Category Archives: Greg

Ideas for a Sales “Game Changer”

The pendulum always swings.

The marketplace creates chaotic attractors; whether it is through constant tension between consumer and vendor, between commodity and complexity, centralisation or decentralisation or just plain human indecision.

image
Chaotic Double Pendulum

“Mastering The Complex Sale” is not a book for anyone supplying an item as a commodity, it talks of the chasm between the value driven complex sale and the simpler process of self service. Whether the “swing” attracts us to the commodity in the cloud, or a complex enterprise architecture it is “value” that drives us. The attractor of Cloud/SaaS serves to provide simplicity as it’s commodity.

Contemplating these thoughts while on a break in Bali (where a dress comes in “one size fits all”) invokes one to examine the bridge from commodity to true value. In Bali making it all work comes by way of jewelry: “Accessory Partnership Innovations” or API’s… not much different really.

But I digress. Building a “Diagnostic Business Development” framework is critical, making one that remains impervious to the foibles of the market pendulum is essential, and beyond the scope of “Mastering the Complex Sale”.

The book convincingly advises on avoiding the danger of promoting customer-self-diagnosis through an “Era 2” sales process suggesting that commoditisation reduces everything to price. This is in stark contrast to “Era 3” value creation (which benefits both customer and vendor).

Star Fort

Looking at what we do  I can see alignment with the philosophy, and an intuitive alignment to attaining a mastery of the complex sale. Reading the epilogue of the book I get to “Choose a Side”. But that’s where I hesitate and consider bastions against market tides.

What if a product was able to reach both those seeking a commodity as well as those seeking further complex value propositions? How would this work? Choosing a side is not as simple as segmenting a company, this creates silos (itself against the grain of the book). What is needed is a way to “have our cake and eat it too”.

The Game Changer

In part the “commodity” problem is fueled by:

  • Complex procurement processes that pay lip service to the philosophy of “value for money”;
  • Commodity products that fuel this procurement process;
    and
  • Business silos that try to work around the system through tendering with specifications that have been fed to them by commodity vendors.

Sales and Procurement has become a game. Once you accept this then it is simply a question of how to stay ahead of the game?

Game Changer

So, this series of blogs has the sole purpose of exploring the next move after the “Mastering of the Complex Sale”. It is also about the practical implementation of Diagnostic Business Development within the sales and peripheral support structures. While calling it an “Era 4 Holistic Sales” process may be pretentious and premature (as it may only be relevant to certain industries), it is certainly relevant to the strategy being played out at Amristar, and the delivery of market relevant geospatial software solutions.

The next move?

The next move is really quite simple, but it has some fundamental requirements that must be true before the move can be played:

Chess moves
  • The organisation must have some appreciation of the complex sale
  • The organisation must have a product which can be projected as a commodity (with value)
  • The organisation must be able to articulate the bridge from a commodity product to creating further value (which is complex).

In other words to attain “Era 4”

Sales

Must aspire:

  1. To transcended Era 3 mastery of the complex sale
  2.  To have understood Era 1
  3. … and Era 2

    Spiral dynamics image
    Transcending through Spiral dynamics

A fabulous read on this topic across human development is spiral dynamics and integral theory.

Sales must also understand that the commodity offering is a tributary to the complex sale and Diagnostic Business Development process. It doesn’t make the job easier. just different

The organisation

Has likely self diagnosed a need to reduce the barrier to entry (technically, politically and commercially). It must be truly invested in it.

Attaining this practically?

Is the organisation shipshape? Is Value integrated into the company?

There are still many aspects of the organisation that need to be carefully and strategically aligned in avoiding “Value Leakage”. For successful Diagnostic Business Development this leakage must be minimised in the chain of supply (through to Sales and beyond).

Thull mentions these as:

  • Research and Development
  • Marketing
  • Pre-Sale Technical Support
  • Post Sale support
  • Human  Resources
  • Procurement

Obviously this needs comprehensive buy-in and spans across more than simply the Sales business unit.

There are systems such as the Hoshin Kanri management model, that through a hierarchy of Kanban boards can maintain focus on “the customer as the focal point of all activity”.

Alignment attained at the management levels need to percolate down through to execution:

This needs sales feedback on what the customers perceive of as value, and then monitoring its delivery across the whole chain. But a entrepreneurial  business needs more than that; it needs to try, fail fast, learn and move on.

Thull’s Complex sale is aspirational. If the product is complex from inception to realisation Thull’s mastery of the complex sale must be applied, primarily through education: Self education as to the customers problem; and then customer education as to the delivery of a valuable solution.

Commoditisation – it’s not such a dirty word

So what if you could commoditise the educational process into the product. It isn’t only conceivable in the software environment through SaaS but it is already being done!

This allows potential customers to realise the value for themselves. Done properly it allows the Business Development Manager to assist the customer in engaging at the level they need. This will be somewhere between simple pedagogy and the deep-end. The BDM becomes a teacher. The steps: Discover, Diagnose, Design & Deliver don’t change materially, only in substance.

The notion that “there is no such thing as a solution without a quantifiable problem that clarifies customer value” merely needs the organisation to work towards the bricks and mortar of solutions.

