(Post-)Percolate: a precursor to progress

Here we have a special post by my partner in crime, wizard of The Cleverness, Kim Lam (the dangerlam).

And so it has happened! In the summer of ’16-17, friends of The Cleverness gathered to bask in thoughtful provocations and percolate on the atypical—all in the name of disrupting ourselves out of our familiar patterns. We asked each other the questions we’ve been asking ourselves. And questions we never before questioned with. The first of many being:

What might be different about the year ahead?

More so than any other event we've ever been to or produced, Percolate came with a distinct sense of ichi-go, ichi-e (一期一会)—a Japanese idiom originating from tea ceremony. It describes the concept of 'one time, one meeting, one gathering, one chance’. And is a reminder to maximally extract from the moment and really be in it, because it also means ‘never again’. 

It’s a true point for Percolate, which unfolded into such a sensory, thought-experimental and conversation-rich occasion, that you had to be there.* 

* Cue sigh of nostalgia vs lament depending on attendance.

The main event was held in a Fitzroy warehouse conversion, mid one of the most bustling streets on the world hipster map. The air was twice-laced with drinkable aromas, courtesy of our generous partners: Proud Mary Coffee and Starward Whisky. The conversations continued on the next day at our sold-out Masterclass in partnership with Kearney Group. Along the riverside of Federation Square, a group of dedicated folks dived deeper into what it means to mindfully pioneer in the new year.

And now, the butterflies, snowballs and ripples* are already having their effect. Post-Percolate, people are changed, and living out 2017 carpe-annum-style**. 

* All our favourite visual metaphors for change.
** Carpe diem, carpe annum

Taking ichi-go ichi-e into account, and pending access to time travel, no amount of glorious and figurative descriptions could do Percolate any justice. But! Rather than linger in nostalgia or FOMO for Percolate having been and gone, let’s be jolly together once more, and re-live some of the post-event highlights.

First, in motion:

A vignette captured by Cloakroom Media
Soundtrack: live recording of the suave vocals of artisan thinker Mykel Dixon and his accompanying jazz band.

Now, in stills:

Percolate_Proud Mary Coffee

Floor-to-ceiling Bromley-graffitied walls were the backdrop to Caitlin, one of the baristas from Proud Mary. They lured us nose-first into the coffee cul-de-sac corner of the venue, filling it with the wafting aromas of fresh coffee. Batch brews were served throughout the afternoon at the generous ad lib frequency. 

Percolate_Proud Mary Coffee 2

Coffee beans produced by Nahun Fernandez from Santa Barbara, Honduras. You can help yourself to them again by visiting Proud Mary or Aunty Pegs (the surrogate office of The Cleverness) or buying them online here.

"The Best Coffee I Have Ever Experienced In The World is from this place." said one Dr Jason Fox.


Not everyone was greeted mid-LOL, but what everyone did get upon greeting was an unexplained, mystery kraft envelope offered by a pair of outstretched hands from one of the above. A steady stream of friends, colleagues and collaborators came to collect what we had spent months in the prepping.

Percolate_The Cleverness Biannual

Curious hands unravelled the stringed kraft envelopes to reveal many-a-thing to marvel at and instantly own: a Cleverness-stamped kraft moleskine, a silent-clicking Lamy pen, the Percolate event programme, a peculiar rare word on a postcard (conversation spikers), and…

…the weightiest item of them all: the inaugural Issue Ø of The Cleverness Biannual, our independent print magazine. It smelled less than a few hours old because it was only a few hours old—freshly arrived from Morgan Printing in Sydney. The book-smell, paperstock and newness induced physical and visible pauses.

And so, the silken drapes of our 7-month-long secret project have been flung!

Percolate_The Cleverness Biannual 2

Lush paper, attracting rainbows. 

Here’s a virtual flick-through. Inside it: thoughtful provocations for the quietly dissatisfied, with rich insights exploring the theme 'clarity/ambiguity' across business, artistry and philosophy. 

