Research & Books

Ken finds the fun in failure – fast and often

REVIEW  By Mike Sullivan >>

AS SUCCESS guides go, this one is a complete failure. If you follow its writer, Ken Williams’ philosophy, that means it can fail you, in fact, all the way to success.

One of the great business improvement clichés of our time is to ‘fail fast’. Tech companies and innovators apparently thrive on this philosophy – or, occasionally, they just fail completely – but Ken Williams adds large grains of salt to this saying through his rollicking treatise, How to fail fantastically.

He calls failure a “critical step to success” and calculates with lashings of dodgy mathematics how successive failures add up to greater likelihood of success. So Ken is not fatalistic, he’s just ‘failistic’.

He almost destroys his argument by backing it up with some pretty good examples of fail-ers who were hardly failures.

Like Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I have found 9,999 ways that do not work ...”

And author JK Rowling, whose original Harry Potter novel was rejected by 12 different publishers before the next fool took it on. 

Not to mention that massive basketball failure, Michael Jordan, who laments failing to hit the game-winning shot 28 times and missing more than 9000 shots overall across his failed career of more than 300 game losses.

“What a loser!” Ken writes. “However Jordan, Rowling and Edison each viewed failures as stepping stones towards success. Idiots!”

For once, this is a book that does deliver on its media release. And I quote:

“Peppered with amusing illustrations and quotations throughout, the guide offers 11 steps to failure (well, step 6 is a bit dodgy, and 8 is a tad lazy while step 4 is a doozy!) that reveal the true value of failure.

“He says you can’t afford NOT to fail and that failure is a critical step to success. If you don’t know how to fail, you’ll never be successful.

“Failures for Williams began at an early age where he was the class clown and left school at 15. Over the past 35 years he has chased a life that he is not sure exists.

“He has had myriad jobs and careers including a pirate, a brewery worker, a chef, a motel manager, a children's entertainer, a nutritionist, a sales rep and a copywriter. He has created and run several of his own businesses in numerous industries all with varying degrees of success.

“None of them lasted the distance, a situation for which Williams takes full ownership. ‘I either made the wrong calls, lost interest, did things half-arsed and got all my business expertise from all the wrong people. But I'm still here, ready to go again. I love life and I wouldn't change a thing. There are so many great character-building lessons to learn from failure.’ ”

Williams  even includes a mini-guide, at the end, on how to have your book manuscript rejected. I found that to be a waste of paper, because I’ve had all his pointers well covered for many years, all by myself.

Ken eventually fesses up: “Of course I am aware that by reading this book, some folks may perceive it as a self-help guide simply by flipping everything I say. And, hey, if that floats your boat, you have my blessing. However, I won’t be held responsible if any success eventuates.”

Great, Ken, wriggle your way out of any semblance of being aligned with success, if you insist. 

How to fail fantastically delivers an Epic Fail if, after reading it, you still take his title literally.

I guess mathematically that would mean Ken, in failing to fail, has probably succeeded.

Good on you Ken, for a mind-twisting pep talk that has its share of laugh-out-loud moments.  

Business leaders taking themselves too seriously should buy this book. It’s far cheaper than a complicit psycho-therapist session– and each successive reading of it is free. Mathematics can be a beautiful thing.


About Ken Williams

Humourist and writer Ken Williams also claims to be the author of two previous works, The Sound of Crickets - My Life as a Comedian and How to Get Your Book Rejected. More accurately, he runs a rollicking podcast, Reading with a chance of Tacos, in which he chats with a prominent member of the children's book industry – from authors and illustrators, to publishers and book sellers – with tips and information on writing books for children. He also failed to fail with his illustrated book Annabel’s Chewy Gooey Birthday, which was short-listed for the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year Awards in 2015.

How to fail fantastically is available from leading bookstores (distributed by Woodslane) and Ken hopes you will pay $19.95.


Australia’s ageing population: Pressure that’s only set to rise…

By Dan Hadley >>

AUSTRALIA’s population is ageing.  Older Australians are a growing proportion of the total population, year-on-year. For business leaders, it is important to understand the ramifications.

According to the Federal Government’s Australia’s Ageing Population Report, released in 2019, the growth in the proportion of older Australians is partly due to an increase in life expectancy.

In the 1960s a man might have expected to live an average life span of 78 years and a woman 78 years. Today the average life expectancy is around 85 for men and 87 for women in Australia. Some experts believe that the average life expectancy will continue to rise over time.

Australians enjoy one of the highest average life expectancy rates in the world. The CIA World Index lists Monaco as having the greatest average life expectancy of its citizens at over 89 years and the lowest being Chad at just over 50 years. 

The Parliamentary Budget Office recently issued its Australia’s Ageing Population Report for 2019, subtitled Understanding the Fiscal Impacts Over the Next Decade 02/2019. In it, the government addresses the effect an ageing population has on the Federal Budget.