Commoditisation is thus reinvented as “sophistication  made readily and easily available”

And then comes the detail…

Other business units are likely to have different requirements and therefore different tools. A CRM is a typical example of where Sales will need a different tool and other areas such as Marketing, HR, Procurement, and even pre-post sale support may require a different suite for their function to be successful.

In all of this there are two facets of the business that will be key to the sustained delivery of Diagnostic Business Development: Training and Operations, the latter an overarching business unit not mentioned in Thull.

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The “Dark” Side

Even with the best intentions the conclusion is inevitable.

It came from two of my core beliefs… they ambushed me:
  • Strive to challenge your assumptions
  • To shine a light in the dark, you must first find the dark
Light
Shine a light in the dark

My father may have seen it in me. The seed doesn’t fall far from the tree and I was the seed of a Salesman. He fostered his thoughts but I saw the allure of logic, it seemed to offer a greater truth.

I struggled, I fought, I challenged his assumption

…eventually I challenged mine.

Am I getting ahead of myself? Probably. But to be of any use this story must start in the middle. It must leave behind where I’ve been, start from where I am, and evolve to where I will go.

So where am I?

I am in “Sales”. There I’ve said it.

Mephistopheles
Mephistopheles

Whether you call it “business development”, “sales consultant”, “sales executive”, “business consultant” or “pre-sales” the Faustian brush of “sales” brands you as a servant of Mephistopheles. So here I am on the dark side. Now I hope to shine a light.

I know I’ve honed my skills of logic and problem diagnostics, I’ve been in technical sales, I’ve seen and fought commoditisation, I’ve met and worked with good and bad sales professionals. Now how does one create a real spark? Fortunately others have tread that path and they align with the parable my father used to tell (whether it is true or not no longer matters).

He was in a bar. He’d just got some award for his sales target. After some probing his associate leaned over and challenged him:
“If you’r such a good salesman sell me this!”. With that he slammed a box of matches on the bar.
“Sure,” he said, and with this simply pocketed the matches.
The other salesman must have looked a little self satisfied at first and then frustrated because his game wasn’t being played with his rules. “Well, when are you going to start selling me those matches?”
“When you need a cigarette”
I imagine he then simply took another sip of his beer, and that the other salesman may have hesitated before saying “OK, you’ve made your point. Now give me my matches back”.

Knowing my Dad he might have said “As much as I’d love to I also need money to buy the final round of beer.”

He was a self professed devils advocate, and in no small part from his influence I moved from science to IT, through pre-sales and eventually set my flag firmly in sales. From the outset I eschewed one end of the sales spectrum at funeral insurance and used cars (probably much maligned). I also had to acknowledge that even in academia there is salesmanship where the commodity is ideas, and the currency a successful grant application. But I struggled at the other end of the spectrum where the melange of “sales” seem to fly under the radar.

Mastering the Complex Sale

Looking into your glazed eyes I know I need to stop talking, or say something you can identify with.

The sales canvas that I have to work with in my current role is not pristine. It has been painted upon and re-used several times. We are replete with fabulous innovations and ideas and have had some marked successes, but we must learn to play in the major league or dwindle and fade. The products we offer have real vision, benefit and value, the technical details of which will make the eyes glaze over for even the most stalwart coffee laden listener. We debate constantly about messaging and differentiation. We can see it, why can’t others?

Are we deceiving ourselves? I think not. Our customers are some of the most loyal and best advocates for us. We see them as evangelists that seem to be struggling with the same messages and differentiation that we do. We have used our products to solve some of the most challenging issues in the largest of enterprises. We have solved complex issues, we’ve done so with a complex solution. We do not want to cheapen the value but we are reducing the barrier to entry and complexity of access. All good stuff!

I recently noticed “Mastering the Complex Sale” by Jeff Thull in an airport. I got it from Amazon, I’ve read it front-to-back, and now I want to implement it back-to-front.

Why arse about face?

Map Upside down
Perspective

It really is about perspective.

The book details, in a structured way, the challenges faced by the complex sale from “Discovery” through to “Delivery”. Throughout these early chapters it provides strategies to change the way you think. By the end of this process you are “sold” on the idea. Maybe not the whole thing all at once but enough to be convinced that you need to start thinking in terms of an “Era 3” sales approach and evolve with it

The closing chapters then tell you how to “Build a Value Driven Sales Organisation” and “Prevent Value Leakage”. In a strong sense it practices what it preaches. It has worked with me to develop a natural transition to adoption and then arms me with the means to become a part of the process.

So from the back cover forwards what then is value leakage? and why is preventing it so important?

Let’s get back to our reused canvas. We’re not attached to what’s there, I will have to start to reshape the strategy for sales and marketing. Fortunately the “technology” canvas we’ve adopted is flexible enough to adapt, but to what?  I have the opportunity to reuse what I can and throw out what I don’t

The bigger picture

In order to implement an Era 3 sales system needs to have the fertile soil of the other facets of the business to grow upon.

Preventing Value Leakage opens with:

“Value is the lifeblood of the business world. Value – in the form of improved efficiency effectiveness and ultimately , profit – is the only thing that business to business customers are interested in buying”

Value leakage diminishes the business and since the point of egress for a company’s product is sales it is often sales that bears the brunt of its effects. No matter what value is native at the ideal company it leaks through R&D, Marketing, Pre-sales, Post Sales, HR and Procurement. The company needs “alignment” with minimising value leakage before value can be sold. It needs buy in.