Percolate_Dr Jason Fox

Dr Jason Fox, Head of The Cleverness and conversation-facilitator for Percolate, broke in the stage in his usual fashion—exuding dapperly flair, debonair and red hair. Here he is seen harnessing the unique power from within his right elbow, and scattering his wit about the room via invisible digital beams at each fingertip. Jason skilfully set the context for the day, laying down the scaffold for the tapestry of themes that he would later be weaving together. An intimate, broody mood was conjured to host pivotal questions such as: how do we not get too busy for meaningful progress? To assist in this joint contemplation, tweets were discouraged.

Percolate_Proud Mary Coffee 3

Jason interviewed Mike Sullivan, green coffee buyer of Proud Mary. We don’t say this lightly—Proud Mary are pioneers in specialty coffee and are constantly exploring new territory and experimenting at the edge of coffee roasting and tasting.

Enjoying a hot-in-hand cup of geisha on stage, Mike shared the backstory of every Proud Mary coffee cup: the hard work and dedication of the producers and communities that make them. Proud Mary actively and proudly support these ‘true rockstars of coffee’. 


Sandwiched between a layer of levitating moss balls above, and a sea of great minds below, our sagely yet humble speakers had the hefty task of filling the space in between. And they delivered the opposite of polished, pithy presentations…instead, bringing raw perspectives from their unique thought leadership domain. Specifically: how they personally approached navigating through complexity and ambiguity. We knew there were going to be myriad angles and interpretations to this. The diversity of approaches and topics blew us all away.

Those who spoke to us:

  • Oscar Trimboli — Executive Coach & Author: on deeper listening, and the gift of silence.
  • Helen Souness — Managing Director, Etsy Australia & Asia: on moving closer towards a multi-dimensional purpose, rather than finding your one true calling.
  • Rohan Gunatillake — Founder of Mindfulness Everywhere & Creator of Buddhify: on mindfulness being nothing personal.
  • Sean Fabri — Improviser & Doctor: on imagining others complexly, which increases empathy.
  • Josi Heyerdahl — Partnerships Manager, World Wildlife Fund: on protecting nature with business.
  • Natasha Pincus — Director and Filmmaker: on the practice of tapping into your inner genius.
  • Will Dayble — Founder, Squareweave & Fitzroy Academy: on testing our values and decisions, with the prospect of living on Mars.

Each gifted us with a question at the end of their talk.

Percolate_Panel 2

Plenty of unedited banter came out of our Percolate rolling panel session, starring both speakers and audience members alike. We enjoyed a diverse, interactive, rotating panel of un-likeminded individuals— a great combo for stirring up conversation of the sparring-sort.
Pictured: from left—Rohan Gunatillake (Buddhify), Dom Price (Head of R&D, Atlassian), Josi Heyerdahl (WWF)


Thoughtful thinking faces. This is what collective contemplation looks like. Ideas delivered in unison, contemplated in unison, but interpreted and to be re-used in infinite ways.


A moment of hypergraphia, capturing one fleeting thought and joining others.

Percolate_Mykel Dixon

Set on his own stage, Mykel Dixon was our in-house artisan thinker, atmospheric designer and lead jazz musician for the day, accompanied by a 3-piece band. Mykel authored Just Do 5omething, a book for unlocking the creative mavericks, and consults on jazz leadership. We know Mykel for his passionate belief that the future belongs to the artists—and we wholeheartedly agree.

Percolate_Starward Whisky 1
Percolate_Starward Whisky 2

What better way to further access a deeply contemplative state than with internationally award-winning whisky. Starward whisky drams came octagonally arranged on platters, to be served one by one to each person in the audience. Heads turned as the sound of gently chinking glass came to a slow rise, and then fall, as each glass became held in hand. Rich ambers whirled notes of caramel and fruit into the air.

Percolate_Starward Whisky 3

We invited David Vitale to the stage—the pioneering and visionary founder behind the internationally award-winning craft whisky company, Starward. It's the only truly Australian whisky in the world: made from Australian barley and aged in Australian wine barrels, admidst a (Melbourne) Australian climate. 