While an ageing population is a slow process, it does represent a rise in financial costs over time. Additionally, it can – and certainly does for Australia – represent a reduction in workforce participation rates.


Workforce participation rate represents the section of working population, aged between 15 and 65, in the Australian economy currently employed or seeking employment. Essentially, it refers to the total number of people or individuals working right now or in active search of a job.

Australia is currently going through a particularly significant phase of demographic change. The ratio of aged dependents to working labour participants continues to trend closer and closer to a smaller ratio.

In simple terms, this means there are fewer and fewer workers over time to contribute to the economy. The movement of the baby boomer generation to retirement age is already reducing labor force participation and increasing the take-up of the Age Pension. In 1975, the ratio of workers to aged dependents was almost 7:1. Today it is around 4.5:1 and the Parliamentary Budget Office projects this ratio to fall to around 2.5:1 by 2055.

This double-edged sword, consisting of an increase in spending (such as greater Age Pension spending) and a decrease in national tax revenue (primarily reduced income tax collection) means a hefty level of pressure on the economy and those working.

The rising number of dependent aged citizens in Australia require publicly funded services such as accommodation, health care, social service payments and transportation. The economy may end up struggling to provide these goods and services in sufficient measure.

The economy may also struggle to find skilled labour for roles or jobs within the aged care sector, such as nursing or other medical jobs. Such a reduced available labour market may further raise wages, leading to an increased cost of living for the elderly and, thus, a greater pressure on taxpayers.


Australia’s Federal Government has an ever slowly approaching issue on its hands. 

There are a number of options to consider or strategies to implement to try to address the issue, some of which have already been put into effect to some extent.

In short, some of the key fiscal strategies available include:

  1. Increase the retirement age. This has already been implemented in Australia with a tiered roll out raising the retirement age to 67 in stages up until 2023 when it is set to remain at 67. This strategy increases the workforce participation rate for a longer period per citizen and slows the entry onto Aged Pension payments. This also has the effect of reducing the average time the pension is paid out.
  2. Increase taxes. Not a popular decision for any government but possibly a logical one. Increased taxes may raise greater federal revenue in order to cover the increasing cost of living for aged/retired citizens. This strategy decreases the propensity or desire to work though, can stimulate a reduction in migrant worker population and foster a greater level of Australian worker exoduses to other countries as Australian professionals may seek more competitive employment options overseas.
  3. Freeze or reduce Age Pension payments and other services. Largely considered as an unviable option, this strategy would ultimately lead to a lower quality of living for those aged or retired citizens in Australia.
  4. Stimulate employment. This can be done by several means including employment placement programs, incentives for employers and educational programs. Ultimately if fewer people are unemployed this will have the effect of pushing the participation rate back towards more sustainable ratios.


The Federal Government’s 2015 Intergenerational Report presented the impact of the ageing population over the next 40 years (from 2015).

This Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) report uses a broadly comparable approach to quantify the impact of demographic change on the federal fiscal budget over coming years.

There are difficult choices to make for the current government and those future governments that follow.

With an already existing strain on health resources and the hospital system, Australia will need to find a way to balance those citizens working against those that have moved into retirement.

Dan Hadley is a British/Australian economist and business management consultant for JLB based in Adelaide, South Australia.  

From sand-papering cricketers to sandbagging bankers: why do good people do bad things?

WHY DO good people do bad things? Apparently a lot of people in Brisbane want to know. 

Alistair Ping has spent the past six years researching this topic and says there’s no shortage of recent case studies – ranging from cricketers who tamper with balls to bankers behaving badly.

He did his PhD at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) on the topic, which delved back into business history and included interviewing former HIH director Rodney Adler, who was jailed in 2005 after Australia’s insurance giant collapsed.  

On Tuesday evening, November 26, Dr Ping will join ethics and governance experts for a public panel discussion at QUT on ‘Why Good People Do Bad Things’.

It is a hot topic. The free event at Gardens Point campus booked out in 24 hours, but will be live-streamed from 6pm.

The event panel includes:
•  Sonya Beyers – governance consultant and non-executive director;
•  Karen Carmody – Queensland Parliamentary Crime and Corruption Commissioner;
•  Bernie Morrison – manager of investigations and prosecutions, Container Exchange;
•  Dr Alistair Ping – QUT adjunct professor, researcher and corporate consultant;
•  and moderator David Fagan, a QUT adjunct professor and business adviser.

The forum will be hosted by the QUT Business School and the Colin Brain Governance Fellowship – a biennial fellowship for researchers studying corporate governance, financial management and business ethics.

Dr Ping was the 2018-19 Fellow and now lectures with the QUT Graduate School of Business.