The next installment will be how we get the buy in going. It will be a process of defining our value from the opposing shores of our R&D and Customer ends, identifying roughly where the supports of marketing and branding fit and then building the bridge towards the middle.

Don’t demonise RCD’s

When we moved to WA we were told quite early about regulations regarding RCD’s (or Residual Current Device’s). While this seemed an imposition we found that both the house we rented and the one we purchased had been fitted.  (a striking difference to the regulations we were familiar with over east.

I should state upfront that I am not an electrician. I have some related qualifications so I know that (unlike plumbing) electricity miraculously flows uphill and downhill. I also have the sneaking suspicion that our house has had an amateur let loose on it in the past and I need to know if the house is OK.

So… the story goes like this.

My mother came to visit, she waxed lyrical on slow cookers and was compelled to buy us one. Three delicious meals later, and after the cooker had a prolonged rest (during summer) I dusted it off and switched it on preparing a Mexican dish. Music blaring loud I popped the meat and sauce into the cooker and grooved around the kitchen to get the “special herbs and spices”.

10 minutes later… Silence…

No music, no fridge, no anything! Certainly no little red or green light on the slow cooker. Hmm, obviously a glitch, I’ll just go reset the Circuit Breaker. Nope not the Circuit Breaker, hmmm the RCD switch should be up shouldn’t it?

Six trips back to the RCD later I finally resorted to the old cast iron pot and had relegated the Slow Cooker to the cupboard. And now the story gets strange.

First suspicion, the cooker. Tried it again later and found it just as bad. Plan B was to ask our friendly neighbours if i could try it in their house. They cooperated and 4 hours later we had a great Mexican dish, shredded beef burrito’s with melted cheese and iceberg lettuce with honey lemon and sesame seed dressing (but this is not an episode of MKR). Now that I know it works in another house with an RCD the problem is still not solved. Buoyed by the Burritos I resolved to try it again.

Second suspicion was the RCD. OK So I have a pool that runs on a separate circuit and its own RCD. Six trips back to the pool filter later it was looking like the cooker again; cast iron pot.

OK so a year later I drag it out on a slow weekend for a post mortem. The problem does NOT occur when I first turn it on, so I began to think it must be device capacitance (for a great article on how this can be the bugbear of appliances and RCD’s see this page: http://www.marcspages.co.uk/pq/3342.htm). I needed 100 Ohms connected from earth to chassis to get it working; nope not good enough –  resistance has to be less than 1 Ohm.

Image of element connection points
Before and after, showing arc point of short circuit. The structural band (with holes for power entry) is held together by a bent over aluminium band (visible at top and bottom) both are directly connected to the chassis. The wire entering into the bakelite sandwich is live, small wonder it arced where it did, and not at the wire entry

Dig deeper. It turns out that the “element” is a band of aluminium, bakelite and an “insulated” filament. The pictures now speak for themselves. I pinched back the aluminium band, rotated the bakelite and filament section to line up with the holes and tested again. No more trips to the switch box. The appliance is definitely faulty and validates the use of the RCD. This could have made the chassis go live and only didn’t because the arc required a higher voltage which it did during the inductive load during switch off/on.Now I need to tell the neighbour to test his RCD.

2
The other side of the element. Again the wire exit is perilously close to the chassis earth point

I just hope this gets out to all those people out there that seem to blame the RCD for their woes. There seems to be a general push to retrograde to an old fuse or worse. Keep the RCD.

One Year Later

One year later, and the “honeymoon” feeling is not yet gone.

The sheer magnitude of picking up lock stock and barrel is poignantly reminded to us when we get to Kings Park in Perth and encounter Gija Jumulu, the Boab tree that was moved 3200km  from the Kimberley. Our journey was only 2738km and only a nudge over 6 degrees latitude, although it was across 2 state borders and not simply from the north of one state to the south.

The decision

Boab in Kings Park
journeyed over 3200 kilometres, from Warmun in WA's Kimberley region, to Kings Park

The decision to do a reconnaissance trip to Perth in December 2009 was a bit of a surprise. I never thought Jo would leave but she’d had a taste of travelling with Intimo when she went to Vietnam, and had the inkling of adventure. In the first few days of that trip we couldn’t see a way to make it work, but then suddenly “green lights” started appearing and we were off. We picked the place in Port Kennedy on the last day, and then flew back to Melbourne (it was not a restful trip).

The move

Then the rollercoaster began: break the news, arrange a tenant, refinance, pay deposit, organise removals, CHRISTMAS!, ship one car, pack, renovate and live wherever we could, sell the other car, tidy up, pack for trip, last goodbyes, WHOOSH! pick up car, buy a bed and some mattresses, and move in wait for the container, unpack and settle, start work, get internet and electronics working.

Changes

I bought myself a hybrid car since I knew I’d be driving distances; a Prius, a Blue one.

