Sharpening the New Zealand story —

It’s the foreground that creates a personality, not the backdrop. But any good story needs both.

At long last New Zealand is getting a sense of itself. We are no longer caught so awkwardly in the headlights of our history. We now have an inkling of how the colourful pieces of our national puzzle fit together.

At this formative stage, the sea change in our national thinking is admittedly more subtle than overt, but it doesn't take a futurist to read the signs. Of course, how the world sees us and how we see ourselves have, until recently, been out of sync. For years visitors have waxed lyrical about New Zealand's rich and varied cultural heritage and art, its myths and mountains, its humanity and hospitality, and its natural abundance. These impressions often have poignancy because of the stark contrast they exhibit to a slightly jaded world.

As a global emotion, New Zealand has never been in a better position to capitalise on the urban anxieties felt in the big cities across the world. While the settings may differ, the conditioning and the constant pressures are uncomfortably familiar. A mildly fearful but resigned ambivalence to horrific events. Urbanites hooked on the excitement of the race, yet yearning for some relief from anxiety and more breathing room for self-expression.

Every story has a backdrop and foreground dimension. Ours needs to be one that contains a very simple set of messages, which in the main should populate the foreground. At present the world sees us in a good light, but essentially it's the backdrop of our environment that is the only compelling part.

We are not seen as an advanced country in science and technology in vibrant and exciting urban environments, or as a place which has interesting products and services which one could find across the globe.

Somehow, I don't expect to get a great coffee and the finest of cuisine after a day in the countryside in Iceland, however beautiful it is. It's not my impression, although they could well have the same problems we do in terms of international perception.

Balancing up the story is about creating a foreground personality for New Zealand, which speaks of these activities, well beyond our beautiful lakes and rivers. It's what we do, it's what we make, and it’s how we live which interests people.

The integrity of New Zealand is more than pristine landscapes. Its people, its products and services, its hospitality is all connected to a unique style of welcome or powhiri to those that venture this far. It’s surprising how this sense of place has an enormous power to drive the value of products and services offshore.

There’s a wonderful word called provenance. For me this is about people and place, their ingenuity, their love of what they do, and the passion with which they do it. Easy to see in winemaking, less so in computer software, forestry or fishing. Yet all of these smart things go on here and many are world-class in their categories.

So our new story needs to capture this contemporary foreground, of course still acknowledging the beautiful backdrop within which these things happen and are created.

I'm not suggesting massive campaigns - simply some kind of agreement across those interested, to create a symphony of infinitely interesting storylines which hopefully harmonise and add up to a consistent set of messages. A kind of ‘national toolbox’, which we can all dip into for a story or two, to help us when we head offshore with our individual products, services, education or tourist experiences.

I'm always curious in the international departure lounge to know what's in each business person’s briefcase about their take on New Zealand as they leave these shores. When we’re here of course it's all around us and we don't mention it that much between each other. When you head offshore and your opening piece in some foreign boardroom is who you are, where you are from, and what you stand for - I wonder how consistent the messages are.

Wouldn't it be great in this little country if we could agree on this? Imagine its power if we all told a consistent story. Like any good piece of theatre you need a whole range of different players but the thing that holds it together is always the plot.

I'd never go as far as saying we've lost the plot, but I would say we have never agreed on what it should be. And so we have delivered mixed messages and run the risk of saying too much. Just for the want of a simple clear-cut consistent story, we are almost there. It's well within our grasp and the world will listen, as we already stand on a credible stage.

We have so many curious dimensions to our culture we can offer the world, many of which remain unknown. A treasure chest of ideas, experiences, products, and services that somehow need to be shared and enjoyed by a wider world.


We've finally cracked the design arrogance of France. Here is an incredible tribute to David Trubridge inspired by the crayfish traps of Maori. Through his designs he has had a significant influence over Hermes's architects, who have rightly acknowledged him. In the development of their new luxury goods store in Paris, there is a little bit of New Zealand.

Our foreground personality is yet to emerge on the world stage and the timing has never been better. Nothing can beat a clear vision, a supportive culture and the story you've never heard before.