It was easy to become enraptured and enamoured by David’s extremely humble, personable and softly spoken manner. We were all quiet, deep listeners as David guided us through a mindful whisky tasting experience. Half of us leaned in and forward in our seats to better engage in every note*, while half of us leaned back, in calm and contemplative repose. 

*Starward tasting notes can be found here.

David shares our passion for quality conversations, and the type of conversation that a good whisky opens up. 

Percolate_Starward Whisky 4

For everyone to take home: The Cleverness x Starward glass tumbler.

Percolate_Starward Whisky 5

A toast! To quality thinking, the launch of The Cleverness Biannual, and the counter-conventional conversations that follow.

Percolate_Audience 2

And there you have it, the recipe for Percolate, summed up in these ingredients:
People + Coffee + Jazz + Questions + Whisky + A Magazine. 

Combine well.

For a copy of The Cleverness Biannual Issue Ø, head to The Cleverness Shop.

To keep in the know about our musings, side projects, limited edition projects or the events we host, hop onto our Museletter

Or if you happen to have a whisky in hand, and you're in the mood for analogue after reading this post, then pen us a letter:

The Cleverness
at: The Commons
36-38 Gipps St
Collingwood VIC 3066

An interview with a pioneer—Paul Kearney

For some time I've been meaning to experiment with the notion of interviewing those I consider to be pioneers in their field. I encounter many inspiring folk in my travels. One of which, whom I’m very lucky to know, is Paul Kearney—the CEO of the award-winning Kearney Group Financial Services. Paul’s business philosophy business is inspiring—and so, I thought it might be nifty to share his perspective here.

Thus, please do enjoy this mini-interview. And know that, if we had the time, we could go *much* deeper on any one of these elements.

Righto, let’s ease into it. 

Paul! What’s considered ‘taboo’ in the financial world (which really ought not be)?

It’s actually one of my personal peeves… I have to say a lot of financial services firms pay lip service to this idea of providing ‘holistic’ advice.

The fact is—truly holistic advice is still very rare because it’s really, really hard to deliver. 

From our earliest days (30 years ago now), I had a vision of a multi-disciplinary practice that could care for the needs of individuals, families and businesses without a beat in service.

We know that businesses are an extension of, and indelibly entwined with, households for much of their lifecycle. And, many individuals are involved with businesses to one degree or another. But Financial Services legislation dictates that we must look at those things separately. Whilst this distinction is artificial, its impact is very real; most accountants are pretty ill equipped to deal with the needs of households at a high level, as are financial advisers who struggle to grasp the needs of businesses. What’s actually required is a truly interconnected service offer, delivered by skilled advisers and multi-disciplinary practices who understand both sides of the coin, simultaneously.

So be aware—working with an accounting firm that just employs a financial planner doesn’t make your advice ‘holistic’. Good advice requires a whole network of professionals, from within and across disciplines, rowing in the same direction, in the best interests of the client. The firm requires systems and tools and infrastructure that supports this view of the whole client and these things are just now coming into existence. 

Pioneering practices are out there, already paving a new path. They’re getting their advisers cross-skilled. They’re developing technology. They’re integrating their service model and re-imagining how advice will be delivered well into the future. But overall, the pace of change in Financial Services has been glacial, and for a long time, the profession has lacked strong leadership… 

But there’s hope—the pioneers are emerging and they’re doing amazing things for their clients. And like working with any coach or mentor, finding a good financial adviser can be a game changer to a business or a family’s wellbeing.

SMART goals work for many, but when you are pioneering—venturing into unprecedented territory, with no map to follow—they’re a bit manufactured and of dubious value. Or are they? How do you work with folks who know the direction they’re heading in (but not the destination)?

The issue with SMART goals, is they’re short-term and they can close us off to thinking deeply about the big picture.

At Kearney Group, we believe a key responsibility of a good adviser is to lead, mentor and actively wedge conversations open so clients are aware of the many possible futures that lay ahead.

Our job is to help them embrace that ambiguity and create habits and processes (in their lives and businesses) that force them to stay open to and watchful for opportunities that lie just over the horizon; those ‘futures’ that may still be out of reach or aren’t even visible just yet.