Prius
What a feeling

I had some travelling down to Busselton for installations and up to Port Hedland to visit another Bush School, not to forget Broome and Darwin, but otherwise we’ve had an eye opening experience just having the beach nearby and exploring Perth. It’s not unusual for us to go out of an evening and stroll down to Warnbro Sound with the dog. In the summer months it stays warm well after dark, and the beach is protected by a reef. The reef connects Point Peron to the north with the Port Kennedy point to the south. During the daytime you can see dolphins frolicking out in the bay. The weather would cycle strong SW winds to warm balmy quiet days that left the bay like glass. A little further to the south we have Secret Harbour where the surf has been a real attraction. With the temperatures well above the Melbourne averages it is very much an outdoor lifestyle.

From the nearby lookout
From the nearby lookout

Since the move Jo’s parents Harry and Anne have visited us and we had a great time exploring the surrounding areas including Fremantle where Harry was deposited for the first time onto Australian soil. Mum (Anneke) travelled across as well and we again saw many of the sights. Then Connie and Anne, then Harry and Anne, and then Anneke again. Each time has had its own features and reminiscences, such as Kings Park, London Court, Hillarys, The Rockingham Musselfest and promenade, as well as the Fremantle Markets and Mandurah.

Rhyanna has been strolling through year 11, has made lots of friends, and has also met Jerome. Jerome has similar circumstances in moving from Melbourne at about the same time and starting Year 11 over here, though in different schools. The two are inseparable and are a mutual source of support. Rhyanna has also recently decided she wants to wear the blue uniform of the constabulary, and Jerome the black one of the Fire brigade. We wait to see if it comes true but there seems to be some drive behind it.

Off to school
Off to school

Talen has sauntered through year 10, and has made many best friends. He cavorts around and makes people laugh a lot, and has just enough mischief in him – hopefully not too much. He has also had his braces removed (the reason behind many trips back to Melbourne for he and Jo), and now has a devilish grin that has made him the centre of attention for several girls. His flame is Courtney, she is probably as tall as he is, and he now towers over Joanne (nearly up to me)

Dion has attacked primary school, and has been involved in rugby, and recently in the Surf Life Saving Club at Secret Harbour. He launches himself at the beach events with vigour, and goes jogging with me as many mornings as we can muster. Dion always has friends knocking on the door to come around to play. He rides his bike to school every day. Dion has taken an interest in caring for his two aquariums of fish along with his PH testers, and Ick and Whitespot cures. He also asks difficult questions, and is growing at an incredible pace.

Dion and board
Lets go Surfing

Jo has been a great source of support in my challenges of getting the business growing over here and has also been involved in the primary school where she organised three discos, six if you consider that each disco was split into junior and seniors. I come along to help out and look intimidating, though if I hear one more Justin Bieber song I will scream. We also took on managing two rugby teams. Jo has relaunched her Intimo business over here, and is operating at about 50% with a lot of support from loyal Victorian customers while her downlines continue to build the Melbourne base.

I have been flying at Mount Bakewell and Serpentine and once at dunes along the local Warnbro beach. Being so close to the beach sailing is a big part of the lifestyle and while having the chance to cruise around on a friend’s 21’ raised keel we are also about to embark on owning our own 16’ Hobie cat.

Although we miss our friends in Melbourne we have made many new and interesting friends. Most are migrants just like us but from areas such as South Africa, UK, the US, and New Zealand.

The Experience

The whole scary process has really become a validation of the strength of the family unit, and the adaptability and resilience of the individuals as well. If there was anyone with feelings of trepidation they have risen to the challenge and thrived. In a subtle twist the things you may hope  to leave behind also try to follow you, and this also has become a learning process. It is also true that we have become aware of how fortunate we are in having both the opportunity and each other. There are many less fortunate, and in some strange way we have become a sort of gravitational centre for some. This also forces a balancing act between our values and openness. You can’t be a part of the world from behind closed doors.

As we draw close to the 2010 year’s end we hope everyone has a great festive transition and a 2011 that brings a thriving future and a zest for life.

Greg Jo and Clan

Clouding the Market

As more and more applications are provided as a “software as a service” and Web 2.0 starts to yield its riches one must wonder whether there is a possibility of overshoot. Is there a chance that increasing the cloud may simply leave us fogbound.

Paradigms

Cloud1
ISP - Caching of inbound traffic

As I sit here tapping away on a web based word processing application portaled into a Blog site I cannot in earnest say that applications in the Cloud is a bad idea. It’s just one that must have the light of scrutiny applied. The world is full of competing paradigms. The question is not whether one is good or bad but simply better for a given situation. This blog is about how the cloud is constructed and starts with a seperation of the client, the ISP, and then the rest… the internet.

Virtualisation is a solution for the consolidation of hardware to provide many applications. Grid computing is the distribution of hardware to provide support for a single application. One is not better than the other, they are simply used to solve different problems

As I come to terms with the mental gymnastics of Virtual computer systems and its abstractions, or its antithesis Grid computing and its abstractions I’m often astounded how the internet itself is becoming abstracted as an application. Is the whole shooting match moving to Layer 7?

Beginnings

A browser is a typical desktop application, a web proxy is a typical Cloud application. Do you need a Cloud application for it all to work? No! Why have it? to save money speed or introduce controls. OK, so far it’s a good idea. So we have the diagram as shown with our new web proxy in place.

The agenda for the ISP is to maximise the benefit of their newly acquired cache to as many people as possible. This will maximise the cache hits and therefore optimise their connection to the net so that they pay less and can pass on the savings to their customers making their service cheaper and more appealing.

