Fine Words


Hannah Cutts’ photo of welcome to country at Payne’s Hut, home of Do Lectures Australia.

Do Lectures Australia was a forceful reminder that fine words are pretty but that action counts. Thanks to Luke Pearson attendees at Do Lectures Australia were asked to reflect on Australia’s relationship with its indigenous people and what we may need to unlearn.  

The history of Australia’s relationship with its indigenous people highlights that the words are occasionally fine. Too often the actions fall short or the outcomes we seek escape us. We need to move from talking at each other to working together to make things better.

Fine Words

Last weekend I saw a reference in an article on speech making to Paul Keating’s speech at Redfern in 1992. I didn’t recall the speech but I looked it up to learn more. The missed potential of that speech and curiosity to learn more led me to a short review of other speeches on the topic.

There is no shortage of fine words in the history of Australia’s relationship with its indigenous people. To select only from notable speeches of recent Prime Ministers:

One can quibble with the politics and the policies but all the words are elegant and heartfelt. There are many more words from Prime Ministers and others. Sadly, not all of them qualify as fine words. Where there were actions associated, there was a bigger difference. Whatever the words, there is more to do.


The answer is not more fine words. The answer is not found speaking at the indigenous people of Australia with elegance. The answer will not come from convincing the people of Australia from a podium. No one speech or one action is likely to address the complexity of people, history and systems.

We need to listen. We need to learn from each other. I don’t have answers, but I have questions. We all have questions. We might benefit from asking more questions of each other. A much less elegant, but more engaging conversation might be productive of new understanding and new actions.

Most of all we need to act together. Those actions will help us to improve understanding, to better relationships, to reduce disadvantage and to improve the lives of our indigenous and all Australians. Perhaps questions asked in new conversations will help lead us find a way from fine words to better and more action.

What are your questions? Who do you need to ask to learn their answers? What actions might make a difference?

26 May is National Sorry Day and 27 May-3 June is National Reconcilation week. For a chance to learn more about Luke Pearson’s work to share the diversity of indigenous voices, follow Indigenous X on twitter.

Growing Crystals of Change


When we confront large scale transformation, the scope and beauty of the outcomes we seek can be overwhelming. Crystals grow molecule by molecule.  Bring about your large scale change action by action.

Big Change is Daunting

Discussing large transformative change you will often hear people refer to how daunting it is to consider the entire idea of the change. Richard Martin has eloquently described the work of building our future responsive organisations as like the construction of a cathedral that will be completed beyond our lifetime. Mary Freer wants to change health and social care for the better through Change Day. Eddie Harran seeks to understand the role of nomadism in shaping the lives of digital nomads. These are but a few of the large scale ideas that challenge our understanding of how to move forward.

Just conceiving of a perfect endpoint for the change can be a barrier to getting started. The pressure for perfection of this final vision can come from many sources. We want our goals to as well as ordered as a crystal and with a fine gemlike finish as well. Too many people spend their time polishing the gem of an idea and never get started.

To lead large scale change, we need to unlearn the desire to know the exact shape of the endpoint. Instead of focusing our attention on the perfect gem of an end goal, we need to focus the process by which the crystal of change gets formed.

A Crystal Grows Molecule by Molecule

The crystals that we later polish to create gems are formed when a seed attracts molecules from a saturated solution or gas to form a solid structure. There are a number of parts of this crystallisation process that apply in change as well:

Seed – First Action: There needs to be a first point for a crystal to attach. Somebody needs to begin the process of change and create the first action. This action can be as simple as declaring a need to change or organising the first connections.

Saturated solution – Ready Network: Super saturation of the solution with molecules drives the formation of a crystal. Change needs networks that are connected and rich enough in change agents to sustain connection and action. If that saturation falls between minimum levels, change stops. Action is one key way to keep change agents engaged.

Nucleation – Small Experiments: Before crystals form, the molecules connect in solution. Consider this the experimental efforts to form a crystal. Only when conditions are right to achieve stability do they connect to form a crystal. Every successful change initiative finds that there have been previous unsuccessful attempts to achieve stable change and that others are working on change in parallel. Don’t see these are barriers or disappointments. Recognise that the key is helping these experiments connect together at scale.

Crystal growth – Open Structure: Crystals form in structures because there are clear points and structures for new molecules to attach. Large scale change needs an open structure that allows those who are ‘transformation curious’ to connect and engage with the change in their own way.

Impurities – Embrace a little chaos: The dynamic nature of the process and environmental conditions when forming crystals attracts minor impurities and irregularities. These are just part of the process. Large scale change is never perfect. Accept that things will have a few rough edges, but keep working to grow the change around them.

Time: Most crystals grow gradually molecule by molecule. This gradual process reflects the process of change where people make new sense of their world and add new actions slowly step by step.

The Lesson from Crystals

Start acting now with the first experiments in a connected network of change agents and allow others to connect and shape the work as it moves forward. 

Thanks to Eddie Harran for the conversation that gave the idea of crystallisation somewhere to connect