15/01/2007

NZ'S WEB 2.0 PROMISE

So, were Google's mega-rich bosses holidaying in New Zealand or do the world's wealthy just make a habit of lending each other their private jets? Whatever the case, they didn't appear to visit Eurekster in Christchurch.

The year appears to have got off to a good start for NZ tech companies if the latest reports ring true - Christchurch video email provider, Springdoo is reported to have done a deal to buy into a UK company that will list on the AIM exchange. OpenCloud secured $15 million in funding and Right Hemisphere seems to have struck a lucrative deal with Indian software developer Tata.

Springadoo sounds interesting...

"Springdoo intends to do for email, what MP3’s did for music," according to its website. I don't know much about them, but they are funded by the people behind Cookie Time, in particular Michael Mayell, who is a director of the company.

Late last year I did a story on Guy Pope-Mayell, which never made it onto the Herald website for some reason. I've republished it below. Guy is a great guy, full of energy and a real advocate for much needed change in the way dyslexia is approached in this country. Springadoo will be worth keeping an eye on...

My Weekend Herald piece looking at some of our companies unlocking the potential of Web 2.0

UNLOCKING THE MIND'S POTENTIAL

by Peter Griffin

It was an executive retreat with a difference – instead of paperwork and Powerpoint presentations there was clay, lots of clay.

Christchurch-based cookie-maker Cookie Time is known throughout the country for its big chocolate chip cookies.

But it has also been home to a management experiment that’s seen founder and managing director Guy Pope-Mayell put his senior executives through a course designed for people with dyslexia.

“It was a group of executives stepping outside their comfort zone,” said Pope-Mayell, who in April took his top people away for four days of unorthodox training.

“They got a huge amount out of it and it helped me gain an insight into how these strategies are equally applicable to a non-dyslexic individual.”

The techniques of Ron Davis, a dyslexic American who learnt techniques to cope with his disability and now designs learning materials for dyslexic children, formed the basis of the course.

Pope-Mayell’s children – 10 year-old Shey and 14 year-old Elijah, are both dyslexic and it was during a course run by Davis in Auckland two years ago that his wife Suzanne was able to confirm that she too was dyslexic.

“Dyslexia is seen as something complicated, which you can’t do anything about,” said Pope-Mayell.

The Davis techniques however, are remarkable for their simplicity. Dyslexics are “picture thinkers”, often struggling to deal with written language, something that can prove a real problem in the business world.

On the other hand, the ability of dyslexics to bring a different perspective to a problem or challenge makes them a huge asset as employees – if colleagues attempt to understand their disability. In Pope-Mayell’s experiment, melding objects out of clay allowed his executives to explore business concepts in more tangible ways.

“We made a clay model of a ball and then a ball that had been squashed flat. Then we put a clay arrow between the two.”

The concept was change management. Time management was another concept explored using clay.

“When you understand what time is, something rooted in the fact we are a planet revolving around the sun, you begin to understand why you’re having difficulty managing time,” he said.

Five months on, Pope-Mayell says Cookie Time is still counting the benefits of the executive retreat.

“I’m not joining the dots but since April, it’s been the most creative and productive time in Cookie Time’s life.”

He estimates that 20 per cent of Cookie Time’s 80 staff is dyslexic to some degree.

“I can tell through their behaviour and avoidance strategies that emerge,” he said.

It meant some staff preferred talking on the phone to communicating via email, offering input at meets rather than in reports, something Pope-Mayell is happy to accommodate.

Studies suggest 7 – 10 per cent of the population is dyslexic, though few companies implement policies to help dyslexic employees maximize their potential.

“There’s also a lot of money to be saved in recognizing your staff is dyslexic.”

Pope-Mayell said he knew several chief executives of large, successful New Zealand companies who were dyslexic.

“They’re supported by personal assistants and senior managers. They’re passionate, visionary and really know how to empower people.”

While designing leadership courses for high-flying executives based on the techniques taught to Cookie Time’s executives could spawn a research field and lucrative line of business in itself, Pope-Mayell has no plans to expand on the experiment.

He said he’s more interested in the “big picture” issues around this hidden disability, such as making sure that dyslexia is picked up in kids early and that they’re taught coping techniques to minimize its impact.

As managing trustee of the Cookie Munchers Charitable Trust, Pope-Mayell, was constantly receiving letters from parents describing the toll dyslexia takes on their children’s confidence and self-esteem.

“The pain is huge. Kids are so anxious about going to school they’re waking up in the middle of the night and vomiting.”

For Shey, who has been completing Davis programmes for two years now, the frustration and self-doubt is receding.

“He realizes he has a dyslexic mind. We’re very much out the other end now.”

THE MAD BUTCHER ON HIS DYSLEXIA...

Some of the most inventive and commercially savvy minds the world has ever seen were also dyslexic minds.

Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and IBM-founder Thomas Watson all had the disability but the dsylexic’s visionary mindset as well.

Local business luminaries who are dyslexic include bungy jumping pioneer and tourism entrepreneur A.J. Hackett, Five-time Oscar-winner and Weta Workshop boss Richard Taylor and “Mad Butcher” Peter Leitch


The rugby league fanatic who owns a nationwide chain of 35 butcher shops didn’t realize he was dyslexic until after he was married.

“When I was at school they didn’t know about dyslexia. When you’re born with it, you think it’s normal,” he said.

He doesn’t dwell on his dyslexia, “otherwise, you’d get nothing done”.


“I get things around the wrong way. I’ll ring the wrong number, I’ll say the wrong thing, ‘shut the door’ instead of ‘open the door,’” said Leitch.


“And I don’t have a lot of faith in my spelling. I don’t get into big letters to people. But the email has helped my spelling.”


Leitch had never given much thought to whether his dyslexia influenced the way he’s gone about building his business.


“I’m not a great business man. If I was I’d be as rich as Tindall. I’ve a passion for people, I love serving people. I’m just a hard worker.”


As for the stigma often associated with dyslexia, Leitch said he’d never experienced it.


“Quite frankly, I don’t give a f*** what you or others think. I’m bullet proof that way.”


Dyslexic business people often adapt their work routines to avoid dealing with large amounts of written information.


Virgin founder and billionaire Richard Branson prefers conference calls and hand-written notes to email and typed memos, a result of his dyslexia.


Cisco chief executive John Chambers’ dyslexia makes him a “voice person” happier to leave 40 to 50 voicemails on people’s phones each day rather than compose written messages.


Another dyslexic, billionaire telecommunications magnate Craig McCaw was able to bluntly sum up the polar-opposite effects dyslexia has on people’s lives.


“People are either defeated by dyslexia or they become much more tenacious.”


Leitch said he was thankful he hadn’t been stuck with a more debilitating condition.


“As much as it’s a disease or illness, the great thing is you won’t die from it. I’d rather have it than have cancer.”


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