A new job and BIG lessons from the Balinese!

Sunday in Sanur with Bali’s best team

I’m sitting under the shade of the sun on Sanur Beach as a lucky guest of the Bali Spirit Festival (BSF) team. It might bother a few Bule that Yoga Barn and Kafe are closed, so there was no ecstatic dance or coffee today, but it doesn’t bother me. Let me explain why.

BSF is the creation of Pak Kadek Gunarta and his New Yorker wife Meghan. When people stopped coming to Bali after the Christmas/New Year period in 2003/04 following the Bali bombings, Dek and Meghan decided to do something about it – they created a festival to revive the island, based in beautiful Ubud. Ten years on, they are ‘ambition’ – they’ve tried and won.

Who else can say the same? I can’t. I’m here today after agreeing a deal to work for Dek. He calls it slave labour, I see it as an the best opportunity I have ever been offered.

In short, Dek wants me to bring a bit of Bule into his team of Balinese. The ‘problem’ Dek has is explaining his projects to the rest of the world. The problem I have is the lack of a ‘sponsor’ to get the Bule who live in Ubud involved in the community.

Are Bule tight or stupid?

I could say most Bule that come to Bali as ‘digital nomads’, to build businesses and live super cheaply, are taking the piss by not involving themselves in the community. However, I’m not prepared to … yet.

Part of this logic is that I’ve not done enough myself. What I will say though is that the Bule are an odd bunch. Yesterday there was a brilliant evening of Balinese culture in Tegallalang, run by Ibu Sari, founder of PKP Women’s Centre. As an aside, my awesome sister, Bec, is running a campaign to get Sari more sewing machines!

Sari had asked me to sell the Bule tickets (100,000) while she sold the local Balinese tickets (50,000). I managed to sell 13 tickets of 50). 7 were bought by Balinese. It was embarrassing.

Recently at Tribewanted we had tried to run an introduction to Balinese culture (Danielle’s idea) and a screening of the brilliant film, Jalanan, with a Q&A with the director Daniel Ziv (my idea). Both have involved paying and both have failed.

I spoke to Ben Keene, our leader at Tribewanted about this and he, rightly, pointed out that maybe the people we were trying to convince had many people battling for their money. That I accept, that’s life.

What I don’t accept though is that people are not willing to spend 100,000 (five quid) to hear Rucina Ballinger, a 40-year resident of Bali, speak about the central aspect of Balinese culture, ceremony. It simply can’t be the money. It must be the attitude.

Project update

The opportunity to work with Dek, re-shapes the whole mission. It’s a chance to get properly involved with real projects, that won’t have me online too much. It suits me a lot.

Most importantly though, I can already see that my new team wants me because we want that same things. That is a big deal for me.

With Dek and Ketut (and his young lad). What a team to join

With Dek and Ketut (and his young lad) at the Bali Spirit Festival team day in Sanur. What a team to join. It’s like joining Barcelona FC!

When I came to Bali, I didn’t have a plan but what I knew for sure was that it would all start with finding the right partner. I’d bring Frank Ray or Jamie Reichman here tomorrow if I could, but I can’t. As Brian Clough famously said about what made him and Peter Taylor the creators of the two-man job and the fastest in turning two craps sides into champions:  We want the same things.

No skill analysis, no tests – just get the mix of ambition right. When Tribewanted started in January, I hoped to meet someone that needed a business partner. That hasn’t happened, though I am very hopeful of working with Ben Keene in some way. He has so much talent, it’s inspiring just to hang around him.

Now to my update.

1. Startup blog/12 week course

This is still taking shape, though me and Pieter need some help from someone experienced with online education so we can nail down the format.

2. Startup bank challenge

I will most probably stop this tomorrow.It was a crazy idea that many folks like, but getting them to come to Bali has proved difficult. The big lesson from the experiment is that there many people working in banks with a loads of ideas for change.

I don’t think it is fear which is stopping them, it’s the lack of a platform. Next Bank could be that, if it stops thinking of itself as a venue to meetup and talk about banking problems. They could run a global startup bank challenge in say 5 cities easily.

As an interesting twist, I have been contacted by a European challenger bank to startup here in Indonesia. I am totally unqualified for such a venture but, my goodness, it’s exciting to be asked.

3. Better Bali Project

This week at Tribewanted, Diana Moret, asked us a tough question: can you see yourself in your business for 10 years? 

For the the two projects above, both are clear ‘no’s, but this one working within Balinese communities is a potential ‘yes’. It was a super test of one’s motivation and Diana really knows her stuff. I need to speak to her more before she leaves.

Our initial Better Bali Project was a success, at least as far as I was concerned, because we had more than 10 attendees. What was also interesting was the subject we focused on: rubbish! No one in the world has solved it and, here, the Balinese care about it a lot. We’ll see how this one progresses.

4. Songan Pipeline Project

As of today, we are 30% done. Phenomenal, given it’s only been  days since we started and the village has never tried such a thing before! I’m coming to realise why I like being around Balinese – they try stuff.

If we had proposed the same thing in England, we’d have to have had more meetings that the union at Ford to get started. Every risk would have been identified except the biggest of the lot: not building the water supply.

In Bali though, all that is needed is someone like Dek to say ‘we are doing this‘ and it happens. He works it out as we go. The same goes for Ibu Sari – she says she needs to raise funds and it happens.

Everyone needs a leader and so-called flat structures are not that. I think the essential attribute that these two leaders have that I think I may (massive caveat) share, is sheer force of personality.

Their leadership style is very similar to Mandela, and the thing that matters most is that there is no doubt who running the show. Even when Oliver Tambo was running the ANC from Lusaka, he knew his seat was a temporary one.

If I compare the Balinese style to my old workplace, there are very few people who have the same attributes. Chris Meyer is probably the only one I can think of that got the balance right between seeking feedback (as Mandela was expert in) and making decisions.

Even my great mates Jamie Reichman and James Arnold pander to their staff too much. They choose harmony over speed.

In contrast, I’m seeing with Dek that speed builds harmony and that’s why I am thrilled to be his latest team member.


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