Cloud 2
Cache to many people

So having engaged more customers their net starts to resemble  the next diagram. The problem now becomes one of load. The capacity for one system to accommodate this load becomes unsustainable and the performance of the network degrades and the unhappy customers depart.

The cache engine of the internet (Squid) then provides for cache farm capabilities. Each of the systems communicate with each other to help retrieve previously fetched objects and the “peer” nature of these systems makes it all look like one big system. This then looks like the next diagram with the cache peered proxy farm.

Function

Cloud 3
Cache peer structures to accommodate load

The next requirement is to add function. The cache peered system works fine if all users have the same requirements. If the same filtering policy applies for instance there is no problem. Many sites however like a policy that is unique to them, having a “farm” of systems identify a unique customer source is doable but will depend upon a source IP range or (better still) some form of authentication, which then requires a degree of knowledge about the users that exist at a site and propagation of user state across systems.

This user awareness (the identity) may be through LDAP synchronisation or manually crafted files that populate the database. This may requires a trusted connection from the ISP back into the site, or the traversal of specially encrypted or (eek) cleartext username/password files. But there is something else missing here… reporting to the customer. Extraction of information from many systems is best done through log consolidation. This is not as trivial as it sounds but, if it is a requirement, it can be met.

Tiers of management

Some Agency, education for instance, may require this of the environment. It is possible for the agency to maintain the logging repository and issue canned reports back into the clients. This topology is represented in the “Cache peer and reporting” diagram. All this is created to avoid end users themselves needing to maintain such systems for themselves. The complexity of the central solution is high in order to keep the complexity to the end users low.

Cloud 3b
Cache peer and reporting

There is another thought. Moore’s Law  states that computing power doubles every two years. Given a static sized fleet and a static capacity broadband and no increase in the filtering requirements it means that the filtering engine can track the requirements of the fleet. More realistically though… If the Broadband capacity doubles (or quadruples usually), the number in the fleet doubles (1:1 ratio policies and taxpayers $ at work), the filtering requirement increases to demand a higher load on the filtering system (assumed double). This all translates to a demand that is cubic, not linear. If you had 10 systems in the cloud you will need 1000 in two years. Now given that there are factors that will mitigate the demand (code efficiency, better standards etc).

OK So where is all this heading? It seems logical to me that a distributed computing model is more appropriate to the problem of internet “management”  for two reasons:

  • It disseminates the control processes to different regions/demographics
  • It spreads the computing load.

So this model advocates the deployment of control systems at the client network. What happens at the centralised process where accountability is the key. And this is where a hybrid cloud model appears. Placing devices at the client with their own logging and reporting capability and yet further logging and reporting back in the cloud for monitoring the behaviour of the whole.

I really like a simple analogy:

When we discovered the internet neighbourhood wasn’t safe we put big gates at the end of the street and gave everyone a key. This was a complete pain in the arse, people left the gate open, the gap was sometimes too narrow, and sometimes it was simpler to simply leave it open. Better for everyone to have their own garage door

Cloud 4
Redistribution of the enforcement and application to the site
Cloud 5
enforcement at the site with some reporting to a parent

Cloud Dreaming

Area showing rough location of the bush schools
Area showing rough location of the bush schools

The first trip – Yakanarra

Flight

It is no accident that the mudmaps drawn to design networks invariably represent the “internet” as a cloud. “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now” … and both meteorological and information highway types often seem just as incomprehensible. When I tell people that I am flying across Australia to the remotest regions of the Kimberley to set up some internet and network control systems for aboriginal community schools the question is always asked: “Why?”

After the preliminaries, the dialog, the logistics, the sheer magnitude of the task, the researching and “google earthing”, the system imaging, and the last minute crises, I awoke very early on a Saturday morning (exhausted from all manner of things) and hauled stuff onto the plane. I’d tried to read up on what to expect at the communities and blending this with what I understood of the aboriginal culture from various sites, media, and movies I set out on my own walkabout with “Songlines” (a book by Chetwyn) and an open mind. Reading about dreamtime stories and the motivation behind aboriginal paintings drew an immediate parallel behind the stories told by the paintings and those told by the cave paintings on whiteboards in Classroom 5 Block C.

Ours, the ones we print out on thermal paper from the base of the whiteboard, are a throwaway representation of something that is used as a reference, a guide, not to a honey ant colony and food, but to communications, pathways and learning… and communities.

In my drowsy state of mind peering out of the porthole I can’t help but think that I also have my dreamtime stories, perhaps far more abstract, perhaps not so oriented to survival on a harsh earth, perhaps not so tactile and instantaneous. Perhaps the songline for the journey I am undertaking was written before any airline ticket was bought. What I am doing here in this aircraft is now simply playing out the “song” I have already written for myself over the past few months.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe I have some strange misconception of what it is all really about and perhaps that is why I must venture out and validate this concept. Maybe there are two journeys: discovery of the reason; and then enacting the quest. This walkabout then starts with:

“I am meeting someone of my cloud dreaming tribe in the far north, of a far western state. Why? To see if our minds meet.”

Maybe it will all go pear shaped and I will flounder and die of thirst in a desert, real or imagined.

