The Project NZ Takeaways - Rum and Ruminations


The Project NZ hit Auckland for the third year running, the love-child of SMNZ (recently acquired by Catalyst90), the US Embassy and AUT.  Katherine, our BizDojo Wellington Community Manager, headed up to the conference to check out the line-up. 

The theme this year - Digital Disruption - aside from the irony of the constant AV issues, created some interesting conversations ranging from Lorde to youth leadership in Africa.

There was a huge amount of insight and information dished out by over 30 speakers over the two days, so I had some trouble distilling the highlights! But here’s some nuggets from some of the speakers and some recurring themes. 


Education was a hot-topic throughout the conference. Silicon Valley entrepreneur Gary Bolles pointed the finger at education as the obvious next industry to undergo a massive change. He said the market was on the cusp of being disrupted as the media industry has before it, with fragmentation of the elements - brand and network, accreditation, course deliery, curriculum creation and campus.   

Fellow speaker, Frances Valintine, CEO of The Mind Lab also described the impending rise of big brand and pick’n’mix education with the rise of providers such as Minerva, plus the involvement of Google and Apple in this space.  (Check out this infographic

Sebastian Hallum-Clarke of Zibity weighed in on the issue, bringing his freakish-child-genius thoughts to the table as he spoke in a panel about the attitude change that is needed at the high-school or even primary level if we’re going to create the technical talent pool that is required to meet the needs of our organisations. i.e Lets de-nerdify tech. image

 The takeaway: change is coming for education, and not a moment too soon.

 Authenticity and Openness

Another key lines of thought for many of the speakers was the need for authenticity and openess in order to play in the new space with the new consumers.

Geraldine McBride from MyWave lead with some doom-inspiring prophecies for the more stagnant organisations. She berated the common marketing language of ‘tracks’ and ‘targets’ that treats consumers like hunted wildebeest. Triumphing the ‘opt-in’, she convinced us that consumers - especially millenials - need to be heard, be part of something bigger. We need to create an interconnected world of experiences.

Rhonda Kite from Kiwa seems to be living by these values. She told an admirable story about the journey of her tv production company into the leading provider of experiential mobile books. She was an advocate for authenticity, with her encouraging final words,

Speak your name, who are you are your life will be changed.

I think what was obvious - and underplayed - was her impressive foresight and adaptability as a businesswoman.


Macon Phillips, the all-American former Head of Digital Strategy for the Obama Administration,  made an excellent point that the internet makes it easier for us to find people who agree with us. As technologies curate the world around us they create filter-bubbles, allowing us to have more self-reinforcing conversations. It’s important for us to be open, break outside our bubbles and welcome if not seek out critique.

The stand-out winner for the openess prize has to be potty-mouthed-sweetheart of the conference, Todd Wackrow. The Union Digital strategist laid his recent failures out bare, as a living example of how resisting the shift and putting your head in the sand can only lead to failure.

 The takeaway: Always ask “If you disappeared tomorrow, would anyone give a shit?”


The ideas that Todd and Rhona touched on about moving with the tide were further hammered home by a number of speakers. It’s not surprising that adaptability was a common theme in a conference about disruption.

Charles Araujo, author of The Quantum Age of IT pulled out his crystal ball (literally) and told us that we can’t predict the future, but we can prepare for an uncertain future. He encouraged us to be creative free agents  and constantly put ourselves in a state of growth, change and adaptation.  

Gary Bolles reinforced this idea as he stated that depth of knowledge will be needed less and less as technology improves. There is a ‘global business climate change’ happening where we need people who can synthesise knowledge from a variety of arenas.

Jane Cherrington of String Theory discussed the organisational change that is needed in order to encourage innovation. She reminded us that innovation is not just anything digital, and it’s not just about R&D, but can be about the most basic processes and interactions. Organisations need to engage in processes of managed dissent and provide a cultural space that encourages this thinking.

The takeaway: Strive for progress, not perfection.


Rigorous investigation

Loveable ‘Glasshole’ Cameron Gawley, founder of Buzzshift had the effect of making me want to go do my homework. His mantra rung true: Content might be king, but context is queen. It is not enough to gather insights, businesses need to analyse that information, learn about their customers behaviour and adapt. CMO’s are turning into CTO’s as every marketing action should be informed by data. He gave the example of Netflick’s House of Cards, which was a purposeful (and ultimately, hugely successful) creation based on the wealth of viewing data and preferences the company holds.

From a creative standpoint, Hayden Raw of The Common Room demonstrated some of his brainstorming techniques by enticing the conference-goers with a prize bottle of Glengarry to come up with a service combining a strip club and lawn mowers in 2 minutes. He talked us through some of his creative and the ways that their company look to get inside the heads of their customers. His main advice = CRUSH assumptions. 

The takeaway: It will be the business that knows their customer the best who will win.

Honourable mentions:

Macon Phillips for being the only speaker to highlight acknowledge the value of pre-digital natives (old folk) in their ability to utilise internet with their knowledge of a pre-internet world

Dr Jeff Cole for SO adeptly comparing Facebook to a nightclub which suddenly becomes uncool when your Mum starts frequenting.

Our very own Father Mitch Olson for turning biblical on us and in a tidal wave of sunset-inspired slides explained how the order and meaning that lead us to seek out deity are being fulfilled by the way we live in our digital world.

Rhona Kite because now I know that Yabba Dabba Doo translates exactly the same in Arabic.


Extra-curricular highlights:

Playing with the Oculus Rift from FrogShark

Playing with Cameron Gawleys Google Glass

Playing with new friends while drinking Stolen Coffee & Cigarettes Spiced Rum!


So that’s it, two days of inspiration in a wee(ish) nutshell. 

All around, an impressive event, so full credit to the organisers. I’m really looking forward to continuing some of the conversations started at the coffee breaks and over cocktails.