough. I, for one, am sure that this is an area in which I screw up quite often.

It reminded me of a statement I heard long ago: "If the trumpet doesn't make a clear call, who will get ready for battle?" And also of another statement once heard at a seminar: "if you don't blow your own trumpet, someone else may use it as a spittoon!"

In today's highly competitive environment, whatever goods and/or services we are offering can easily be confused with commodities - the similarities are such that prospective customers/clients bag everything together and, in lieu of clear differentiation, make buying decisions on price or familiarity. This can make things especially difficult for the small operator or for the new entrant to any field.

Points of differentiation should be trumpet calls.

How clear is your trumpet call of what makes you different and why people should buy from you? It needs to be very clear. It needs to be loud. And it needs to be frequent.

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