When we coach people, we ask them not to invest too much of themselves in one, specific future. We create a space where it’s okay to abandon an idea and carve a new direction entirely. We constantly question what their customers need (especially if, like many, they’ve never really asked). We look at precisely what it is that their team must do to perform (Do they have the right mix of skills to deliver to customer needs? Where are the gaps in capability?). And, we give a long, hard look at legacy systems, processes and business measures (Have they been measuring the right things? Do their systems and processes entrench ‘one possible future’ and make it hard to be nimble and adapt?).

The most successful people we work with are ‘many futures’ types—they’re happy to embrace the discomfort of ambiguity and find ways to channel this into something exciting and positive. They surround themselves with visionary people who share ideas and challenge assumptions and ultimately, help each other to become their ‘best self’ and/or the best version of their business.

And how does one increase empathy for their future selves? It’s so much easier to just… buy more stuff from Mr Porter…

‘Future selves’ is such an exciting prospect because it implies hope, optimism and opportunity for evolution. 

For me, empathy naturally stems from potential for growth. Knowing we have agency and the ability to design and constantly reinvent ourselves… that’s powerful. It provides the oxygen needed to take important risks and really challenge ourselves. When you understand that opportunities to reinvent yourself and change direction are endless, it’s easy to see that failure is not a permanent state nor does it define us. This knowledge lets us go a bit easier on ourselves when it happens (and it will happen).

The other crucial way to increase empathy for your future selves is to be uncompromising in your ethics. As long as your values and ethical principles underpin your decision-making, and ultimately, the evolution of your future self/selves, empathy and compassion will naturally follow.

What mistake have you made twice?

Oh where to start! They’re endless. If you’re not making mistakes regularly though, you’re not taking chances… but if you make the same ones too regularly, you’re not learning. So it’s a balance.

I’m absolutely guilty of regularly underestimating the amount of time and effort involved in a worthwhile project. I love ideas and I’m a fraction excitable when something new and interesting comes along—so I’m at risk of bouncing from one great idea onto the next before the first is fully delivered. Many times in my career, this has ended up with me delaying the delivery of one project or both (not to mention driving our team crazy).

What do you think it takes to genuinely pioneer in business?

I’ve actually just spent the last couple of months touring Australia talking about adaptive change, imagineering and thinking like a CEO (no matter how big or small your business is, or your role within it).

The premise of my talk was this: too many people incorrectly believe CEO or leader’s primary job is to drive profits. Let me be absolutely clear… it’s not (though profits follow in a successful business). Rather, the job of a pioneering leader is actually the very people-focused and highly creative work of:

  • Imagineering products or services for your clients or customers; and
  • Creating Futures for your best people.

Imagineering to me is exactly what it sounds like—imagining what could be and then engineering so it is. It’s both philosophical and process-driven, and it requires huge stores of creativity and simultaneously the ability to design systems and execute on your vision. And—it’s really, really bloody hard. With that said, being the catalyst for Imagineering in our firm it’s also one of the most exciting and energising things about my role as CEO.

The other crucial responsibility of a leader in a pioneering organisation is creating futures for your best people, and getting them to believe in that future. Like Imagineering, creating futures requires conscious investment; investment of our money and our time into a whole range of things that will help us develop and retain great people, over the long run. 

It’s about investing your time in your people, in a culture of constant learning and development, in ways to make progress visible, in encouraging mastery, celebrating success and rewarding your people—not just with good salaries—but with genuine opportunities to shape their futures within the business.

This is why we have a Participatory Strategy Program that includes everyone—from the most junior to the most senior people in our team. When we do Business Advisory & Strategy Coaching with our clients, we encourage them to do the same—giving your people the opportunity to have a say in the future of your business… it’s an incredible gift to those you’ll want on your team for the long haul.

It’s also absolutely crucial that as leaders, we make succession possible and visible. Co-ownership or shareholder opportunities should be exclusive, yet attainable for the right people. The best amongst us know that retiring (or worse, dying) as 100% owner is a terrible waste—your legacy and your business’ legacy is too important to fizzle after you’re gone. The only way to ensure it doesn’t is to flag talent early and get your people on board.