Termite mound and Boab Tree
Termite mound and Boab Tree

Lines

Clouds have random characteristics, not only in shape but in their formation. To a Hang-glider pilot they indicate lift, and the food of flight. They come in many species and temperaments and finding the right kind is a skill that is as difficult to acquire as knowing where the best bush tucker is. They often come in “streets”. There are “elders” in the Hang-gliding community that know and understand the ways of clouds in ways that are truly intuitive. It is not unusual to witness an elder such as Rohan Holtcamp “sing” a novice pilot into a thermal from the ground. They are often happy to talk their stories of clouds in the way that a fisherman might explain where the barramundi might be found. Their love for the sport runs against all grains of its digestibility to the man on the street, and this passion is a virus that infests all pilots. It is a binding element for pilots that come from all walks of life. It is just as part a totemic relationship as the second paternal line of the aboriginals. I’m certain my mother must have inadvertently encountered one of the spirit children of Cloud Dreaming. Not surprising since many an uncle has been involved in aviation … none as pilots.

The internet also has lines, all interconnecting in ways that are synergetic. The web first created the lines within CERN to be able to path out research and knowledge. As knowledge was shared the lines were connected between CERN and other collaborative systems creating a corroboration (corroboree?) of dances. This created more and more interconnections, and now with the web we have scientific songlines, religious songlines, education songlines (amongst others), and yes there are less savoury songlines. There are some paths that will take you to the bad dreaming areas of the internet and in the educational process it needs to be understood that pretending they don’t exist does not mean that people won’t wonder and wander. In the early years it is simply important to put barriers in the way and as time progresses explain the presence of the barriers. The danger of traversing these boundaries can then be a part of the learning process.

Broome

The Jabiru
The Jabiru

With the Bike shop closed I did a walk to Cable Beach. It was very “touristy” but still nice. Hitched a lift back to town with someone who works intently with the communities and discussed too briefly the hot topic at the time which was the native aboriginal tongue spoken as primary (while English is relegated as a second language). I saw little sign of the indigenous people and couldn’t think of how I could contrive contact. It would have to happen naturally.

Yakanarra

The Jabiru that Don owns and flies around the region is a recreation registered craft that yields a whole new outlook on this territory. It is versatile enough to cover substantial distances in minimalist comfort with some room for essentials. It is used by the “God Botherers” of the region to carry “the word” and Don has taken it pretty much around Australia. We flew over mudflats and arid territory with just a peppering trees, as dune like spines of geological crust stretched to the horizon like the scales of a fish. The earth became progressively redder, and we passed Geegully creek, long perfectly straight lines – roads, and nameless gullies. The Boundary Hills heralded a change in landscape to the Fitzroy river plain. Making a slight detour we passed over Noonkanbah then Mount Tuckfield and Kadjina and finally over the St George ranges to Yakanarra. A fly by and we were down and met by Helen the principal. Just before I went to work we had a quick look at the nearby “soak” where the Brolgas squawked with the sound often simulated by the didgeridoo. With the patience of a saint Don waited as I configured the system with Kitty and little urchins patiently did tasks and retrieved cookies for their trouble. All too soon it came to time to go before sunset and we got our lift back to the airfield to fly back to Derby. With the sun setting in our eyes it was difficult to discern features and we made a beeline to the airport. Finally landing as the sun faded.

Yakanara Airport
Yakanara Airport

Derby

Here I meet with friends. A couple that moved to Derby from the sleepy suburbs of Melbourne to build and help battle disease. I mentioned that I’d looked at clouds from up and down. Ness and Adam are people I’ve flown hang-gliders with. When the whole trip started to crystallise I thought there might be a great opportunity to catch up. It’s through Ness and Adam I got in contact with Don. Derby is one of the best kept secrets of the Kimberley, it is the gateway to the archipelago to the north and places like the Horizontal falls “The Horries”. The extensive mudflats that surround Derby make for a great towing paddock or land yacht area, and it has the remnants of many a bonfire. With the huge tides experienced here it also presents extraordinary scenes like yachts beached nestled and sheltered  in trees that make an improvised dry dock 200 metres from the water. There does seem to be some resentment and hopelessness about the aboriginal predicament amongst some of the white community, particularly (it seems) from those that have been there for a long while.

Broome

Broome Dreaming
Broome Dreaming

In Broome I met and did a handover to the Purnululu support staff as they were visiting Broome with a whole tribe. The locals are very welcoming and a walk to anywhere is often punctuated with g’days and various greetings. I befriended John who performed some black magic on me and sucked the pain in my neck out through my wrist. We talked, bought a few beers and sat down by the port area while he told me some of his dreaming stories. He is a displaced Northern Territory fella that wears a straw cowboy hat and had made a living as a jackaroo and with Rodeos. He told jokes and anecdotes like the story of his mate that accidentally drank his own glass eye, and old bible stories, probably from when he was on a mission somewhere. He told me things about my family relationships and seemed keen to tune in to my aura.