“Statistically, the percentage of the population that is habitually bad – that is acting in an anti-social way and against the values of mainstream society – is only about 4-5 percent,” Dr Ping said. “About 90 percent of fraud in organisations is perpetrated by first-time offenders with no criminal record.

“So the truth, unfortunately, is that good people do bad things. The real question to ask is why?”

Dr Ping said unethical decisions were often not recognised as ‘unethical’ at the time, because people used flawed justifications – often caused by their social environment – to ‘neutralise’ their values.

“In a classroom setting, all of us – even sociopaths – can work through an ethical dilemma if we’re presented with a hypothetical situation,” Dr Ping said.

“But research shows that our ability to think rationally is significantly diminished as soon as you add in challenging personal, situational and contextual influences.

“No amount of training in character or values will prevent an unethical outcome if a person is willing to justify their behaviour using a flawed justification which neutralises their values. The challenge is to help people improve their ability to recognise these flawed justifications so that they can prevent unintentionally creating a bad outcome.”

Dr Ping said common justifications included: 

‘Everybody else is doing it.’  

‘They deserve it.’  

‘It’s not hurting anyone.’ 

‘It’s a stupid rule.’  

‘I deserve it.’  

‘I’m doing it for you.’

‘I was just following orders.’

Dr Ping said using any of the above justifications was a slippery slope.

“Our rational mind can allow us to do a bad thing without having to reassess ourselves as being a ‘bad’ person,” he said.

“Often people don’t have bad intentions at the start, but they make bad decisions based on these flawed justifications and then find themselves stuck in a spiral they can’t get out of.

“Sometimes they are motivated by a strong desire to ‘fix’ a situation – like falsifying loan applications to pay off debt – but in reality it’s only digging the hole deeper.”

Dr Ping said the current uncertain business environment meant it was even more critical to empower business executives with the skills, knowledge and abilities to be able to resist social influences and act in an ethical manner.

QUT runs an Ethical Decision Making series of short courses through QUTeX – its professional development and executive education program. 
The next one-day course on December 5 will look at how systems can be built that support and enable ethical decision making across an organisation. Dr Ping is one of the facilitators.

He will also run a two-day course next June, Leading Ethical Systems, which is aimed at team leaders and program managers and is part of QUTeX’s Enterprise Leadership Program.

The Why Good People Do Bad Things panel discussion and Q&A will be held at the QUT Graduate School of Business on November 26, following a research showcase of current QUT projects. 

Tickets are sold out but interested people can join a waitlist or watch the live-stream. Dr Ping’s PhD thesis is also publicly available on QUT ePrints.  People can donate to the Colin Brain Governance Fellowship here.


CEPAR research shows taking a mortgage triggers superannuation link-up

A NEW industry report by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR), has found that, for many Australians, taking out a home loan is a trigger for increased engagement with superannuation.

The research project was conducted by researchers based at the University of New South Wales, the University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney and Colonial First State (CFS). 

“We found that super fund members who took out a new residential mortgage in 2014 changed their super contribution behaviour around the time they took out their mortgage compared to those who did not take out a mortgage,” CEPAR deputy director and professor at the UNSW Business School, Hazel Bateman said. 

The way in which super contribution behaviour changed differed for members by the type of mortgage they took out.

“Those taking out a mortgage to buy an investment property tended to re-weight their portfolios towards real estate and away from their super but owner-occupiers tended to build up their super after the real estate purchase,” University of Sydney Business School professor Susan Thorp said.

The report also showed that super fund members who took mortgages also increased their interactions with their financial service providers.

“Members who took out a mortgage increased their number of bank branch visits, use of their bank app and online banking, as well as phone calls to their super fund,” Prof. Thorp said.

Superannuation is characterised by low levels of engagement as the way the system is set up allows many super fund members to ‘set and forget’ until retirement.

CFS national manager for analytics and business intelligence James Brownlow, said the results provided much needed insights into what triggers members’ engagement with their super.

“This research will help policymakers as well as super funds like CFS, more effectively engage members by shedding light on what triggers their engagement with super,” he said.

The New residential mortgages and superannuation engagement. CEPAR Industry Report 2019/2 was authored by Hazel Bateman, James Brownlow, Ben Culbert, Charles Chu, Christine Eckert, Bin Fu and Susan Thorp (2019). The industry report is available online at


IPA Deakin Small Business: Big Vision conference highlights big SME problems

A LANDMARK international conference currently being conducted by the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA) in conjunction with the IPA Deakin SME Research Centre, will focus on the productivity crisis facing the Australian economy.

“In forming the Australian Small Business White Paper, we asked small businesses across Australia what was keeping those businesses awake at night,” IPA chief executive officer, Andrew Conway said. 

“The productivity growth rate in Australia has declined dramatically over the past 20 years, so we need to fix this if we are to protect Australia’s standard of living. If we don’t arrest the decline in productivity growth there will be a worsening of quality of life for our future generations. 