What gets you out of bed in the morning? What impact would you like to think your business has on its clients and the profession?

At Kearney Group, we empower people to make a lifetime of great financial decisions. Empower and lifetime are the key words here—we want to coach and guide, and create genuine lifelong partnerships with our clients that go beyond the surface.

In interviews with prospective team members, we always say, “if you’re looking to be an adviser because you love numbers or the markets… we’re probably not the place for you”. Rather, we look for big-picture thinkers, who are genuinely interested in improving the lives and wellbeing of others—because at the end of the day, a household’s financials or a business’ numbers, they only matter because the people behind them do.

We’ve seen the difference good advice and a good advisory team can make, time and time and time again. And that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.

Where is the next step-change in business capability going to come from?
20 odd years ago now, I witnessed a major revolution in business with the dawn of financial reporting software. Tools like MYOB allowed businesses, for the first time, to really figure out where they were at and access detailed financial reporting.

More recently, with cloud-based software, businesses can now collaborate with their advisers, in real-time—and this has been a game changer. 

But, in my view, there’s a big change is still coming—and this time, it’s not software. 

The next big step-change for SMEs will be one of capability; a future where every day small and medium businesses begin developing the strategic know-how that’s required to make good businesses great. 

The best businesses I’ve come across understand that building a product or delivering a great service is a completely different skillset to running a good operation—and they are already seeking out pioneering advisers to assist them with this. As advisors, we’re charged with tasks above and beyond the financials. We help facilitate strategy programs. We act a board of directors of sorts. We give access to benchmarking data, and help owners to unlock and interpret business insights. And, ultimately, we facilitate and foster the growth of in-house strategic capability for our clients.

I firmly believe this will be the future for businesses (and advice practices alike). For SMEs, gone are the days of just plying their trade. For advisors… no longer are we useful from a strictly compliance and financial reporting stand point. This is definitely the next big shift. It’s already started but it would be amazing—revolutionary—to see it in full force.

Percolate much?

Here's an excerpt from one of my museletters, in support of our most wondrous 2016 event—Percolate: a precursor to progress.

9 fantabulous reasons to come Percolate.

1. Ace Speakers Not Doing Their Usual Thing.

The last thing I want to expose you to is a predictable set of thoughts you’ve seen, heard and contemplated before. As such, I’ve curated a diverse mix of thinkers, philosophers, leaders and friends who are primed to offer us fresh perspectives. The type of perspectives that spur new thinking. Each speaker has been briefed to not simply distil things down into pithy ‘top tips’ but rather, to gift you with worthy questions to consider through December in preparation for the new year ahead.°

° They know that you are smart, and—in the spirit of antifragility—can handle having your thoughts provoked. 

2. Keen-minded, pioneering folk.

I love our speakers and… I daresy the audience is even more exciting. Firstly, you’ll be joined by fellow museletter subscribers (people who, like you, actually read these things). This makes for wondrous conversations—these are the people I relish meeting at events.
We also have folk from Atlassian, Telstra, Suncorp, MYOB, Red Cross, Commonwealth Bank, and fab other organisations I’ve worked with. Some are in senior leadership positions, and many are the intrapreneurs who think deeper and further than their colleagues.
And of course, there are fellow thought leaders, authors and artists in the mix. All in all: delightful, thoughtful, quality, keen-minded folk.

3. Starward whisky.

Oh gosh, where to begin? We’ve had a secret crush on New World Whisky for some time. David Vitale (CEO and founder) is a the epitome of a modern pioneer and renaissance man. 
Also, Starward just recently won Best Australian Single Malt Whisky. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it is pure wonder—the pairing of Australian wine casks with Melbourne’s 'four seasons in one day' makes for a wondrous dram (even for those who don’t fancy themselves to be whisky drinkers). 
But what I love most is David’s shared philosophy for quality conversations. The type of conversations that allow us to explore new perspectives and that open up new horizons. The type of conversation a good whisky opens up.
We're delighted to be partnering with Starward to bring you Percolate.

