We’ve recently seen a bit of controversy about the search for a new technology and innovation officer to fulfil the government’s ambition to “lead change at the edge of the world in a place where pioneers push boundaries to create models for the rest of the world to follow”.
Interesting use of language here. Edge has a sniff of edginess about it and being leading edge is surely the ultimate goal. Of course if you are a flat earth devotee positioning New Zealand at the edge is a precarious place to be, but in a fully global 3D vision there is no edge of the world – it doesn’t matter where you are on the globe, everything is connected.
And it’s this 3D global view that Kiwis are acquiring and embedding into an outward world view that’s a long way from looking to ‘the homeland’ for guidance and support that typified the view and the language of a few generations ago. Instead we are proud of our place on the world stage these days and we don’t cut people down when they succeed on the global stage, especially when they are doing it our uniquely Kiwi way.
From the OE to the KE (Kiwis Exported)
The traditional OE is becoming a thing of the past and instead we export our talent when it’s matured a bit. People did the OE to get a taste of what the big wide world had to offer them, to broaden their minds before they returned to the narrower world that was home. These days we see people in the middle of their careers taking their talent overseas for a stint, often because the size of the NZ business market means we have an abundance of talent seeking a smaller number of senior roles and C-Suite positions. But they come back when one of those senior roles comes up for grabs.
It’s these kinds of cultural changes that are a bellwether for a subtle shift in our Kiwi psyche. It’s about changing the dynamic from what we need from the world to what we have to offer the world. That we still spend time living abroad is important though. There is a fair amount of evidence that people who live abroad develop clarity about who they are and the cultural characteristics that make them who they are, so when they come home they bring that clarity and add fuel and confidence to the Kiwi story.
Kiwi good, Global also good
When we explored what makes a New Zealander as part of the Kiwi Cultural Codes work with True this is one of the codes where we saw the biggest shift from what it was to what it is now. And beyond our work, there is a lot of evidence to support this. Take our TV viewing behaviour for example. We want TVNZ to buy international programmes and OnDemand means we can stream them just like we do on global platforms, but equally strong is our love of New Zealand content as the viewing figures show.
How we are embracing the cultures of new migrants is another example of how we are taking an outward world view. The popularity and wide participation in Divalli and the Lantern Festival attest to that.
The way Steinlager, an iconic Kiwi brand, was able to leverage the exoticism and different cultural perspective in a traditional Kiwi product category is what made Tokyo Dry the runaway success it has been. No longer is it a choice between home-grown and grounded Southern man’s beer, or a European premium brand.
In the world of advertising where we have historically looked at global campaigns with envy if only for the size of budgets, we now boast campaigns that the world envies and asks us nicely if they can copy.
Of course sometimes we still teeter on the brink of being world famous in New Zealand. But for every confidence wobble we see confirmation of our standing in the world. That our passport is rated so highly is evidenced by fewer countries requiring us to apply for a visa; that tourism is growing exponentially supported by overseas media ranking us the best place in the world to visit; that our currency remains strong and barely flutters with the constant dribble of global crises of the week – all are contributing to making us feel that people have always liked Kiwis, now they also think we’re cool and respect us too.
Our success on the sporting field has done a lot for our confidence, but it’s not just the winning – it’s how we win. The people we talked to in our research described a shift from bloody minded perseverance to being smarter. People talked about how the world respects the All Blacks for what they deliver on the pitch but equally for how they brought sports and team psychology into the game. They respected our winning of the America’s Cup just as much for our display of Kiwi ingenuity using cyclists as for the win itself.
Do it the Kiwi way
The emergence of a more outward world view is leading to us seeing ourselves as global citizens – but with that there is a tension that we may lose who we are in the process. So it’s not surprising that we love stories like Allbirds – a sporting heritage, using what we are known for, wool, and keeping it simple. While trainers were turning into high tech, complex, feature-heavy and anything but streamlined, Allbirds arrived with a simple, clean inherently beautiful, and, let’s not ignore, a comfortable product.
Our work on codes is all about what makes us uniquely Kiwi so it is interesting that one of the codes is about our changing perceptions of our place in the wider world. It’s one that has perhaps changed most from the stereotypical tall poppy cutters, and it’s also where we still see tension. But there is a sense that our time has come and while we celebrate that, we need to keep doing it our way, the Kiwi way.
For brands this is fertile territory. We can reflect this outward world view to continue to build the confidence in ourselves that is leading to this shift, because although it has shifted, we are not quite there yet. People still look to the world to show New Zealand success back to them. Moreover they don’t appreciate it when we rush to impose overseas talent: “We need to look in our own backyard for talent first.” So let’s not surrender the notion that we still need to tread a little carefully, we don’t see ourselves as the younger sibling anymore but we are still in the young adult phase.
The young adult phase
So, we no longer feel isolated in the corner of the world 10 years behind. The edge of the world has taken on a new meaning in a connected global world. As one of our research participants captured perfectly: “Our measure of success is different to the rest of the world but it’s changing. We used to live in a community, now we live in an economy”.
Being a young adult may mean a touch of fragility in confidence but it also means ambitious, optimistic, open minded and at the leading edge.
So let’s all agree to drop the ‘per capita’ language and stop talking about tall poppy syndrome because it just perpetuates the myth – because that is what it is becoming. A dated stereotype that doesn’t reflect how Kiwis have evolved from that code to a more positive outward world view.
- Colleen Ryan is the head of strategy at TRA
- * The Kiwi Cultural Codes was a collaborative project between TRA and True.