John has many small superstitions like not sticking sticks up in the sand. This latter I suspect because you might stand on it barefoot. It gets me thinking there is much more common sense with John than it seems at first. He even taught me some of the local lingo. I have the words written down somewhere and I include them here:

East: Gagada
South: Yulbari
West: Yabora
North: Gaylee
Beer: Garee
Ground: Barna
Kite(bird): Japurba

I have some contact details somewhere, and may try to send a letter to let him know of this article

Second Trip: Kadjina

Abandoned Station near Kadjina
Abandoned Station near Kadjina

There are some cries of distress that warrant investigation. So it was that I went out to Kadjina to finish the integration of the system that had been interrupted previously with power outages. Knowing there was a tax on the time involved I made it a 4 day journey.

Thursday afternoon there was a flight to Broome and then a 6am flight with the irrigation guys on the twin engine plane. We arrived at 7:30ish and “buzzed the airfield” to let people know we had arrived. The principal Maggie picked us up and on the 3k trip to the community advised us that the power was out (de ja vu?). After unsuccessfully trying to restart it everyone settled in the shade to avoid the heat. Intermittently the power would come on and die away again as Maggie’s savvy aboriginal assistants tried to restart the Cummins diesel generator set. We would frantically close doors to let the Aircon do what it could, only to open the doors again.

There are three intrepid women teaching staff at the community, one is a English Backpacker (Claire) whom I can’t help but think must have felt teleported to Mars. At about 11am the sparkies from somewhere near Fitzroy crossing rolled up in their truck, as the temperature crawled up through 42 Celsius. Aboriginal children skidded on a makeshift waterslide with plastic soap and water (constructed by Chrissie). About midday Maggie and Chrissie, as well as some of the aboriginal elders decided to jump in a troop carrier and head to Noonkanbah for an Icy pole and to sit in the Aircon for a while… a three hour round trip. I stayed behind in case the power came good (it didn’t). Claire and I sat in the shade and talked until the drone of an aircraft crept into the conversation. We looked at each other as if we hoped the other knew what to do. Maggies “other” troop carrier refused to start. We went looking for a parent with a car… “No miss all of ‘em went to town with Miss Maggie”. This left the electricians truck…

“Sure, Jump in” said the sparky as I heard the plane taking off in the distance

As we were driving away I noted that the front of the cab was for passengers and the back was completely full of tools. I imagined the tradesman trailer was also full of tools. “What if there’s more than one person?” I quizzed. I also noticed a lot of smoke coming our way from the East. Surely not a bushfire.

Maggie and her art
Maggie and her art

“It’s probably just a mail plane”, he replied. This made sense to me and I could simply hold the satchel of mail on my lap.

When we finally got there we saw a mother, a father, four children and various bags and bits, the bounty of what may have been a shopping trip. We jammed the mum and three young girls in the cabin, the father and his son on the trailer and I sat onto the roof of the 4WD and held onto the ladder… You can have your desk job!!

That night the power came back on and the work started.Throughout the discussions with Maggie I got a sense of a vision for the outback that may really hold some hope. Everyone knows of the challenges. The scarcity and then deluge of water could quite easily entrap me into Garee for satiation or cure for cabin fever. These communities are both “dry”, there is no alcohol permitted and alternative community attractions are contrived. Education may be an attraction but I tend to think it would be the path followed after community engagement. I get the sense that Food stores, consistent water, the internet and the retrieval of Songs from the tenuous line between the dish and satellite form the real attraction. I hope these little islands of technology survive the wet. I’d like to think I can provide help to ensure it.

Early the next day I was woken by the yelping and howling of the dogs chasing away the prowlers that could smell the bitch on heat underneath Maggies house. Not wanting to waste a good morning I grabbed some water and went for a walk. I can understand how the aboriginals prefer the open air. Even I could take tentative steps in “reading” the land. The “slate” is so clean that any disturbance writes a story in the sand. The tracks making lines to the next article revealed. Not yet sure of any treasure it may yield.

Zen and the art of Hang Gliding

The art of hang gliding stems from a deep mysticism, with its origins in mythology (The Garuda, Hermes, Apollo, Icarus and Daedalus) through to James Barrie’s Peter Pan. The craft is, of course, taught by the Masters of the art. Their teachings are held in reverence, it’s as if these teachers have attained spiritual enlightenment. It has been a source of amazement to me that the basic skills of Hang Gliding are usually attained within a week. What is the process that follows after?

Corryong
Mount Elliot Launch

While in Bright, at the Mystic landing field and Porepunkah airstrip, I was performing the usual routine of the packing of the glider and was reflecting on the fine flights had. Thoughts wander, and I contemplated the notion that this pack-up ritual vaguely resembled the Japanese Tea ceremony. There is an order to the process that is logical and grounding. While newcomers to this ritual may still require some cognitive process, the Initiates and Masters seem to perform this ritual automatically, but are usually immersed in their contemplations. Such phenomenon is demonstrably Zen at the core.

The fundamental tenet of Zen is that enlightenment (Satori) is attained through practical application “without words, without explanations, without instructions, without knowledge”. This pervades through the hang gliding community as an unspoken philosophy. There are, of course, regulatory frameworks and broad strategies, but the Spiritual side is self determined. There is a Zen phrase:

“A finger is needed to point at the moon, but that we should not trouble ourselves with the finger once the moon is recognised”.

The original “Masters” of Hang Gliding provide a finger that is soon dispensed with, knowing that the spiritual aspect of the art will finish the learning process. Enlightenment in Zen “doesn’t mean withdrawal from the world but means, on the contrary, active participation in everyday affairs”. It is not a monastic recluse that partakes in Hang Gliding it is someone answering a call and embracing all the obligations. This call, like the approach in Zen, emphasises life’s practicalities but nevertheless “holds a mystical experience in wonder and mystery in every single act.”