4. Proud Mary Coffee.

What better way to start the day than whilst savouring a brew from the world’s foremost pioneers in coffee? I don’t say this lightly—we’re super proud to have Proud Mary Coffee partnering with us to bring you this event. Fun facts: 
» Proud Mary’s founder—Nolan Hirte—is currently bringing Melbourne magic to Portland in the US (a country that desperately needs brilliant coffee). 
» A good proportion of How to Lead a Quest was written at their flagship cafe: Aunty Peg’s. If you visit in the morning you may catch me there (or at Proud Mary around the corner).
» I was recently interviewed in 99U magazine, and one of the main things I talked about was how good Aunty Peg’s coffee is. The Best Coffee I Have Ever Experienced In The World is from this place.

5. Jazz.

I love jazz, and what it represents. As an introvert, it's the perfect form of live music. You sit back and soak up the vibes, without having to worry about dance moves, crowds, or what to do if someone starts grinding on you. And so, at Percolate, there will be jazz.

These vibes will be lead by none other than artisan thinker Mykel Dixon.

And this is all rather genius. You know when sometimes you're at an event and you just want to chill and think and reflect and ponder and project and... not necessarily talk to the person next to you? Well but ah!—there's jazz to enjoy.°

° Of course there will still be plenty of opportunities for meaningful conversation and connection. Possibly over a coffee or whisky (see above).

6. Clarity amidst the ambiguity.

It used to be that the path ahead was relatively clear and straightforward. But now it's anything but.

We're living in non-linear times, and our minds can't quite handle it. We make predictions based on past patterns (despite the causal opacity), and yet cannot accurately predict the trajectory of things to come (as much as we like to convince ourselves otherwise). The more clarity and conviction you hold about the future—the more likely you are to be wrong.

At Percolate, we'll explore how clarity can be found on the path to relevance—without succumbing to the narrowed focus encouraged by tools of the past, or the frenetic and thoughtless pace induced by fads of the present.

7. Progress amidst the complexity.

I'm frequently (quietly) dissatisfied by speakers and 'experts' who fail to empathise with the sheer complexity faced by leaders and intrapreneurs attempting to influence change in large and multinational organisations (amidst enhanced volatility). Heck, even smaller businesses working in complex industries know that there are no easy simple solutions—otherwise they'd have already tried it.

Rather than dumb things down (and risk a recursive loop), Percolate does not shy away from the complexity of our times. Rather than provide quick fixes and simple hacks, we'll offer perspective—the type that will help you unravel a path amidst the complexity of your own context.

(I'm quietly quite excited about Josi Heyerdahl's session. Josi manages partnerships between the World Wildlife Fund and large enterprises seeking to do better for biodiviersity and the greater ecology of our planet. Josi will be providing insight in how meaningful progress can be made towards conservation goals amidst incredible complexity.) 

8. Time to Percolate.

We're building this into the day. But note that when I say this, I'm not talking about an abundance of 'empty time' in the programme. Instead, we're making the most of the time we have—mixing the right ingredients together, to give you time to Percolate throughout December, in time for the new year ahead.

What does this mean for you? It means:
» Better questions to ponder. This opens up new avenues of exploration, beyond your well-established habits, patterns and defaults.
» Better conversations throughout December—be they with family, friends of colleagues. You'll be able to ask them such questions too (creating richer perspective and possibility for you and them).
» Ultimately: it means that you'll have a much greater chance of unlocking meaningful progress for the year ahead. By taking the time to Percolate, you'll discover a path amidst the complexity and ambiguity.

What does this mean for your team? If you're magnanimous enough to gift folks on your team with a ticket, you can look forward to:
» Even greater curiosity, and a greater ability to explore alternative options to the default.
» Even greater empathy, for colleagues working within complexity, and for the emerging needs of the market.
» More meaningful progress for the new year ahead. By coming to this event, your people will start 2017 with fresh perspectives for the business, along with renewed and refreshed sense of possibility and emerging relevance.

9. A secret surprise. Something strictly limited and special. 

I’ve already said too much.