"We need to take some of the burden away; to support small business to achieve the best that they can. In short we need to make Australia the best country in the world to start and operate a small business," Prof. Conway said.

“We have had some successes along the way including establishing the SME Research Centre, purely focused on better policy outcomes to drive small business productivity; the first of its kind in the world.

“Our Small Business White Paper also gained support for a number of our recommendations including loan guarantee schemes and the establishment of the securitisation fund. But we still have much work to do to address Australia’s productivity crisis; we need government, regulators and policy setters to think ‘small’ first when it comes to forming policy," he said.

“Small businesses are doing it tough; they are staying awake at night as they often put their house, family and well-being on the line as they strive to survive. 

"As such, the IPA is seeking to build the evidence around mental health in small business continue to deliver practical training and support to boost the quality of life of small businesses,” Prof. Conway said.


Ageing small business leadership a new problem facing economy

THE AUSTRALIAN small business sector is facing a major shake-up over the coming decade, with the highest proportion of small business owners aged between 45 and 59 years and preparing for retirement.

That’s according to the Small Business Counts report released at the COSBOA National Small Business Summit this week by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell. The report shows 61 percent of employing small business owners are approaching retirement age.

“The small business landscape will be transformed over the coming years with a significant number of older small business owners expected to retire, sell or move on,” Ms Carnell said. 

“This generational shift presents a number of challenges for the sector and the economy more broadly.

“We know access to funding continues to be a barrier to small business operators, so some of the business owners looking to sell may find it difficult to attract a buyer.

“These figures show that there is a need for meticulous succession planning by those small business operators who are planning to retire in the coming years," Ms Carnell said.

“The report reveals other challenges being faced in the sector, with more than half of small business owners reporting a taxable income of less than the minimum wage.

“Late payments continue to hamper small business viability, with half of all small businesses reporting late payments on 40 percent of their invoices.

“These are just some of the issues captured in the Small Business Counts report," Ms Carnell said.

“The statistics, collected from various Australian government agencies, helps us gain a greater understanding of the small business sector, which is vital to the work we do.

“We know that small business is the most dynamic and fastest growing sector and yet it is often overlooked by all levels of government when setting the policy agenda," she said.

“Overall, the Small Business Counts report shows the small business sector is surprisingly large and vibrant, which is vital to the health of the Australian economy.”


Flinders Uni spearheads research into snapper stocks, underground mine water

FLINDERS University researchers will join forces with interstate and overseas experts to conduct in-depth studies into understanding underground water at mine sites – and in a second project to improve the management of Australian and New Zealand snapper fisheries.

The resources industry-driven $838,000 Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project includes key partnerships between Flinders, Rio Tinto-Iron Ore, the Western Australian Government and researchers at Wageningen University in Europe.

The centre’s director, professor Craig Simmons said the new study would focus on creating reliable computerised modelling of faults and other common geological structures to determine groundwater flows at mine sites. 

“Understanding the effect of faults and barriers is critical in assessing the impacts of mining, unconventional gas and water resource developments,” Prof. Simmons said. Previous ARC Linkage projects he was involved with had extensively mapped other aspects of groundwater modelling in WA’s Pilbara and other mining regions.

Prof. Simmons said the Rio Tinto partnership in WA built on significant ongoing research initiatives between the company and the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training at Flinders.

He said development of new models to quantify groundwater and other solute flow through and along faults is vital for mine managers around the world.

“By combining geological, hydraulic and geochemical approaches with 3D numerical models, we will gain an improved understanding of the role of faults and barriers in subsurface hydrology, and an improved ability to model complex groundwater systems,” Prof. Simmons said.


A second Flinders University-led $321,113 ARC Linkage Project, announced by Education Minister Dan Tehan, is a collaboration between five major state fisheries agencies in Australia, NZ Crown Research Institute Plant and Food Research and the University of Queensland (UQ).

Chief investigator and Flinders University molecular ecologist, professor Luciano Beheregaray said the project would generate and integrate genomic, environmental and phenotypic datasets for snapper populations from across vast coastal regions of Australia and New Zealand.

“The large-scale fisheries genomics program should substantially enhance fisheries management and aquaculture initiatives for snapper, providing commercial, social and environmental benefits for many stakeholders across the two countries,” Prof. Beheregaray said. 

Flinders University deputy vice-chancellor for research, professor Robert Saint said the latest ARC Linkage Projects cement Flinders University’s leading status in groundwater management and conservation genomics research – key components of the university’s strengths in earth and environmental sciences.

“The research will provide robust scientific data and evidence-based best practice that will enhance the sustainability of Australia’s mining and fisheries industries,” Prof. Saint said.

“Flinders research in these areas is outstanding, and the latest ARC Linkage Projects illustrate some of the ways the university’s contribution to science will make a real difference to the future of the planet.”


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