There is occasional talk of having a so-called Sherpa that can carry and set up your glider, and then pack it up when the flying is done. This may be from those who consider the art to be akin to middle age knighthood, where to attain the highest rank one needed to ascend from Page through Squire to Knight. The process is really more holistic for reasons of safety as well as pleasure (although having a buddy co-pre-flight makes good sense). A Zen parable runs:

A monk told Joshu: ‘I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.’
Joshu asked: ’Have you eaten your rice porridge?’
The monk replied: ‘I have eaten.’
Joshu said:’Then you had better wash your bowl.’

Rather prosaic perhaps, but early in the hang gliding course the Masters place heavy emphasis on the set-up and strip down of the glider, and advice as to stowage of pack up gear, along with preliminary ventures into ground handling.

Anticipating flight often involves the process of “Hang waiting”. During this period the preparatory ceremony (set-up/pre-flight) has usually been performed, and the contemplation of fluid dynamics commences. To attain enlightenment a Zen master will provide their student a “koan”. This is a paradoxical question that is intended to stop the mind and empty it in preparation for Satori. Since no one has perfected “Thermal Detection Goggles” much time is spent on the paradoxical nature of thermal behaviour, or coastally on fronts, wind cycles, and launch directions. This period serves to empty ones mind, become transcendentally detached from the earth, and thus in tune with the heavens.

Zen is blended between Buddhism (meditational) Taoism (mystical), and Confuscianism (formalised and dealing at times with morality). A common symbol across these beliefs, and based in Toaist thought is that of the T’ai-chi T’u. This is the familiar image shown at the start of this article. In its origins the dark and light tadpole shapes represent the shady and sunny sides of a mountain. Each “tadpole” has within it the seed of its counterpart, and represents the balance of yin and yang. These two opposing characteristics need to live in harmony with each other. Its western analogy is the pendulum, which will inevitably swing the other way.

Those catabatic (yin) and anabatic (yang) airflows, or onshore/offshore cycles, that effect prospects of flight are both manifestations of the cyclic nature of the T’ai-chi T’u. The yang or (lighter side) represents the bright side of the mountain, it is creative, implies movement, and also is aligned with heaven (It is also designated as male for what it’s worth). If these meteorological forces are in sway then we will hopefully have some yang for launch.

Once having performed the launch ritual and found ourselves airborne we move directly to a state of Satori. One of the Zen methods of invoking enlightenment is for the Master to shock the student at a critical juncture through a yell, or a hit with a stick. I wouldn’t advocate this as a requirement after a hang check, but then perhaps the sudden flurry and injection of adrenaline already performs this for pilots. The eastern mystics also study these meditation techniques because of its value to warriors. The detachment attained through meditation allows one to concentrate strongly on the task at hand, to the expense of any distractions. A Zen Master Yasutani Roshi describes the meditative state of Shikan-taza as follows:

“Shikan Taza is a heightened state of concentrated awareness wherein one is neither tense nor worried, and certainly never slack. It is the mind of somebody facing death. Let us imagine that you are engaged in a duel of swordsmanship… were you to relax your vigilance even momentarily, you would be cut down instantly.”

He goes on to describe the crowd that gathers, but suggests that you (the warrior) are distracted by neither their noise nor presence. The Bhagavad Gita, India’s favourite religious text is set in a battlefield, and Bushido is a form of Samurai swordsmanship strongly influenced by Zen. Certainly the vigilance of the pilot is key to a safe, enjoyable, and successful flight.

One of my early revelations in the understanding of thermals is that if one takes the path of least resistance they should get prepared for a landing. The thermal will tip your wing away and you will always find sink. I struggled with early theory advising that the air just outside a thermal sinks faster than air further afield, so that when encountering a sink on my right wing I yielded right in search of the thermal beyond (to the despair of those on the ground watching the eagle to my left). The Lao Tzu would say ‘Whenever you want to achieve anything you should start with its opposite.’

Invariably the pendulum will swing and the yin again strengthens over the yang. “Landings are mandatory”. The yin is the darker side of the T’ai-chi T’u, being the shady side of the mountain. It further represents the earthly aspect of the balance, and brings things to rest. It is intuitive, and is described as female, or maternal.

So we go back to the pragmatic duties of pack-up and the cha-no-yu (tea ceremony), although my luck is usually better and my wife has a few cold beers at hand. Soon afterwards; I become thankful for the yin.

Authors notes:

Other activities are attributed to Zen like structure: “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance” (Robert M. Pirsig), “Zen in the art of archery” (Eugen Herrigel), “Zen and the art of Windsurfing” (http://www.hsuyun.org/Dharma/zbohy/Literature/essays/sangha-essays/windsurfing.html).

This article is in contrast to true Zen, that would simply state “The instant you speak about a thing you miss the mark”.

Much of the facts and material quoted here has been obtained from Fritjof Capra’s “Tao of Physics”.

This article was originally printed in Soaring Magazine (Skysailor) 2005

Since then there have been others along this vein, here’s a useful one on Zen and Thermals